One Essential Writing Tip From Mark Twain

Want to write a book? Our proven program, 100 Day Book closes soon. Get the process to finish your book now. Learn more and sign up here.

This post is by our newest regular contributor, Sue Weems. Sue is a writer, teacher, and traveller with an advanced degree in (mostly fictional) revenge. You can read more of her writing tips on her website. Welcome to the team, Sue!

Mark Twain’s advice might be just what you need to take your dialogue and prose to the next level.

One Essential Writing Tip From Mark Twain

Mark Twain is one of my favorite writers. When I read his essays last year, I came across a bit of revising gold in a 1906 essay titled “William Dean Howells.” Most of the essay praises Howells’s prose in general, but the final paragraphs address what Twain calls “stage directions.” He defines them as:

. . . those artifices which authors employ to throw a kind of human naturalness around a scene and a conversation. . . . Some authors overdo the stage directions, [and] they elaborate them quite beyond necessity.

I hadn't heard the term stage directions used in reference to fiction, and I was intrigued.

Novels don’t have stage directions, do they?

In a play, stage directions are only visible to the audience through the movement and actor's inflection during the performance. In a novel, we rely on description to set scenes, give context, and deepen characterization. When done well, stage directions don't distract from the character or action.

Twain lists several examples of what he considers poor stage directions following dialogue. Take a look (and don’t miss his authorial analysis of each in parentheses):  

“. . . replied Alfred, flipping the ash from his cigar.” (This explains nothing; it only wastes space.)

“. . . responded Richard, with a laugh.” (There was nothing to laugh about; there never is. The writer puts it in from habit—automatically; he is paying no attention to his work; or he would see that there is nothing to laugh at; often, when a remark is unusually and poignantly flat and silly, he tries to deceive  the reader by enlarging the stage direction and making Richard break into “frenzies of uncontrollable laughter.” This makes the reader sad.)

“. . . murmured Gladys, blushing.” (This poor old shop-worn blush is a tiresome thing. We get so we would rather Gladys would fall out of the book and break her neck than do it again. She is always doing it, and usually irrelevantly. Whenever it is her turn to murmur she hangs out her blush; it is the only thing she's got. In a little while we hate her, just as we do Richard.)

Did you notice Twain’s emphasis on the reader?

Twain's analysis keeps circling back to the reader's experience, imploring us not to waste the reader's time or attention. Dialogue is an opportunity to reveal character and move the story forward with conflict, but careless action dilutes our purpose and wears out the reader. 

In a mystery or thriller, the lengthy description of the long walk in the dark might be just the thing to keep the reader on the edge of his seat. In a high-speed chase scene, I don't care about the driver flipping her hair or the buttery amber-colored custom leather seats, because unless her hair or those seats are going to keep the protagonist from crashing? It's only slowing me down.

In his concern for the reader, Twain isn’t against using action tags; in fact, he argues that his friend Howells’s stage directions are sometimes so effective, they make dialogue unnecessary. He’s simply tired of overused phrases. If I'm honest, I am too.

How do I find the stage directions in my story?

After reading Twain’s essay, I searched my latest manuscript for stage directions. I began by skimming the story for dialogue, and then evaluating the action sentences before and after each dialogue exchange. 

I asked myself four questions:

  1. Does this action move the character, conflict, or theme forward?
  2. Does the action match the pace of the scene?
  3. Would an actor playing this scene really need this phrase to know how to deliver the line?
  4. How many times have I used the phrase?

Once I started looking for them, stage directions popped up everywhere in my manuscript, and I began cutting the ones that were wasting my reader's time. 

How to Cut Stage Directions: an (Embarrassing) Example

Here's a recent work-in-progress with the revision (and analysis in parentheses). In this scene, Evyn's grandmother Cici is in the hospital after being hit by a car. Their neighbor Lutz is trying to convince Cici to stay put.

Lutz stood. grabbed her elbow “Now listen, Cici. “Evyn can stay at my house, or I’ll stay at yours. You need to rest.” (Grabbed? Not consistent with the tone here, and it doesn't add anything to conflict or theme. Cut. I added “stood” because before this line, he's seated away from the bed. I want to move him forward while letting the reader know he's the one talking. And I want to do it quickly, unlike this analysis note.)

“They’re releasing me today,” Cici said.

“No.” Lutz stood firm, his tone resolute. “They’re not.” (The dialogue is already firm and resolute, so stating it is redundant.)

