Focus and "show not tell"

by Bryan
(Carpenter, Wyoming, USA)

Question: I'm curious if you have any tips for keeping your focus when you write. I'm not sure if it would be considered writers block or just a flighty mind but i find when i try to visualize what i want to write or even just when I'm writing it that i cant keep my brain on topic. It will all be in there perfect and then before i know it I'm thinking about a dog or some other completely unrelated thing.

Its not that i don't want to write it or that I'm not interested in it, i just can't keep myself focused on it.

My other question has to do with the show vs tell when writing. It really confuses me for some reason, i understand the basics, showing through description but how do i really know when i have crossed over into telling? And should i write out my first draft and not worry about it or should i stick with trying to show it to save time later?


Answer: A way to distinguish between showing and telling is that showing presents the evidence - sensory impressions - while telling summarizes or interprets the evidence. For instance:

Showing: Dave watched the bulb of water swelling on the underside of the tap, the tug of war between gravity and the drop's surface tension growing until the connection between the drop and the metal broke and the drop plunged downward, hitting the surface of the sink with a tiny thud. This happened again and again over the course of the next two minutes

Telling: Dave noticed the faucet needed repair.

There are times when telling works, such as in a transition between one key scene and another, or if you want to quicken the pace because the event is not terribly important. The more important the event is and the greater the emotional impact you want it to have, the more important it is to show, so that the readers can truly feel like they're in the main character's shoes.

As for focus, getting distracted suggests you are not sufficiently interested in what you are writing. Find something to write that you can be more interested in. Write something you can get deeply emotionally engaged with or excited by. Write something so awesome and moving to you that you can't bear to tear your attention away from it and you lose all track of time and the world around you.

I mean, why else write?

Comments for Focus and "show not tell"

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Thanks for answering
by: Bryan

I see what you are saying about focus, and to a point i agree with you. But at the same time i think it has alot to do with just me. I have had ADD since i was a kid and i think that's part of it. I never could stay focused very well, i would often find myself trying to so hard to listen to what a teacher had to say but get bogged down by things like her zipper being down or her eyebrows or earlobes. Weird things like that and i would end up missing the whole lesson.

Anyway on the show not tell deal. That explains alot, in a lot of cases i think i do write that way but i end up thinking I'm telling. So then i get confused; I think this time around (like many other new writers i have yet to actually finish any large scale project) i think i will just write it out and then worry about finding where i messed up. I also plan to plan it out a bit before hand, normally i would be considered a "pantser" i think is what you called it. So maybe doing a semi planner will help me.


by: Glen

Sounds like a fine plan. A little plotting can give you a guide to keep you on track, and you can always fix any deficits in the revision process.

I wish I knew more about ADHD to advise you better, in that regard.

Thanks for answering
by: Bryan

No worries on the ADD problems, i was diagnosed with it when i was in second grade (28 now) and even i don't know much about it. Its one of those things were half people think my saying i have it is an excuse to get away with something and other half think its real but easily misdiagnosed. All i know is i have issues staying focused, and that's for everything, not just writing.

Anyway hopefully planning things out a bit will help this time. I'm working with my girl friend to come up with a story line to hopefully turn into a novel at some point of a space opera. So far so good though, i have character profiles for each of the main characters, and i plan to do the same for the planets they go to. That way i wont have to invent a setting each time, just what happens on that specific planet.

By the way, maybe you could help me with that, how many stops would you say is too many? I mean i want it all to tie together but i worry that too many would turn it into something tedious.

by: Glen

I'm not sure what you mean by stops. Is that the number of planets your characters will visit?

Obviously, I can't say (not knowing your story), but a logical number would be one per act. Most stories feature a four-act arc.

by: Bryan

That makes sense, i think i might do a little more then that but it will depend on how long each planets arc is. Plus stops in between.

Anyway back to showing and telling. If you don't mind could you read thing what i just wrote and point out if i have slipped into telling anywhere in it or if its all showing. Its taken from a character profile i just finished for a "third wheel" character i guess you could say. (Also it doesn't say in the part I'm showing you but the character stands about a foot tall give or take, so very small)


Kit was a typical Foxillian, enjoying nothing more then searching the sands for the next shiny object to haul back to the Den. The more objects he found the better his standing in the group would be. It was on one such adventure that he saw the shiniest object he had ever seen, it blinded his eyes just to look at it and it was taller then dunes surrounding his home.

Running as fast as he could, all he could think about was bring it back. Of course things like “how” didn’t matter; Foxillians cared little for minor details like that. Kit zipped through the sand, darting from rock to rock until finally he could see where the object sat in the sand. It was even bigger then he had thought, by far the largest shiny any of his people had ever seen. He was transfixed by it, the way the light glinted off its smooth surface. The sun began setting behind him; it was the signal that he should go back to the safety of the den but he couldn’t tear his eyes away.

