Get ready to wrestle with writer’s block

Ready to wrestle

We’ve all been advised to show, don’t tell. That’s a best practice. It applying it, we must be wary of lapsing into a the most painful form of word wrangling. A struggle to show vivid scenes with intense action can make a writer’s head hurt. 

We crumple another page, massage our throbbing temples and wonder what words will compel my reader to turn another page? 

Tortured writing produces tortured prose. Maybe it’s time to enjoy the craft. If we enjoy it, maybe the reader will enjoy it.

The Fiction Writer's Workout:


This four-step workout will boost your ability to Show, don't tell. You will write a postcard, taking the Point Of View (POV) of your memories. Don't hesitate to stretch the truth. Enhance your memories, but remember: a postcard won't hold many words.

Step 1.
Revisit a memory.

Choose a place you’ve enjoyed. Have you experienced fun and fireworks in Orlando, or seen urban splendors of New York City? Would you prefer mellow memories of Tinseltown or the monumental experiences of Washington, D.C.?

If “none of the above” is true, remember the first time your drove a car, or a five-star day when you won an award or aced a job interview.

Step 2.
Make it fiction.

Novelists must also be liars. Recast one minute of memory. Bring in a person — good or evil — who wasn’t actually there. For extra credit, make room for a hailstorm or a snarling doberman in your fantasy.

Before you touch that keyboard or lift that pencil, stop, look, and listen. For more extra credit, use other senses as well. Then pause to experience emotions. Propelled by those, you are ready to write.

Step 3.
Put in on the back of a postcard.

A postcard can contain one beat. A single event. That amount of story equates to one panel in a graphic novel or one camera shot in a movie. The front of the postcard is your snapshot memory of the event. The back is the beat that you write. Can you make the reader see it move? Will they see it in three dimensions?

Step 4.
Have a character write a postcard.

Now give a Point Of View (POV) character a turn at this. Don’t worry about the color of that character’s eyes. You can’t see them unless you look at a mirror… and that’s such an authorly device. Just immerse yourself in the POV. Be able to answer questions like these:

  • Where am I?
  • Why do I recognize this place?
  • What just happened?
  • What am I trying to do?
  • Who is with me?
  • What do I expect them to do?
  • What are we saying to each other?

That's the secret of show vs. tell. Let POV characters decide what to show. The reader will enjoy vivid, firsthand experiences.