“So help me, William Lutz, if you meddled with my release, I will have your head. We have only three days until the opening curtain.”

“Have you looked at your leg lately?” Lutz asked, amused. (Again, this adds nothing.)

“It’s a little banged up. I’ve suffered worse.” She sagged against the pillows, looking tired. (Sagging is a better way to show she’s tired. Please pass my Queen of Redundancy crown.)

My stage directions are guilty of the dreaded telling versus showing. The words I crossed out might not always be poor stage directions, but the repetition and careless use of them weakens my writing.

Revising Stage Directions Might Just Save Your Readers

Twain closes his essay with a warning:

I always notice stage directions, because they fret me and keep me trying to get out of their way, just as the automobiles do . . . by and by they become monotonous and I get run over.

Let’s pay homage to the great Mark Twain and avoid running over readers with our stage directions.

Can you think of stage directions that distract rather than help, like Richard laughing or Gladys blushing? Let us know in the comments.

PRACTICE

For today's practice, you have two options:

  1. Open the last dialogue exchange you wrote. Take fifteen minutes to search out places where you used stage directions, and revise to eliminate the unnecessary ones. Post the before and after.
  2. Write a short scene with dialogue, perhaps with two characters arguing about the necessity of something. After eight minutes of writing, stop and revise for seven minutes, taking out any unneeded action tags or stage directions. Post both versions.

When you're done, share your writing in the comments below. Let us see the original, unedited version, and your second pass with better stage directions. And if you post, be sure to leave feedback for at least three other writers!

 

Sue Weems is a writer, teacher, and traveler with an advanced degree in (mostly fictional) revenge. When she’s not rationalizing her love for parentheses (and dramatic asides), she follows a sailor around the globe with their four children, two dogs, and an impossibly tall stack of books to read. You can read more of her writing tips on her website.

100 Day Book Cover

Closes in . . .

Day(s)

:

Hour(s)

:

Minute(s)

:

Second(s)

Want to Write Your Book?

100 Day Book Closes Soon: Sign up for our proven program, 100 Day Book, and get the coaching, training, and accountability you need to finally become an author and finish your book. The program closes soon though, so sign up now.

43 Comments

  1. LilianGardner

    Thank you, Sue. This is one of the handiest lessons on ‘stage directions’, which is new to me. I’m a culprit in adding some action after a dialogue, and only now I see how awful it is.
    I’ll be crossing out a lot of these from revision, as of today.

    Reply
    • Sue

      It was new to me too, Lilian. Glad it helped. Thank you so much for reading and commenting.

      Reply
  2. ruth varner

    Great post, Sue! I’ve never seen this approach to writing and it makes sense. In our local writers’ group, we do encourage the inclusion of action along with dialogue to add interest for the reader, to help understand the characters, to break up a scene. But I can see that the wrong kind of action diminishes the text. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Sue

      Hi Ruth! I agree– Twain’s essay helped me reconsider what kinds of action worked best, instead of just adding it for action’s sake (a mistake I found I often make, sadly). Glad it helped. Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Reply
  3. Sunil Kaushal

    Thank you Sue. Can see better now how we bog down the reader with unnecessary action or descriptions which only detracts from the core plot.

    Reply
    • Sue

      You’re welcome– Twain’s examples made me laugh and helped me make some improvements to my writing. I’m glad you found this useful.

      Reply
  4. Elena

    I see the logic of your post and I agree with it. Just that it contradicts what we have been taught, that if people just talk and don’t move, smile, do something else in the meanwhile, they are only talking heads. And this is bad writing. Where is the truth, ultimately?

    Reply
    • Sue

      Hi Elena! I don’t think Twain’s idea is to eliminate meaningful and necessary movement. He’s looking specifically at action that is repetitious (for example, if I had Lutz stand every time he speaks– it becomes monotonous) or action that doesn’t help the reader set the scene. His essay helped me see quite a few places where I could tighten my writing– something that isn’t always easy for me to evaluate without outside help. I hope you’ll take the examples that are valuable and leave the rest. Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Reply
  5. Dennis Fleming

    Your comments on Twain’s emphasis on the reader, the reader’s POV, stood out to me. Thanks.

    Reply
    • Sue

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Dennis.

      Reply
  6. Theodora Chase

    Great post Sue! I must admit I always steer away from the dialogue by using action tags which are not quite necessary. This post really helped me, thanks!!

