“Show, don’t tell” and other meaningless writing “advice”

Since I’m writing a novel, it should come as no surprise that I have no clue what I’m doing. So, like many writers I seek out various “Writing tip” sites and blogs.

Some of these blogs offer genuine, useful advice. And a surprising number of them do it for free. As a result, I’ve learned quite a bit about  plotting, character, and world building without spending a dime; which is great for me, because I’m broke. However, I’ve also run into a pattern.

A lot of these sites give the exact same advice on a few subjects. For example, every site repeats the old saying “Show, don’t tell.” and etc. But very few of them elaborate as to how these things are done. It’s easy to say “Write good dialogue” and pick up your check. It’s not so easy, however, to give examples of how to do it.  And once a site spouts more platitudes on writing than advice. I’m on my way.

See, as someone writing a novel, I expect to find help online. this may be presumptuous, but the expectation is still there. I don’t expect someone to hold my hand and tell me exactly what to do and when. But there should at least be help beyond just throwing someone out to the wolves. At least give me a knife. To help someone doesn’t mean to do something for them. It means showing them a map when they’re lost, giving them basic directions to follow, or not, by their own discretion. Or simply supporting them through a rough patch and telling them you’ve been there.

You can’t just throw them some clichés and pat them on the back, expecting your “effort” to do the work for you. It will only make them seek out someone who’s better at what you do. Writing advice is no different, “Show, don’t tell” means nothing. But ” Show through action and emotion what falls flat with words.” gives someone a basic idea of how to do it. Don’t just tell me why I should listen to you, show me why.

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