Tuesday, February 9, 2010

It’s Okay to Tell—Sometimes (Part 5 of 5)

You insert telling statements to break down long speeches. Why punish readers by forcing them to read paragraphs of dialogue that diminish the drama?

Long speeches flatten the writing because they set aside the story’s impact too long.

To illustrate how to break up a lengthy passage, let’s say Michael Silva, who has won the nomination for mayor, makes his speech before an outdoor audience.

"You have chosen me to represent you. You have empowered me to speak for those who have no power! I am ready to make our singular voice heard!"

For seventeen minutes, Michael held the crowd’s attention. He outlined his plan to "roust the fat cats," get rid of porno bookstores, declare war on drugs, and bring integrity back to city hall.

"And if you elect me as mayor," he concluded as he raised his right hand, "you have my solemn word that I will give all my energy to this task."

In writing that scene, I could have cut the lengthy message in several ways. Supporters could have cried out, "That’s right! or "Right on!" Perhaps even had a few hecklers boo. Michael's gaze could have surveyed the crowd. I could have pointed to the darkening clouds overhead or perhaps had the sun's glare in his eyes.

Instead, I chose to insert the telling statement that says he spoke for seventeen minutes. I summarized his message and kept the momentum going.

It is okay to tell—sometimes. Good writers know when to tell and when to show.


  1. Do you have a rule of thumb for how many sentences you use in a quote? Or how many interchanges in a dialogue?


  2. Do yo have anything on your site that has tips for story-telling on the web? I understand one has to catch them very early with a few words.



What are your thoughts?