    Reply
    • Sue

      It’s a tricky balance, Theodora. Twain’s examples helped me differentiate between the ones that help the reader and the ones that I could cut to make my writing stronger. Glad it helped!

      Reply
  7. Collis Harris

    I’ve discovered that whenever you post an article,Sue, it offers specific advice that we writers overlook. This article is another example of how to keep the reader engaged and not bore the poor soul to death. Thank you for posting it.

    Reply
    • Sue

      Thanks Collis! Glad it was helpful. I’m learning right along with you. Thanks for stopping by to read and comment.

      Reply
  8. Madani

    I saw your comments just as I was going to revise a manuscript inspired from Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer. I did well.
    P.S
    I write in French

    Reply
    • Sue

      Nice, Madani! I’m revising my comment– at first I read “translating.” Reading too fast. Glad you found you had few action tags to revise. Thanks for reading!

      Reply
  9. Shauna Bolton

    I found this very helpful. As I worked through it, I also saw ways to compress and add more descriptive detail to help the reader “see” the characters more completely. Here are my two versions.

    ORIGINAL VERSION
    The auction over, people went inside to do business. As he walked to Judge Wilson’s table, Abner saw a man standing there, waiting. “Judge! Is this the stinking polecat who bought my land?”
    Judge Wilson looked up at Abner sharply before signing the deed. “No, the buyer isn’t here. This feller paid.”
    The man touched his hat. “Peter O’Malley.”
    Abner stiffened. “Why ain’t he here himself? Ain’t he got the sand to look me in the eye when he takes what’s mine? What right’s he got anyway?”
    “A man has to pay his taxes,” O’Malley said.
    Abner flushed. “With what? Did I ever get cash money when I sold my livestock and produce at the House? Of course not! All I ever got…Hell! All anybody ever gets is credit.”
    “Mr. Dolan could have helped you.”
    Abner spat. “I saw Dolan a few months back. He wasn’t in a lending mood.”
    “So, he didn’t like how you ran things. A man who can’t keep his place don’t deserve it.”
    Abner’s hands clenched. “I have kept my place!” he shouted. “Injuns burnt us out more times than I can count. And I’m still here! My whole family is buried on that land. And I’m still here! I’ve busted my butt since my daddy’s death to make the place pay. Without cash money, nobody can pay his taxes, and you know it!”
    O’Malley smirked. “Looks like you got scalped this time, sonny.”
    Judge Wilson tried to intervene, but Abner ignored him.
    “Did the House scalp my daddy, too? The first time he went to Tunstall’s for supplies, I found him on the road, lying in the dirt with a bullet in his back.”
    “Injuns did that! Everybody knows it.”
    “Apaches would’ve taken the horses, not the wagon and bob-wire, too. It weren’t no Injuns killed him, and everybody knows that, too!”
    “Judge,” O’Malley said, “muzzle this bull calf before somebody turns him into veal.”
    The judge pursed his lips in disgust. “Why don’t you take the deed and be on your way? The kid’s right. The House has never paid him, or anybody else, cash money, in all the time it’s been here. No man can pay his taxes without cash money. He’s right about that, too. And about keeping his place, he did just fine until you boys ganged up on him. He’s also right about his pa’s death. Most folks in Lincoln County don’t believe Indians killed Phineas, and I’m one of them.” He stepped closer to O’Malley. “You let him be, or I’ll see somebody hangs for it.”
    O’Malley looked hard at the judge before he tipped his hat and smiled. “I’ll tell ‘em, Judge. I surely will.” He picked up the deed and walked into the mercantile. (458)

