Monday, January 25, 2010


Unputdownable |unputdownable|
1 To write a story so compelling, it's as if you're a part of it, and you can't let go.

That's the goal of every author isn't it? Write a book that readers don't want to put down, a book they want to read so much, that they will stay up half the night to finish it. It is for me.

So how exactly do you do that?

It's actually pretty easy, you leave out all of the boring parts.

Yeah right, how do you do that? Some of the boring parts are needed. They provide information that enhances the excitement for the interesting scenes, or provide the reader a breather between high action, or highly dramatic moments. You see that's the interesting thing about books, just like everything else in life, too much of a good thing, is too much.

Too much action becomes repetitive. Too much weepy love scenes becomes unbearable (actually for me most love scenes are unbearable, but that's a different topic). Too much of any type of scene one after the other, desensitizes the reader, they become bored, and the book likely gets put down.

As writers we've all been told to "show don't tell", but even that has its limits. Especially when trying to provide information, scenes crafted to show can seem forced, contrived, or simply too darn long.

What you need to do, is have as many of the action, dramatic, powerful show scenes as the book requires, but separate them with small tell scenes that provide the information in a quick non-boring way so that the reader doesn't close the book, and fall asleep.

Heresy you say? Tell the reader instead of show? Yes, but only in moderation. Only to move the scenes along so that you can quickly get to the next important show scene. Too much telling, just like too much showing, are both the kiss of death when it comes to writing stories that are unputdownable. Both types are needed in just the right mix, to create a compelling story that will keep your reader up all night.

What do you think? Do you mix show and tell? How do you determine which type of scene to use?


  1. It's all so complicated! How much to show and how much to tell? I use dialogue a lot to move the scenes and the story along - I find 'showing' a person's motives or personality through dialogue to be effective. But it's a fine balance between boring the reader to death and going over the top, I agree.

    Julie xx

  2. Voicing is key. If I find yourself mixing it up to stay on top, but the voicing changes, it's a good signal that I've screwed up and need to rewrite that section.

    The real problem is everyone's definition of boring is different.

  3. I'm reading the 9th In Death book right now. I've noticed that some parts of the book are less interesting to me than others, but I still keep reading. Why is that?

    Well, it's La Nora for one, but for another, she has (at this point) 3 and a half plot lines going at once... all at different levels in the peaks and valleys. So just as I get to a point where I'm ready to put the book down, she switches to a different plot, one that's on the way up, or just at the climax, and I'm hooked all over again.

    She's tricky that JD Robb.

    I've heard the "leave out the parts readers tend to skip" advice more than a few times. With my writing I think I still have to get out the "tell", then edit it out as I revise.

  4. I agree, you have to mix show and tell. I have read work where people have gone out of their way not to tell and it bogged down the story. Sometimes it is just better to say, "She left," instead of describing everything about the moment. The key to finding the balance it to write it in such a way that it goes unnoticed.

  5. I'm with you a mix is nice! Also dialogue works really nicely to move a piece a long at a little faster pace. You have to decide what parts to be more descriptive and which not to!

    Love you blog! Look forward to future posts!


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