The Pen is Mightier than the Cliché: Slash Them From Your Writing

Cliché: The Pen Is Mightier Than The SwordClichés are everywhere, by their very nature. They appear in movies, on television, and slip into our writing before we can catch ourselves. In fact, cliché comes from the French, meaning stereotype – although, in context, it refers to printing presses1, not actual preconceived notions. They are so popular because they were once witty turns of phrase, that have worn out due to overuse. Also, as humans, we use language to communicate as efficiently as possible. Clichés allow us to convey a lot of information about life in a few short words.

However, clichés make for poor writing. When a phrase has been used for so long, we rarely even hear it or read it anymore. This causes the reader to gloss over your words, causing confusion and disinterest. Too many instances of clichéd writing will make your writing boring and unappealing.

Transform Clichés Into Fresh Prose

Stop yourself when you catch yourself heading into a cliché trap. If you edit after you write, make a note to yourself that there is a cliché that needs editing out. If you edit as you go along, find a way around your cliché. Can your cliché be transformed into a new idea, just by altering a few words? Or should a new phrase be written in its place?

Examine the elements of the cliché, and decide if it is, in fact, what you wish to say. Sometimes, especially in dialogue, clichés can create a mood or indicate the origin of a character’s accent. Whenever you volunteer to let a cliché stay, be sure that there is no other way to write it. Use a light touch, and your readers will understand the impact of your phrase.

Fun Clichés to Play With

There are entire websites devoted to lists of clichés found in the English language. Some are universal, while others may be more common in certain areas of the world. Other languages also have their own clichés, which may not translate the same in English.

Here are a few clichés, and my way of transforming them into an exciting phrase. You can extrapolate your own ideas, and share them with us below!

  • Never look a gift horse in the mouth – I don’t know about you, but I’ve never actually met a horse with a gift. If I were tempted to use this admonishment in a story, I might twist it around to say “Never look in a horse’s mouth for a gift”, which could be a far more useful warning for the story.
  • A diamond in the rough – Again, another cliché that doesn’t quite make sense. You can’t polish a lump of coal and get a diamond. “A diamond with a few rough edges” would be more apt, but the phrase doesn’t have as much impact.
  • Leave no stone unturned – This phrase was probably considered clever once. Nowadays, unless you are looking for an insect, turning over stones won’t get you very far. A guard in one of my stories might say “Turn out all the peasants into the streets!” when looking for my hero.
  • A baker’s dozen – It is far easier to write the word thirteen, and takes less effort for the reader to understand. This cliché is unnecessary, unless used in dialogue as stated above.

Clichés are part of language for a reason, but can often be slashed out of your writing without anyone missing them. Don’t be afraid to play around with them, and see what can be done to polish them into outstanding witticisms. Just do not be surprised if the cliché is overworked to the point that it needs to be let go for good.

What are your favorite hackneyed clichés? Have you ever turned a tired phrase into a sterling piece of prose?

1 The Museum of Printing: Collection
Photo Credit: 01-21-06 © Adrian Hughes

Adapt Your Voice to Expand Your Writing Opportunities

Adapt your Writer's VoiceMany beginning writers hear the term “voice,” as in, “finding your writer’s voice” but aren’t sure what it means. “Voice” is the words we choose, as well as our sentence structure, the cadence of how the words fit together.

When people speak, we may have an accent or speak in a particular dialect of our native language. We also have speech patterns, slang phrases we use, and favorite expressions. These are often influenced by the area we live, our age/generation, our socioeconomic status, and possibly even what we do for a living. (Language directly influenced by our industry is sometimes called “jargon.”)

In writing, all of these things together form a “writer’s voice.” Many of us write the way we talk. But some writers are adept at adopting different voices. If you can write in a variety of voices, you can expand your writing opportunities to include:

  • Writing in a variety of fields and industries
  • Writing for the web, print, television or radio
  • Ghostwriting
  • Making $1/word or more writing for glossy national publications or trade journal

How to Recognize Other Voices

The first step to learning how to write in different voices, is learning how to recognize different voices — and what creates them — when you read. For instance, corporate writing adopts a more formal style. Blogs can be casual, fun or newsy, depending on the audience. Sales and marketing copy has a conversational style designed to draw in — and convince — readers.