    REVISED VERSION
    The auction over, people went inside to do business. As Abner walked to Judge Wilson’s table, he saw a man waiting there. “Judge! Is this the stinking polecat who bought my land?”
    Judge Wilson looked up before signing the deed. “No. This feller paid for it.”
    The man chuckled and touched his hat. “Peter O’Malley.”
    Abner stiffened. “Why ain’t he here himself? Ain’t he got the sand to look me in the eye when he takes what’s mine? What right’s he got anyway?”
    “A man has to pay his taxes,” O’Malley said.
    Abner flushed. “With what? Did I ever get cash money when I sold my livestock and produce at the House? Of course not! All I ever got…Hell! All anybody ever gets is credit.”
    “Mr. Dolan could have helped you.”
    “I saw Dolan a few months back. He wasn’t in a lending mood.”
    “That’s too bad,” he said, smiling. Still, a man who can’t keep his place don’t deserve it.”
    “I have kept my place!” Abner shouted, his fists clenched. “Injuns burnt us out more times than I can count. And I’m still here! My whole family is buried on that land. And I’m still here! I’ve busted my butt since my daddy’s death to make the place pay. Nobody can pay his taxes without cash money, and you know it!”
    O’Malley smirked. “Looks like you got scalped this time, sonny.”
    Judge Wilson tried to intervene, but Abner ignored him.
    “Did the House scalp my daddy, too? The first time he went to Tunstall’s store for supplies, I found him on the road, dead in the dirt with a bullet in his back.”
    “Injuns did that! Everybody knows it.”
    “Apaches would’ve taken the horses, not the wagon and bob-wire, too. It weren’t no Injuns killed him, and everybody knows that, too!”
    “Judge,” O’Malley said, “muzzle this bull calf before somebody turns him into veal.”
    The judge pursed his lips in disgust. “Mr. O’Malley, why don’t you take this deed and be on your way? The boy’s right. The House has never paid him, or anybody else, cash money, in all the time it’s been here. No man can pay his taxes without cash money. He’s right about that, too. And about keeping his place, he did just fine until you boys ganged up on him. He’s also right about his pa’s death. Most folks in Lincoln County don’t believe Indians killed Phineas, and I’m one of them.” He stood, his palms on the table, and leaned toward O’Malley. “You let him be, or I’ll see someone hangs for it.”
    O’Malley looked hard at the judge before he tipped his hat and smiled. “I’ll tell ‘em, Judge. I surely will.” He picked up the deed and disappeared into the mercantile. (460)

    Reply
    • Sue

      I like how you keep the dialogue going with minimal interruption. It definitely matches the pace of the scene. I didn’t understand why O’Malley chuckled at the beginning when Abner is clearly fighting mad, but if it is something we need to know about his character then it does add to the scene. O’Malley smiles several times in the exchange, which might be something to watch later in case it gets repetitious. The only line that really stopped me was this one: “Judge Wilson tried to intervene, but Abner ignored him.” I couldn’t picture how the judge tried to intervene and why we needed to know if it was ignored anyway. Just an idea to consider, so feel free to discard at will. Really strong conflict and character work at play here. Thanks so much for writing and sharing your practice!

      Reply
  10. Diane Turner

    Great article, Sue. Useful and specific. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Sue

      Glad it was helpful, Diane. Thanks for stopping by!

      Reply
  11. Piper

    Amazing article! Really helped with my dialogue, it’s usually so awkward and I think this really helped to make it more natural

    Reply
    • Sue

      Glad to hear it, Piper! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Reply
  12. Elizabeth Westra

    Great article! Twain had wise things to say about “stage directions”. I’m going to go through my stories and mark any of them I find and delete them.

    Reply
    • Sue

      Thanks, Elizabeth! Good luck revising!

      Reply
  13. S.M. Sierra

    Hazel killed Dani enters Molly’s thoughts bringing black thunderclouds towards her as she flies above the sprawl of Nurture Home’s architectural magnificence, she looks down at all
    her childhood friends playing amongst wildflowers in the meadow, wanting to
    warn them, when a voice causes her to fall.

    “Molly,Miss Molly, please wake up, you must come…”

    “What?” she shudders and blinks the dream away as her friend from the Dor’mouse Post comes into focus, “Oh,Persy, last night…”

    “I apologize for waking you, Miss, however, The Door woke us Dor’mice on request
    from The Kobolds, but we cannot give the Door permission to open onto the
    kitchen, and we cannot find Magus Hazel Sam—therefore I thought to come to you.”

    Molly rubs her eyes as the memory of Hazel’s evil deed leads her to say, “But, why come to me?”

    “Because the Kobolds need to eat, and you have a kitchen.”

    “You should tell either Magus Faunt or Carpè,” she refers him to the heads of the
    House of Blue, flips her pillow to the cool side, and snuggles into her
    blanket.

    He sweeps his white feathery tail across her nose, “But, Miss, they’ll leave to
    find another household in which to work.”

    “Fine,” she sighs, and fights to sit up through a yawn, “I’m ever so out
    of sorts,” stretching while glancing at the soft pillow, “Tell the
    Kobolds to ask The Door for Samanda’s kitchen in um, an hour, then go tell Magus
    Faunt what’s happened.”

    “Yes, Miss, thank you.”

