Don’t just tell about it – put some action into it!

“C” writing merely tells the reader what happened.  The action verbs are all very plain.

“A” or “B” writing doesn’t tell us about it – it shows us!

A mean dog came in. 

Charlie, the pit bull, charged in, snarling and frothing at the mouth. 

Mike and Bill fought viciously. 

Bill’s fingers were mashing into Mike’s eye, his thumb thrusting the Mike’s nose upward.  A sudden shift worked lose Mike’s hand.  In a splintered second it was a fist slamming upward into Bill above him. 

Jim greatly enjoys eating apple pie. 

As his mother set the steaming pie on the table, a grin appeared on his face like the dawn’s first light striking the barn and the outbuildings on a frosty December morning. 

They went into the woods and built a fire. 

The four stranded teenagers strode into the deep, resin-scented darkness and gathered dead sticks and cones to make a fire.  When they returned to their makeshift camp, Mike opened up the matchbook – only four matches left.

An old man on Mackinac Island instructs snowmobile safety. 

He stood in the front of the room, a weak smile forced across his wrinkled face.  The young teens settled, their talk almost subsiding as they watched him turn to the worn manila folder containing the first lesson in snowmobile safety. 

She loved her daughter. 

She kissed three-year old Carrie softly on the cheek and tucked in the covers as the girl slept.  She pushed down the thoughts of Robert and his gun, hiding somewhere out there in the dark. 

Bill felt nervous.

Bill sat in a dentist's waiting room, peeling the skin at the edge of his thumb, until the raw, red flesh began to show.  Biting the torn cuticle, he ripped it away, and sucked at the warm sweetness of his own blood. 

Robert Newton Peck, Secrets of Successful Fiction

 


 

 

Lesson Exercises 1: Turning Generalities into Specifics

Break into groups and write scenes to portray the following:

 

See an example of this assignment completed.

 

1 GENERALIZED DESCRIPTION:

She was beautiful, a great singer, and her little sister really looked up to her. 

 

2 GENERALIZED DESCRIPTION:

He was athletic, the star baseball player of the team. 

 

3 GENERALIZED DESCRIPTION:

She didn't get along with her parents.

 

4 GENERALIZED DESCRIPTION:

All the girls liked him, and he hung out with the popular crowd. 

 

5 GENERALIZED DESCRIPTION:

He was always getting into trouble. 

 

6 GENERALIZED DESCRIPTION:

She was shy and sure that other kids never liked her. 

 

7 GENERALIZED DESCRIPTION:

He was a braggart, and enjoyed pushing people around. 

 

8 GENERALIZED DESCRIPTION:

He was a wimp, and always gave in to what other people demanded whether it was something he wanted or not. 

 

9 GENERALIZED DESCRIPTION:

He was interested in action and daring. 

 

10 GENERALIZED DESCRIPTION:

She mostly stayed home and felt awkward in social situations. 

 

11 GENERALIZED DESCRIPTION:

He was busy all the time, and efficient at his job, giving little attention to the personal side of life. 

 

12 GENERALIZED DESCRIPTION:

She was loud and often stepped on people’s toes in social situations, but it seemed that she was never aware of it. 

 

Lesson Exercises 2: Turning Generalities into Specifics

Break into groups and write scenes to portray the following:

 

See an example of this assignment completed.

 

1 GENERALIZED ACTION:

She was mad at him for coming over and talking to her son about stock car racing. 

 

2 GENERALIZED ACTION:

When she told him the news, he just flipped out.

 

3 GENERALIZED ACTION:

The first two weeks he was there, he was constantly running away. 

 

4 GENERALIZED ACTION:

For all of his misbehavior, he was being sent to a summer reform camp. 

 

5 GENERALIZED ACTION:

His dad was so inflexible on his curfew that he couldn’t go to the concert with everyone else. 

 

6 GENERALIZED ACTION:

In class, his mind was far away on his missing brother. 

 

7 GENERALIZED ACTION:

When she saw him in the study by himself, she was convinced that he had something to do with the missing maps. 

 

8 GENERALIZED ACTION:

Knowing where he came from, he wasn’t at all what she had expected. 

 

9 GENERALIZED ACTION:

They got in a fight after school, and Mike easily won.  

 

10 GENERALIZED ACTION:

The officer knew this would be trouble the moment s/he pulled over the van. 

 

11 GENERALIZED ACTION:

As he stepped aboard the bus, he knew this trip would be like nothing he had ever experienced before.