Writing Exercise: Y is for Yoke

Photo by Steven Ungermann on Unsplash

Normally, this post would be titled “Heating the White Box” or something like that, but it’s April and I’m in the middle of the A-to-Z blog – and do you know how hard it is to find a “Y” word? So Y is for Yoke, as in – yoking the scene to reality. Today will be a writing exercise related to description.

I know most of us have heard the story about the English Teacher asking student why the thought the author made the curtains Blue. Description can enhance theme, but sometimes the curtains are Blue because they are Blue.

As a writer, when writing flash and short stories, work to have all description pull extra weight, where Blue has a reason for being part of the story beyond making sure the room is not just a white box. (Although that is a legitimate reason to make the curtains Blue.)

Oh, some of today’s readers might not be familiar with the White Box concept. Newer writers often have one skill set they are good at and need to develop others – they might be good at plot, or description, or characters, or dialogue – and when they write a scene, the other aspects are underutilized. For example, a dialogue writer could have two characters talking to each other, but they don’t interact with the room – does it have furniture, are they indoors or outdoors, why are they in this room and not elsewhere? They are in a “white box”, an empty stage.

To break the white box, the characters need to interact with the room. Today, though, the writing exercise is have it be heavier than just description. Yoke the description to the story in some way. Bonus points for giving a Show instead of Tell of a secondary aspect to the story. The characters walk across the wooden floor and the taps on their shoes ring (letting us know they are tap dancers). The characters do dishes which can carry all kinds of relationship and emotional signals. The characters sit down in heavy carved chairs, one higher than the other, indicating status in the fantasy world without expressly stating one is more powerful than the other.

WRITING EXERCISE: Write a dialogue flash with one bit of scene description that pulls extra weight. A little more complicated than normal, aim for 100 to 200 words.

My Attempt: In Argumentative Law – M is for Monday (see links below), I had the heat kick on. I did this to indicate that the class was held in the late fall to early winter in the Northern hemisphere, as would be common for the first semester of a college course. While all the other aspects of the room, from the chairs to where the teacher stood in relation to the class, are fairly generic, I added this to set the class in time and place without expressly stating it. 

Argumentative Law series

  1. L is for Legality (4/14/2024)
  2. M is for Monday (4/15/2024)
  3. O is for Options (4/17/2024)
  4. Editing Rant: Q is for Quorum (4/19/2024)
  5. Writing Exercise: Y is for Yoke (4/28/2024)

Writing Exercise: Show Don’t Tell

From the Internet Hive Mind

Earlier this month, I shared a Magical Words on the need to tell instead of show, when telling keeps the story moving. Today’s writing exercise is flipping that advice to the more traditional Show Don’t Tell.

Carrie Ryan, in a Magical Words post from April 16, 2011, wrote about “The Reader Experience”.

Both Faith Hunter and Carrie Ryan’s advice center around the reader. When showing, not telling, a writer is immersing the reader into the characters and action. When telling, not showing, the “camera” is pulled away from the action, letting things happen offscreen or, at least, more impersonally. My attempt at the Writing Exercise for the Tell, Don’t Show advice has a person getting out of the vehicle, climbing their front steps, and opening their front door. Not usually something necessary in a story at all. Ms. Ryan gives several examples of Tell vs. Show examples for when showing is better than the telling.

Again the URL is . Be sure to read the comments so you can understand “Experience, don’t dictate.”

WRITING EXERCISE: Write something as a TELL instead of a SHOW that should be a SHOW, and then rewrite the same something as a SHOW. Finally explain why SHOWING was necessary in this case.

My Attempt

Tell instead of Show: I felt invaded, not only by the dead body in my living room, but also by the killer. There had to be a killer based on the three bullets holes neatly spaced across the chest black with crusted blood.

Show instead of Tell: My lunch pail and purse dropped to the floor, and my stomach dropped even further bringing me to my knees. I cover my mouth, gasping for breath, tears of panic teasing the corners of my eyes. Pressing my mouth, I push all emotions back inside. I force myself to break eye contact with the glazed sightless dead eyes, dragging my watery vision across the dead body with three neat bullet holes in its chest to my purse. Risking everything, I lift my hands from my mouth, take two big gulps of air and dive in with both hands, searching for my cell phone. 9-1-1. As I hit the second one on the screen, I realized I knew the body, which meant I also knew the killer.

Answering the question: As before, showing takes longer than telling, but the emotions are necessary.

Show and Tell Series
Part 1 – 8/3/2023
Part 2 – 8/22/2023

Magical Words: Show, Don’t Tell – Except When You Tell

From the Internet Hive Mind

One of the hard and fast rules of writing is SHOW DON’T TELL … except when it isn’t.

Showing takes time. A lot of time and words. And if what is being shown is boring or slow, well, maybe a quick tell is better.