To begin to pick up the cadence of different writing voices, read widely. Read everything. (Where have you heard that writing advice before? Everywhere, I’m guessing!) After you read something in a unique, distinctive voice, sit down and write something using that voice.

“Finding Someone Else’s Voice”

Writing in a different voice often requires more extensive rewriting. The first words that come out of our minds and onto our computer screen are usually our “natural” writing voice. In many cases, this is also the way we speak. (If you ever hear me give a webinar, you’ll recognize that I write these blog posts in my “teaching voice,” and I speak pretty much the same way when I’m teaching someone about writing.)

To write in a different voice, consider all the different ways you can say the same thing. Use words not in your normal lexicon. Vary your techniques and your sentence structure.

If you are ghostwriting, the best thing to do is to read everything you can that person has written. The same goes for submitting queries or articles to major magazines. You want to make that “voice” part of your mind, so you can hear it in your own thought patterns. You should begin thinking like your client, or like the writers of the magazine you want to write for. When you start to think like your client or your magazine’s market, you’ll start to write in a way they can relate to, naturally.

Take the Writing Voice Challenge

Here’s an exercise for you. Take a recent article or blog post you have written and rewrite it:

  • In the voice of your favorite author
  • As sales copy
  • As a corporate communication
  • As an email to a friend

After you do this a few times, you’ll be close to an expert at adopting other voices, and then you don’t have to worry if you land an assignment that forces you to write in a voice different from your own writer’s voice. You can do it!

Feel free to share your examples below in the comments or tell us other ways you experiment with “voice” when you’re writing.

Random Acts of Poetry

Random Poetry: On Healthy Animal HandlingI’m a fan of random and found art, bits of beauty or composition that either happen accidentally or by a solitary, unthanked and perhaps unknowing artist. There’s also random poetry in our daily lives; spotting these lines takes some practice, but it sharpens your mind as a writer and opens your creative processes to new ideas.

When you write for a living, every word is carefully chosen, and articles, novels or stories flow in a logical line. Sometimes that line becomes a rut but you can easily jog your creativity off the beaten path with some sly wordplay.

In the continuing spirit of (Inter) National Poetry Month, here’s a few ways to spot random poetry, and a couple of uses for those found bits of word art.

1. Portable signs

These signs are found everywhere outside businesses and strip malls. Sometimes the poem writes itself, like in this recent example I found locally:

“Leather Christmas N Hollywood Brings Gourmet Mores.”

Morals and mores enjoyed by leather fans at Christmas would be an acquired taste, come to think of it. Especially in Hollywood. It’s a short little freeform that makes you think, which is the point. In the cold, real world, each word was advertising a business: the leather shop, the Christmas Store, the Hollywood memorabilia place, and the gourmet food boutique. But a harried mall owner trying to squeeze everyone in probably had no idea he was creating a lovely little line of poetic whimsy.

2. Television listings

I have satellite TV, complete with an online guide to tell me what’s coming up next on each channel. If you read some of these listings together, it’s great, dramatic stuff:

“Desperate Housewives
‘Til Lies Do Us Part
The Chocolate Soldier Tales
From the Darkside; Bridezillas Shimmy
[as] Gilad’s Bodies
in Motion [up] One Tree Hill
Beyond the Steps [and] The Spaces Inbetween.”

I’ve added an occasional word in parentheses to connect some titles, but the meat of the tiny, lyrical meal is right there, randomly stacked on top of one another.

3. Spam

“My lips kiss you
like giraffes in the city
please her
with larger members
of the church
the word is to be free”

Whether written by a spammer with a shaky grasp of English or a frustrated poet/bot, there are some classic treats to be mined from an otherwise annoying nuisance. Enjoy the poetic lunacy but don’t ever, ever click on the links. Just look at it like you would an interesting cloud: take a mental picture, appreciate the accidental beauty, and watch it float away into the spam folder to be deleted.