The hypnotizing effects of the object were shattered as the sand behind him shifted, rose up and then crashed back onto the ground. A mere foot behind him stood a Foxillians worst nightmare. A giant sand spider, nocturnal arachnids that hunted for food after the sun left the sky. The creatures fangs quivered as thick poisonous green goo oozed from small holes at their base, the blobs of poison dropped to the sand below, instantly soaking into the desert floor.

Kits mind raced; choices on how to get out of his situation bounded around in his brain like a sack of nuts strapped to a running child. He could fling sand into the beasts many black eyes or maybe he could try to burrow his way to freedom. Nothing at this point sounded like it would help, and as if the creature was growing impatient with his internal planning, it let out what could only be described as a loud hiss. Its fangs shook, sending the poison splattering in all directions. Kit made up his mind, he ran towards the shining object, his reasoning was simple, shiny objects are good, maybe it will save him.

Sorry it was too big, needed another post to finish it
by: Bryan

The spider hissed again and charged after him, Kit could feel its many legs pounding into the sand as it went. His heart raced and pounded with each step, thundering into his large ears. It felt like he was running in slow motion, every foot fall took hours, and the creature was gaining ground on him for each second past. Finally he was close enough to the object to almost touch it; he hoped it would do something, anything to help him. However deep down he didn’t really expect much, he understood full well that a shiny rock had no power, but what else could he do?

To his amazement and utter shock, as he neared the object it began to open. A large chunk slid upwards, making a sound foreign to his ears, grinding and stuttering as it worked its way up. Kit squealed with joy as the sounds stopped, he had never seen anything like this before. His excitement was so great that he almost forgot why he was running to it in the first place. With all the strength he could muster Kit lept for the opening; he landed with a loud thud as only his upper half cleared the gap in the object. He clawed with his tiny hands, desperately trying to hold on and force his way up, kicking and scratching at the smooth object. He could feel the spider a mere inches away, its fangs ready to sink into his body at any second. Kit groaned as he made progress, first his waste, then his thighs.

Kit’s curiosity got the better of him as he chanced a look out at the spider; his gaze was met by a thunderous crash as the spider slammed into the opening. Kit squealed in fear and scrambled backwards, his furry back pinned to a wall. The creature hissed and snarled but was too large, its long legs preventing it from fitting through the hole. All eight of its pitch black eyes stared at him with burning frustration, wanting nothing more then to suck the juices from his body.

Kit’s sense of humor and being ever so curious began to fuel his bravery; laying on the ground next him was a long slender stick made of something just as shiny as the object he now hid in. A smile crept across his muzzle revealing his sharp pointed teeth; slowly he picked up the stick, and inched his way closer to the spider. Using both hands he quickly poked at the spider, first in its hairy cheek. The spider snarled louder but still couldn’t get any closer to Kit. Next he jabbed the stick into one of the creature’s eyes; the stick sunk into the black eye and was wrenched from his hands as the spider jerked and reared back out of the hole, the stick clanked against the sides as it went.

Kit Oohed at the idea that he had just scared off a sand spider, never before had one of his kind survived and attack by one. However before he could truly enjoy the moment the spider was back, this time it had managed to fit better. Reaching in with its front legs, it began squeezing its way inside. Kit yelped and fell backwards, landing on his rump; quickly he kicked the ground and slid until he could no longer slide.

Guess i needed a third too
by: Bryan

As the spider struggled to gain entry into the small opening, the hole slowly shook and trembled. It was closing; once again Kit forgot his fear and oohed at the sight. With a loud crunch it closed on top of the spider, which went limp, green sludge oozed from the where the hole closed on the spider.

“That was awesome!” Kit heard something say, it was then that he realized he was not alone. In fact he was sitting on something’s feet. Kit knocked on them with his paw; they were covered in hard leather. “It’s kind of cute…” He heard it speak again, words he couldn’t possibly understand.

Glancing up Kit saw them, fur-less creatures, towering above him. So tall that it would take five or six other Foxillians standing on each others heads to even look them in the eye. They both stared down at him. “Grab that sack,” one said, his long arm gesturing to something Kit couldn’t see “Maybe we can sell it.”

Kit would never see his home again.

Anyway thanks for your help. Its been useful and this site is really handy too.

by: Glen

My apologies, Bryan, but I only give feedback on story structure and ideas on this site. I try not to get into critiquing manuscripts or excerpts. The number of requests is high and the hours it would take to critique them in a conscientious way would leave me little time for anything else.

(Bear in mind that I charge nothing to answer questions on this site.)

However, other visitors to this page are welcome to give constructive feedback.

No worries
by: Bryan

Ah i see, I'm sure i can find a forum some where for that, i just thought i would try. Either way the site is really useful. Alot of this stuff seems like things they should have taught me in high school but they never did.

Anyway thanks for the help, i will be sure to post again if i get stuck on another question.

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