The Art of Less Telling More


My particular skill in writing is dialogue. Or at least one of them is. If it can be expressed by two characters conversing, most likely I will be doing it in that way.

Maybe too much.

Actually most likely too much.

I’m not sure why dialogue became my thing. I’ve just always seen these vivid pictures of people and places combined with detailed inflections of voices and intonations. It probably has to do with a writing problem I had (the infamous ‘information dump’ at the beginning of the story) and how my first story was inevitably one character teaching another all she ever needed to know about anything for ten pages. Since the “information dump” was both to the reader and the main character, this was conveyed in dialogue form.

(This is a great article on making authentic dialogue, by the way!)

Since then I’ve worked away from having quite so much dialogue. Or, at least, changing up dialogue style to fit the particulars of the scene to make it a wee bit more interesting. There’s also breaking up the large blocks of dialogue, to drag out the information farther through the story and keep a bit more mystery.

Mystery. This may be a beginning author’s first challenge. At least it was one of mine – I think there is a tendency to be so excited about conveying ideas and characters that we get carried away and tell everything. It took me a bit to realize and understand that things actually didn’t need to be explained – it was quite alright to leave the reader dangling and slowly fill in the details.

(Okay, maybe this was just my problem.)

This is also connected with the show-don’t-tell problem, which for some reason is becoming a huge pet peeve of mine. Don’t tell me what it looks like, show me. Don’t tell me what s/he feels, show me. Don’t tell me what happened, show me. Someone can tell another person anything; making them feel it or believe it is true craft.

I can’t say that I, myself, am the best at this. But I do try hard.

Yet even this particular writing “problem” can have its useful moments. Characters can tell some things that they see/observe and it can seem flat; showing how the character feels (just like any other viewpoint) creates a much more realistic “feeling.” Yet the flatness of telling can get across it’s own point. Perhaps a character bias or prejudice. The unrealism of a dream. Maybe events inside a character’s intoxication.

I think my point in this whole thing is that at some point everything can become a tool to better your craft. But you have to know it can be a tool and know what you yourself are doing in order to use them effectively. And that means understanding yourself and seeing your craft for what it is. Which is one of the hardest things to do as a writer. When writing is likened to opening a vein and bleeding on a page, it is not an easy thing to just decide to dissect in the name of improvement. Yes, there are things you can learn, but seeing your craft for what it is…is not as simple as that.

And in that sense, improvement becomes as much a journey of self as it is of skill, requiring as many facets and complications as growing as a person does.

About R. K. Brainerd

I've been writing since my pre-teens, mostly in the realm of fantasy and sci-fi. Taking interesting concepts and dropping complex characters into fantastical worlds is my jam. I also raise dairy goats and herd cats, the evidence of which can be found on my Instagram. Welcome to the adventure. View all posts by R. K. Brainerd

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