Discover your own Random Poetry

Now that you see the random poetry of mangled communication everywhere, what do you do with it? Keep some stellar examples as writing prompts for a day when you’re chained down by writer’s block, or collect several and piece them together into one flowing epic. Random poetry allows you to be silly with words, so play with them like Lego blocks and build towers of weird inspiration. It will loosen your Muse, make you laugh and maybe even cause you to write a few nonsense poems of your own.

What random snippets of language have you discovered had a poetic ring to it? Share some of your own random poetry in the comments below.

Photo Credit: Animal Cleanliness by freedryk
Photo Credit: Towing Haiku by iamdonte

Should Fiction Be Poetic? Part 2 of our chat with Hugo and Nebula Award-nominee Rachel Swirsky

In the first part of our series featuring science fiction and fantasy author Rachel Swirsky, the young talent revealed a collection of her poetry and short stories entitled “Through the Drowsy Dark” will be released by Aqueduct Press at the end of May. This got us talking about the differences between poetry and prose, if prose should be poetic, and how to achieve that effect in your work.

Dawn: Since it’s National Poetry Month… what are the similarities and differences between writing poetry and short fiction?

Rachel: I think poetry is intensely useful for fiction writers. It teaches one how to create images that are concrete rather than abstract, to fully exploit each word, and to understand language on the detail-level. Poetry spoils me, because you can work on each word until it’s perfect. You can rewrite a poem dozens or hundreds of times to make sure each word is exactly what you want it to be.

Dawn: You can’t do that in a short story…

Rachel: Once you’re dealing with thousands of words in short stories, you can’t give each phrase the same level of attention. With novels, there’s even less ability to focus on the micro-level.

When I took a novel workshop at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Lan Samantha Chang said that one of the most common difficulties she sees short story writers having with the novel form is letting go of their control. Novels are too long to perfect word by word, and usually too much for a writer to keep in mind all at once in the way you can with a short story (or so I’m told).

Poetry is the opposite: you have an extremely high degree of control over the words and it’s fairly easy to keep the whole thing in mind at once, or even to memorize the whole project if you want to. Sometimes that control can be maddening if you can’t create the effect you want, and I know there have been plenty of times when I’ve caught myself retyping the same three words over and over, changing them slightly and then changing them back, until I’m completely frustrated. This is usually a good time to walk away.

Dawn: Your prose is very poetic — one of the things I love about it. Do you make a conscious effort to do that?

Rachel: I do make an effort to be poetic in what I write. Which is to say, poetry is extremely conscious of the language it uses to convey ideas. It’s easier for people writing prose to abstract themselves from the means of communication, because prose is an unmarked form–we use it when we speak, and when we write notes to each other, and when we write up reports at work. It’s ubiquitous, so we can pretend it’s not even there, much like fish probably don’t think, “Hey, I’m swimming through the water” every thirty seconds. But it is there.

Dawn: I think it’s easier to “try” to abstract ourselves from the means of communication. But truly transparent prose can take as much work as poetic prose. Otherwise, it looks self-conscious…

Rachel: Transparent prose attempts to use language in a way that the audience won’t notice–to take advantage of the ubiquity of the medium so it disappears. This can be a beautiful technique. Prose that we consider poetic, or sometimes I hear people use the term self-conscious, is playing more overtly with the medium of language.

Different styles have different kinds of effects on the reader, and may play better or worse with the kind of content you’re trying to express. I try to think about what effect I’m having and what effect I’m trying to create, and then I usually spend a lot of time with the sentence-level language to make sure that it’s doing what I want it to.

Dawn: What do you find most challenging about fiction – the language, plot, characters, world-building or something else?

Rachel: That depends on the story. I probably spend more time on language than on anything else, but I don’t tend to find it challenging, per se.

I don’t feel like I have a lot of problems understanding characters, although relaying that understanding on the page is a different challenge.

I tend to come into stories with plot arcs I already understand, but sometimes the exact process of how to show the characters getting from 60% of the way through the story to 80% can be very difficult for me. Beginnings, early middles, and endings are easy–it’s that latter middle part of the arc which seems to sag. I don’t even want to know what that’s going to be like on a 100,000-word novel instead of a 2,000- to 10,000-word short story.

