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Does Your #amwriting contain the words Thought, Wondered, Realized?

“Thinking is abstract.  Knowing and believing are intangible.  Your story
will always be stronger if you just show the physical actions and
details of your characters and allow your reader to do the thinking and
knowing.  And loving and hating.” –Chuck Palahniuk 

Fiction writing tips by Chuck Palahniuk
Chuck Palahniuk on Fiction Writing

This is from an essay I read on and in the last year, it has changed my writing. Chuck goes on to say: 

“Instead of characters knowing anything, you must now present the details that allow the reader to know them.  Instead of a character wanting something, you must now describe the thing so that the reader wants it.

In short, no more short-cuts.  Only specific sensory detail: action, smell, taste, sound, and feeling.”

Whenever I spot a line that  says something like:

He knew she would react like that.

I try to replace it with:

He had watched her years ago as she took a pair of shears to the sweater she’d worked on for over a month. Bits of snipped wool and color lay scattered on the floor around her as she lay on the floor, knees curled into her stomach, mimicking the baby she’d lost. 

He hadn’t approached her then, and he wouldn’t now.

This is ‘show don’t tell‘ applied to the character and the language, and the unpacked details and action convey emotion that the words ‘he knew’ can’t. 

Which version do you think works better? Do you use ‘thought’ verbs in your writing?

Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her next literary crime thriller, The Blue Bar, is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency, and was published by Thomas & Mercer on January 1, 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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  • a Rat says:

    interesting and informative. point well made. thanks for sharing. 🙂

  • preethi says:

    Wow…that is an interesting point. Thanks for sharing….will take a look at that site too 🙂

  • Hi Damyanti,
    I've read these thoughts about showing and telling by chuck P. before and it was refreshing to reread parts of his essay again. Thank you for posting it! Showing is always better than telling, unless you can get a joke out of the telling! In other words, it's a good rule of thumb but sometimes rules are meant to be broken. Have a great day!
    –Alicia, comedy writer

    • Damyanti says:

      Yes, it is always a great rule, but very few of us consistently use it. You have yourself a good one as well!

  • On a lighter note Damyanti-my last two posts are about thoughts and MORE thoughts !So disappointing.I just can't write fiction-it is facts for me.

  • An interesting point, in fact this method allows the reader to connect more with the plot. Just as For the writer, its a chance to infuse more minute details to his characters, for the reader, its a chance to look at the events from the character's point of view, as they have more inof on the latter's psyche.

    • Damyanti says:

      Yes, entering a character's psyche is very important because it creates empathy in the reader. Thanks for your comment.

  • Jocelyn Rish says:

    I read Chuck's essay a while back and mostly agreed with it. But like everything else, I think there can be pitfalls. Sometimes within the flow of the story it's more expedient (or even better matches the character's voice) to say, "Uh oh, I think I pissed him off." So like with all writing techniques, I think we have to work on finding the right balance for the story.

  • Subroto says:

    It's a great reminder, this post of yours, about how easy it is to regress into lazy writing. I had read a similar post too but sometimes bad habits take over. Must keep a check, must keep a check…..

    • Damyanti says:

      This is the very same post I'm talking about– I'm not sure the site you have linked to has taken permission from the author. I did not reproduce the entire article here, just quoted from it.

  • Cherie Reich says:

    I do use thought words, but I've been cutting back. I still use them a lot in first drafts, but that's what first drafts are for. 🙂

  • It takes a few more words, but flows much better Damyanti.

  • Nistha says:

    A point nicely made. As Chekov said – "Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass."

  • Never 'thought' of this before! Yes, I have used 'thought', 'wondered', 'realized' in my writing.
    Need to put more thought while composing! 🙂

  • M Pax says:

    Yes, I use thought words. I'm trying to improve. I love your illustration. It's a wonderful example.

  • Kelly Steel says:

    A very useful and timely post for me at this time. Thanks. I also head hop a lot while telling my story.

  • It's easy to become lazy and use those words – I know I have. When you're aware they are showing words, then it's easier to spot and remove them.

  • L.G. Smith says:

    Yep, it's something I mark up when I'm critiquing a lot. Just being in the voice of the characters tells us it's them doing all the "knowing, seeing, feeling," etc. You don't need to use those words. Makes for much stronger writing to leave those out.

  • Damyant, good example that works. I'm lazy and showing takes a lot more work than telling. Just the number of words you've used here demonstrates that, however, since I learned that I hardly use the words you mentioned. Being in the character's mind creates immediacy and connects reader to character to I strive for that.

  • E.L. Watts says:

    Short and sweet and fantastic information. Thanks!

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