50 Shades of Show & Tell

50 Shades of Show & Tell

Still chugging along with the Fifty Shades Trilogy. I’m in the middle of book two, Fifty Shades Darker. Holy cow (™Anastasia Steele) is it fifty shades of boring. It’s all fancy parties, child abuse, and sailing. Wasn’t the point of these books the kinky fuckery (™Christian Grey)?

That said, I’m not here to discuss plot (yet). You know how everyone says Fifty Shades of Grey is the worst thing ever written? There’s a basic writing tenant that, if adhered to, would’ve cleaned up a lot of this mess: show don’t tell.

Let’s talk about adverbs and adjectives.

A quick review if it’s been a while since Language Arts class.

  • Adjectives describe a noun. Ex: My brown dog’s thick drool.
  • Adverbs describe a verb. Ex: My dog drools constantly and disgustingly.

As parts of speech, they’re great! They literally add color to the world! And you can’t play MadLibs without knowing a few. But, when it comes to creative writing, adverbs and adjectives are like butt plugs. They should be used carefully.

Case in point:

“Oh, Ana. What you make me feel,” he murmurs and kisses me passionately with fervent ardor.

That is my new favorite sentence in all of literature. E.L. James, New York Times bestselling author and thesaurus owner, essentially published, “He kisses me passionately with passionate passion.”

We can do better.

This Pulitzer Prize winning sentence is found in the middle of chapter 9. Ana and Christian have declared their love (after two weeks, tops). He takes Ana on his boat, and they kick off Mac, his First Mate, so they can do it in Christian’s boat bed.  Now that we have the context, we don’t need adjectives and adverbs to tell us what we already know.

“Oh, Ana. What you make me feel,” he murmurs and kisses me with ardor.

Let’s talk about dialogue tags for a second. They should be used just as sparingly as adjectives/adverbs and mainly to designate the speaker. We know Christian’s talking (not murmuring), so let’s kick that tag off the boat with Mac.

“Oh, Ana. What you make me feel.” He kisses me with ardor.

Ardor may be a noun, but E.L. James is still telling us about his kiss, not showing us what it’s like.

“Oh, Ana. What you make me feel.” He kisses me.

So, how do we know about Christian’s kissing if not explicitly told?

To me, this is the fun part. What exactly is a passionate kiss? What does it feel like? What does your body do? What does your partner’s body do? I’ve been with my husband for 7 years, so I don’t remember. But, I asked him to kiss me passionately with passionate passion. It was educational.

“Oh, Ana. What you make me feel.” He grabs either side of my head and smashes his mouth against mine, sucking on my lips and slobbering down my chin. His tongue is a slug writhing against my teeth. I struggle, but he overpowers me, pushing me backwards until I hit the wall. A frisson runs through my core.

You know, something like that.

What can we learn about showing vs. telling from Fifty Shades?

1 – 1000) REVISE! I bet even Haruki Murakami litters his first draft with adjectives, adverbs, and dialogue tags. I mean, I’m sure he’s never written passionately passionate passion, but you know what I mean.

First drafts are allowed to be sloppy. That way you can focus on plot and character development. I wouldn’t recommend self-publishing the first draft, unless you think you can sell 100 million copies. Then, screw grammar! You’re rich!

For the rest of us, here are some tools to clean your prose like Mrs. Jones cleans Christian’s butt plugs.


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