I wish I was better at dialogue. I think I write dialogue decently enough, but when you read the work of someone who really has an ear for it, it can be this astonishing, amazing thing. Andy Duncan captures people’s speech in ways that feel dynamic, fresh, novel, and totally real–he writes the dialogue equivalent of surprising yet inevitable endings. His dialogue is a small, focused, surprise–but then you realize the character could never speak any other way.

You can read stories and poetry by Rachel Swirsky at:
Subterranean Magazine
Fantasy Magazine
Weird Tales
Beneath Ceaseless Skies

Find out more at

I also really wish I could do tight, focused plotting — the kinds of plots you find in farces or murder mysteries. I’ve been watching episodes of Coupling and Doctor Who by Steven Moffat, and he hits the plot points with just the right amount of precision and wit, with never a wasted word. I want to know how to do that.

Does Your Writing Make a Difference?

Making a Difference Writing Tote BagGrowing up, I imagined that my writing would, one day, make a difference in the lives of others. People would come to me on the street, and say “You wrote that story, it changed my life.” It was a great feeling; a feeling that fueled my writing dreams through the years.

Somewhere along the way, that dream slipped into the background of my subconscious. My inner idealist still wants to change the world, but the realist within asks “how,” “when,” and “at what cost?” Real life practicalities force me to wonder if writing can still change the world.

How Writers Have Changed the World

Great writing has changed the world. Writing down a language, whether in pictographs or actual words, increased communication between people. Today, the internet allows instant transmission of our writing. We can share our experiences, thoughts, and causes with the world.

Ancient texts, from sacred religious tomes to classical fiction and non-fiction literature, opened the realm of conscious thought and discussion to countless people throughout the ages. Hundreds of years later, we still turn back to these masterpieces to learn about the past, and let ourselves be carried away to a different time and place.

The printing press made writing accessible to the common man. Over time, publishing has allowed writing to flourish everywhere, with flyers, newspapers, magazines, books, and now, internet publishing. Never before has our writing had a chance to influence so many, so quickly. We can promote any worthy cause, personal philosophy, or intellectual discussion, and rally the support of thousands of people all around the world.

We are at a prime time in the course of civilization to make a difference with our words. And therein lies the obstacle as well.

Why Making a Difference Writing can be Difficult

So much information is available to us. It quickly becomes buried in search engine archives, under the stack of magazines by our coffee table, and within our bookshelves. Great wisdom is at our fingertips, but without proper publicity, it’s just another list of words to be filed away and lost. No one will know what you find important, unless you share it with them, personally. You must be a champion of your own writing, and the great writings of others, before your ideals and causes will ever be read and noticed.

Many of us aren’t adept at promoting our work. We may use the latest fads to get our message out, but snagging the attention of others is increasingly difficult. Our beliefs about self-promotion and modesty are obstacles to increasing awareness. There is a fine line to walk, between influencing others and becoming overbearing sleazy salesmen, and it is easy to avoid that line completely in the hopes that our writing will speak for itself.

Champion Your Writing, and Make a Difference

As writers, we need to be bold supporters of our work. We have to let the world know that we have something vital to say that will change their lives. No matter what other causes we support, our writing must become our first cause. Believe in yourself, the validity of your thoughts and words, and share your writing with anyone it may influence. Never hold back from letting your writing lend someone a helping hand.

Have you given your writing a chance to make a difference to someone else? How do you make writing your “First Cause”? Are you comfortable with traditional marketing techniques, or have you blazed your own trail?

Photo Credit: Ginnerobot

Why the Client is Always Right

Anyone who’s worked in retail knows the adage, “The customer is always right.” That credo often makes retail workers cringe. I’ve worked in several bookstores and most people wouldn’t believe the customers we had to accept as being “right.”

I can cite hundreds of examples of abused return policies, mis-read signage where the customer received a discount anyway, and complaints where the customer was clearly wrong, but the manager made right. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

The policy is not an excuse to act as a doormat, but it provides a good guideline for knowing when to cut your losses. In other words, is the bad PR worth the money we’ll save by not making the customer happy?

