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Monday, October 15, 2007

Exception to the Rule: a List

I found another good list for writers. It was published in an old (March 2003) issue of Writer's Digest's magazine's "Novel Writer," and it came from an article by James Scott Bell, titled "Exception to the Rule. " In summary, this is what it said:

As most of us know, "show don't tell," is the rule. However, there are important exceptions--reasons--we should sometimes tell instead of show. For instance, "telling" might be the quickest way to delineate a character's emotions or set up for a forthcoming, intense scene; but the best way to know if a scene should be told or shown is to rank it from 0-10 on a scene intensity scale.

And now the list, or in this case, the scale:


10= Extreme emotion, handle with care. Very few scenes per book should hit this level. Show.

8-9=Big scenes and turning points. Show.

6-7=Conflict, important emotions and personal turmoil, sharp dialogue. Show.

5= The middle point. Lean toward telling on any scene at this level or below. This is a good place to start scenes that are about to build to a greater intensity.

3-4=Transitions and set up scenes. Another good place to start "about to build" scenes.

1-2=Danger! Get out as soon as you can.

0=DO NOT ENTER. Includes lengthy setting descriptions, especially in the first chapter.

There you have it! So now all you have to do is figure out what level each of your scenes are at and plot them on a graph (just a suggestion) to see if their linear progression makes sense to your novel. Right?

Or is it write?

6 comments:

Alison Palmer said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog, Ronda. I can tell you've got some great information to share here. I'll be back!

Janette Rallison said...

Good advice. I have Scott Bell's book on plot. It's great!

April said...

I just read that book...and it is soo good! I learned so much!

Rachelle said...

Thanks for the super tips. Now if I can just make myself follow the rules and the exceptions too. :)

Tristi Pinkston said...

Because I write historical fiction and sometimes the events are too graphic to relay realistically in an LDS novel, I tend to "tell" those. It's one way telling works for me.

The rest of the time, though, show! :)

Ajoy said...

Ah, the scale, the wonderful scale. It tends to make things more black and white for me. I need that. This is very cool! Thank you for posting it. :)