Faith Hunter wrote a Magical Words post on 9/1/2010 which provides some guidelines for breaking the rules … and writing as to guide the reader through transitioning the borders of rules and rulebreaking. “Rules of Writing: Show, Don’t Tell, (Except When You Tell)”

Rule number one of When NOT to show is “Transitions”. Read the blog post for the rest.

Full URL is:

WRITING EXERCISE: After reviewing the blog, write something that should be a TELL instead of a SHOW as a SHOW. And then write the same something as a TELL. Why is the Tell better than a show in this case?

My Attempt:

As a Show: The distance from the car to the front door contained only seventeen steps, not counting rounding the car. Since I parked backwards, that wasn’t as much of an issue as most days. The minivan took a while to walk around, at least four steps, more like six. I hopped out of the front seat, closed the driver’s side door, opened the passenger door, dragged out my lunch pail and purse after the long day of work. The front steps brought my quick walk to a pause. Age charges a toll, and the knees collect most of it. While I’m much more confident walking up the step than down them, gravity and balance strangely work in my favor mounting the trivial three steps, a pause to verify all the skills I need to walk up is still warranted. Yes, my body is willing to not be disrespectful of my inner vision of youth and verve today. One, two, three steps. After juggling the keys out of the purse while holding the lunch pail and the screen door, I unlock my front door and step inside. That’s when I notice the smell.

As a Tell: The long day at work gave me exhausted fits unlocking the front door while juggling my purse, my lunch pail (so I could save money to pay off my mortgage before I die of the old age my knees say I already reached), and the screen door. I’ll claim concentration on the task at hand as an excuse to my dying day for not noticing the smell. Someone else had reached their dying day sooner than me, and I don’t live with anyone. And yet, my living room contained a dead body.

Telling over showing: How I parked, walking from the car, all of that doesn’t matter to the story. The story is the dead body. I do need a little exposition to setup the character, but not 190 of them. Two sentences of 67 words is much better – even gave me room for two more sentences to set up the story premise after the character introduction and description. People pretty much know what it means to come home from a long day at work.

Show and Tell Series
Part 1 – 8/3/2023
Part 2 – 8/22/2023

Editing Rant: Too Much Tell

Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash

Doing a book review for “Soothe the Savage Beast” anthology back in 2018, I broke down each of the stories about what I liked or didn’t like about them. Just one or two short sentences. On one of the short stories within the anthology, I made an editing comment:

In the Quest of the Beast by Jean Rabe – (Hey, the SCA showed up!) I didn’t like the ending because I know women SCAdians are a little more kickin’ than portrayed. Still, the Main Character was a young college student and not a fighter. Good, “safe” monster story. (For editors out there, this story has too much “tell” and that creates an emotional distance in the story.)

A reader contacted me on goodreads through the messaging available on the site: “What does too much “tell” mean?”

My response: 

Tell is when the author writes stuff like – “He said with anger.” instead of “He said, his hand in a fist with the knuckles turning white.” or “All his friends loved him.” instead of “When he arrived, Julie and Adams jumped up to greet him.” – Show is action, let the reader draw their own interpretation from items presented. Tell is a direct narrative, telling the reader things – including how to react. While both are needed, <they need to balance> – too much show can slow down a story, while too much tell keeps the reader from getting involved because they are not being drawn in mentally. 

The fellow reader got back to me:

Okay. I admit that the story with too much tell in it and it wasn’t super great either, but since Jean Rabe is the most famous writer in the book, well, it wouldn’t bother an editor at all. Between it and <another short story in the anthology> caused me to give it four stars instead of five. 

Take-aways. (1) Even more causal readers notice when someone breaks the “show, don’t tell” rule even if they can’t articulate it. (2) Doesn’t matter how famous you are or how great you have been in the past, poor writing habits are poor writing habits. They are easy to develop, especially when looming deadlines tidal wave across the desk one after another. Make sure to surround yourself with people who will keep you honest.

Editing Rant: White Box

Photo by Muhammadtaha Ibrahim Ma’aji on Unsplash

Break the White Box (cut and paste from an editing letter)

Fantasy genre is rich in texture, color, scents, and tastes. As mentioned, the dialog lacks the fantasy texture when Ping-Pong (see 1/10/2023 post) is happening. In addition, often a scene opens with a passive “real-estate” description of the situation using only copula.

Pretend example

The ping-pong table was a lawn green, but the paddles were red rubber. The cement floor was softened by the rubber pad. The rubber pad saved the players’ knees when jumping around and was broad enough so they didn’t have to worry about running off of it. Flickering neon lights were headache inducing.


A lawn green ping-pong table made the red rubber paddles vibrate under the neon lights, a color combination the eyes revolted against seeing side-by-side. A very large rubber mat sat under the table to save the players’ knees from hopping around on the unforgiving cement floor.

Actual Editing Rant

Don’t do the real-estate description. It happens so often.

The house looks like this. Has this number of rooms. Good Gardens.

Immerse the reader in the situation, full sensory overload. Don’t just provide the grocery list of features.