The words “bad PR” make me think of the recent Southwest / Kevin Smith debacle. Director Kevin Smith was kicked off a plane for being “too heavy”, and escorted out of a seat he clearly fit in. He was right; Southwest was wrong. But even if it was a close call — even if he had to struggle to get that armrest down — Southwest would have been smart to let it pass. Smith had been a passenger on the airlines countless times previously, flying with no danger to himself, the other passengers, or the plane as a whole. Southwest, known as the friendly airlines, has spent years and millions of marketing dollars building a good reputation for itself. Was it really worth it not to let Kevin Smith — a customer with a powerful voice and a lot of social networking cache — just be right?

For Freelancers, Clients = Customers

When you are a freelance writer, your clients are your customers. What are some instances in which the client is “right”, even if it may not seem like it?

  • When the editor changes your work in a way you may not approve of, but it is still factually and grammatically correct. Every editor has his own style, and publications typically fit the editor’s style. If the editor changes something, and it’s not how you would have written it, leave it alone. If you want to know the rationale, ask politely. But don’t argue.
  • When the client changes his mind about what he wants, and expects you to do more work as a result. Unless it’s specifically written into your contract (and you should have one for this reason) that you charge for re-writes, you should do the work. The client will appreciate that you went the extra mile, and you’ll get return work. If the client makes a habit of changing his mind after the fact, you may want to consider ending the relationship.
  • When you write to the client’s specifications, but the client just isn’t happy. I know a lot of writers disagree with me on this point, but I like to use this analogy: If I go to a hairdresser and I leave looking like Ronald McDonald, the hairdresser better fix it — for free. If I take my car to a mechanic and it’s not running well when I leave, I want him to make it right — at no charge. Doctors are probably the only professionals who can get away with not doing their job correctly the first time and then charge for repeat visits… but writers don’t have to live in fear of malpractice lawsuits, either.

Contracts Make it Clear
Again, the policy that the customer is always right isn’t designed to force professionals to act like doormats. Having a contract that clearly outlines what you will and won’t do for the given fee prevents misunderstandings, endless re-writes and wasted time. A contract helps ensure the client receives exactly what he paid for.

I don’t charge for rewrites and, in rare cases when a client is not happy, I will re-visit my work until it meets their specifications. I have many repeat clients, including editors I’ve worked with for more than 15 years.

If endless rewrites or complaints become a problem, I simply stop working for the client or publication. .. and I can count on one hand the number of times that has happened. In some cases, because clients know I will rewrite with a smile, whatever the circumstances, they offer to pay me for the additional work. Again, everyone is happy.

As writers, we are service professionals. The number one goal of a service professional is to provide good customer service. That’s at the heart of the “client is always right” philosophy.

What are some instances in which you’ve accepted a client being “right” because it wasn’t going to hurt you, even if you didn’t agree? When have you had to put your foot down?

Your Career: Only YOU Can Make it Happen

Jennifer Greenleaf's January Book Tour and Virtual Book SigningTouring the Blogosphere, Jennifer Greenleaf takes a few moments to share her success secrets with Writer’s Round-About. This weekend she’s doing a special promotion.

How can you take part? “Each book has its own custom bookplate designed and signed by Jennifer Greenleaf. All customers have to do is forward their receipt to Jennifer once the purchase has been made, and then they will receive their signed bookplate. The email you need to use in order to receive your custom bookplate is“. So get yourself the book or books of your choice and get in touch with Jennifer. Meanwhile, enjoy a few words from Jennifer about making success happen.

Even though I’ve been writing professionally since 1999, I still feel I’m very wet behind the ears when it comes to career building. When I first started out, I felt I needed to depend on others in order to find success and make things happen. Here are a couple of areas where I went wrong:

  • I thought if my target market approached me for work, I was successful. WRONG.
  • I thought if I got my name “out there,” that would be all I had to do to obtain writing gigs and clients. WRONG.

Not only was I depending on people to contact me, but I was also depending on other people (like the places where I was published, for example) to get my name out there. Despite being a motivated self-starter, I wasn’t “making it happen.” It took me about three years to realize these mistakes, and I’ve been working on “in your face” type promotions for my freelance writing and books.

There are a number of ways YOU can make it happen. Here are a few:

  1. Query often: querying has to be part of your regular routine if you want your freelance writing career to really work. This is, of course, unless you have already created a good stable of steady work. For those who are novice in the field, it’s essential to make this a fixture in your work schedule.
  2. Blog regularly: Google is a tool your prospective gigs, clients, and editors will use to find out more about you. This is true even if you’ve already landed the job. If you’re blogging regularly about a topic your passionate about or your career, they’re able to see a consistent stream of writing samples regularly. They’ll also learn a bit about your style, maybe learn about some of your goals, and probably figure out what your favorite kind of ice cream is…wait…never mind….
  3. Be reliable: if for some reason you’re unable to make a deadline, be known for good communication. Don’t be unreliable; otherwise you’ll quickly earn yourself a bad reputation. You’d be surprised who knows whom in which circles and, before you know it, you’ve earned yourself a bad name. I learned a trick when I was first starting out to write “dummy” deadlines on my calendar that was a few days prior to the real one. That way, I’m always early or right on time!

This is a New Year and good opportunity to dream big, and make your career exactly what you envision it to be. Follow other writers who are making it happen, learn the ropes of the business from writing websites (like this one, for example), and be realistic about what you can accomplish and when. You can make it happen!

Book Review: How You Leave Them Feeling

Title: How You Leave Them Feeling
Author: Jesse Ferrell
Publisher: JessTalk, hardback, 254 pages
ISBN 10: 0977881008

“Simply put, how you leave other people feeling and how people perceive you have a profound effect on the quality of your life,” declares the jacket blurb on Jesse Ferrell’s “How You Leave Them Feeling“. Ferrell encourages readers to adopt his approach in any interaction. The goal is to leave each person feeling good about himself and thus feeling good about you. When you do this, Mr. Ferrell maintains, you will be on the way to living the life you deserve, getting what you want out of life, and “living the good life now.”

Ferrell begins with a rousing introduction in which he explains the idea of the book. He describes how he saw that his own success was based on his ability to consistently leave clients and others feeling good about themselves. Then he sets the table for the main course by listing the principles on which he has built his own life. (He calls them the “Seven Essential Laws of Life”.)

In the thirteen chapters that follow, he delivers the details of his Seven Essential Laws and explains how they relate to leaving others feeling good about themselves and you. He explores subjects of attitude, communication, personal and professional development, building a support network, maintaining a healthy balance in life and more, illustrating liberally with real-life anecdotes and summing up with bits of catchy wisdom.

Some memorable points of the book for me were:

  • The idea of the personal signature or unique style by which each of us becomes known.
  • An emphasis on kindness and giving to others.
  • The importance of attitude – along with a piece of good advice: “When in doubt, leave it out… it is far easier to revisit a situation and provide additional messages than it is to take back a wrongful or inappropriate remark stemming from an attitude glitch.”
  • The importance of listening: “Sharpening your listening skills will bring you more respect and interpersonal growth than just about any other endeavor. People like to feel they are being heard. When you clearly listen to others, you are honoring the power of communication by investing the time to take in their message.”
  • The challenge to leave everything – and everyone – better than you found them.

The readability of Ferrell’s practical and crisply written material is helped by consistent organization and formatting. The text is laid out with lots of white space between paragraphs and broken up with bold-face headings. The main points of each chapter are listed again at the conclusion as action steps. A list of summary points (one-sentence statements that describe how following the actions steps will impact the reader’s behavior) and affirmations (brief positive statements for the reader to repeat or reflect on) conclude each chapter.

Jesse Ferrell, the man, comes across as enthusiastic, likable, a great friend and team player with lots of drive, integrity and clear goals. As a former executive within the Las Vegas casino marketing industry, he is now president and CEO of a professional speaking company, JessTalk Speaking Services, and seems eminently qualified to write a book of this kind. His experience in the corporate world gives added value to the personal and professional development section via the diary system he has developed and illustrates. He now works as a life coach and the “JessTalk Life Quadrant Model” he has developed for clients drives home his point about the need for and means of achieving a balanced lifestyle.

I gained much from the book. However, I would not adopt it carte blanche as my personal road guide. It is written from a humanistic perspective and is birthed out of a New Age worldview (bad energy, good energy, karma, the Cosmos, evolved soul, mantra, Mother Nature, envisioning/visualization are all terms or concepts found within). With that in mind, however, I would say that you can learn much of value from “How You Leave Them Feeling” whatever your creed.

I have encountered many of its principles in my own belief system and I decided, as I read it, to use what I could and simply discard the things with which I didn’t agree. It has certainly made me think twice about how I will treat the next telemarketer, panhandler, supermarket clerk or whomever – and that’s got to be a good thing.

Also available to download with Amazon's Kindle.

Violet Nesdoly, a poet, Christian and Children’s Author said, “The world of words has fascinated me for as long as I can remember. As a kid, whenever my Mom needed me for a job, it was a sure thing she’d find me between the covers of a book.”

You can get to know her better by reading her blog, Line Upon Line, where she shares inspiration, poetry, and thoughts on writing life. You can also find out more about Jesse Ferrell on his site, JessTalk Speaking and Coaching Services.

If you’re interested in having a review or article posted on Writer’s Round-About please send a query letter to

SG1 Series Part Three: Action & Dialogue

All Show, No Tell – The Audio/Visual Experience

One of the greatest lessons writers can gain by watching television series (and movies) is the importance of action and dialogue. In today’s world, we expect richer, active, even sensual experiences. We fill our entertainment hours with games, movies, soap operas, drama, theatre, ballet, situational comedy and reality television. Tangible, engaging experience involves interactions with all of our senses.

Thankfully, written media offers a wonderful opportunity to reach readers on a level of expression that goes far and beyond other forms. With words we can cause readers to see, feel, taste, smell and hear. The only way to truly allow a reader to experience a story is to show it, rather than tell it.

The Stargate Series, thanks to its audio/visual medium, is ALL SHOW AND NO TELL. Viewers watch the characters through every interaction, through every scene. We never experience internal monologue or exposition. Every vital element must be expressed to viewers through action and dialogue. The writers and producers of the Stargate SG1 series have mastered the subtlety needed to get the vital facts to viewers. They cut the chaff and engage viewers in this rich, science fiction environment.

ACTION – Something is ALWAYS happening.

In fiction we can resort to other forms of narration to tell the story but the most engaging, interesting and enriching is to ‘show’ the story through a series of SCENES. (Note: Fiction isn’t ‘all show’ and ‘no tell’ – read more but “show, don’t tell” is a vital writer tip – learn why.)

Every move your characters make, everything they see and experience, everything that happens to and around them is action. Whenever the SG1 step through the Stargate they’re taking action. What they do on the other side is action-packed.

Action isn’t always about guns blazing and car chases. Simple things like dinner, work and even sex involve action. The important thing to remember is anything you show happening must move the story forward. Every scene should take the story toward its climax, its ending.

DIALOGUE – Communication with purpose.

Getting characters to communicate is a significant action that offers writers a chance to use language between characters to share other important information. All dialogue should serve a purpose in your story. It could be character development, fact expression, or relationship based but it must move the story forward.

I’ll go into dialogue more in future Writer’s Round-About entries. Meanwhile read more about dialogue, writing dialogue, dialogue tips, and dialogue in scripts vs. novels.

Television series are rich with elements that involve viewers. We reach into the stories, interacting on a cerebral level that generates interest in the characters and what happens to them. We see it happening, we hear it happening and the audio/visual cues pull us into the action. The exact same scene could be written in two different ways, ‘show’ or ‘tell’.

If you tell the story to someone it creates the distance of a second-hand account. As writers we want to close that gap as much as possible. Sometimes it’s appropriate to give your readers distance but most of the time readers want to be fully engaged. Pull them in by showing them the action. Then they can use all their senses to experience a story, rather than just read about it.

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