    “Mm-hmm,” she mutters then staggers to her bathroom, starts the shower, applies toothpaste
    and begins brushing as she thinks of her best friend Dani Tennent.

    Hazel killed Dani, enters Molly’s thoughts bringing black thunderclouds towards her as she flies above the sprawl of Nurture Home’s architectural magnificence, she looks down at all
    her childhood friends playing amongst wildflowers in the meadow, wanting to warn them, when a voice causes her to fall.

    “Molly, Miss Molly, please wake up, you must come…”

    “What?” she blinks the dream away as her friend from the Dor’mouse Post comes into focus, “Oh, Persy, last night…”

    “I apologize for waking you, Miss, however, The Door woke us Dor’mice on request
    from The Kobolds, but we cannot give the Door permission to open onto the
    kitchen, and we cannot find Magus Hazel Sam—therefore I thought to come to you.”

    The memory of Hazel’s evil deed leads Molly to say, “But, why come to me?”

    “Because the Kobolds need to eat, and you have a kitchen.”

    “You should tell either Magus Faunt or Carpè,” she refers him to the heads of the
    House of Blue before snuggling into her blanket.

    He sweeps his white feathery tail across her nose, “But, Miss, they’ll leave to
    find another household in which to work.”

    “Fine,” she sits up, “I’m ever so out of sorts.Tell the Kobolds to ask The Door for Samanda’s kitchen in um, an hour, then go tell Magus Faunt what’s happened.”

    “Yes, Miss, thank you.”

    “Mm-hmm,” she mutters then staggers to her bathroom, starts the shower, applies toothpaste
    and begins brushing as she thinks of her best friend Dani Tennent.

    Reply
  14. Andressa Andrade

    God, I’m TOTALLY guilty of this! I have been told that in the past, but never as clearly as in this post, so I had no idea what to do to change. I have had readers asking me things like “Why does this character blush all the time? That annoys me!” or “Why is this character always putting his hand on his girlfriend’s waist and why do you keep telling me that?” I felt exasperated because I didn’t know why I wrote those things, yet I felt the scenes would be poorer without such description. After reading this post, I think I know better. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Sue

      I’m glad I’m not the only one, Andressa. Hope Twain’s advice helps you nail down where the writing can be stronger. Thanks for reading!

      Reply
  15. Bonnie Kotsch

    Great article. I never considered “stage directions” as being a part of my work, but thanks to you and Mark Twain, I can see they clearly are. These directions are words I barely acknowledge in a lot of books I read and that’s the very last thing I want a reader of my novel to do. While reading your article I couldn’t help but think of examples in the book I’m currently writing. Time to break out the red pen and draw lines through any unnecessary stage directions. Thanks Sue!

    Reply
    • Sue

      You’re welcome, Bonnie. His examples really helped me figure out which ones were needed and which ones to cut. Hope it helps you too. Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Reply
  16. TerriblyTerrific

    Mark Twain reminds me of Albert Einstein, just saying. Thank you for this article.

    Reply
    • Sue

      They seem to have the same stylist, don’t they? HA!

      Reply
  17. Jason Bougger

    Great advice. Cut the mundane actions “flicking the cigar, etc.” and tighten up the prose. I’m embarrassed to think how often I do some of things mentioned in this post.

    Reply
    • Sue

      Don’t worry, I was just as embarrassed. Hopefully we’ll catch ourselves in self-revision now, thanks to Twain. Appreciate you reading and commenting!

      Reply
  18. gemma feltovich

    (this is an excerpt from a story called Desert)

    “Careful, darling,” he said, watching her struggle to her feet without so much as outstretching a hand. She huffed.
    They’d landed in the middle of the campground, and many people were gawking. Some were trying not to stare, just bustling about a little slower than normal so as to catch a glimpse out of the corner of their eye, but most were just outright ogling at them.
    “Boo,” Carro whispered, and a few bystanders jumped. The women wore headscarves similar to Liz’s, though clearly from a different region. Liz wasn’t from anywhere around here– not this country, not this continent. She ran a hand over the blue material covering her hair self-consciously. It was hot out here, in the open air. She couldn’t imagine the people living here inside tents all day, the arid atmosphere trapped inside with nowhere to go, just bathing in their own sweat.
    “Let’s go, bramble bush,” Liz hissed through her teeth at him. Carro waggled his fingers at a young girl, no more than fifteen, hanging clothes to dry outside a dirt-ridden tent. Her eyes widened and she ducked inside, the tent flap falling closed behind her.
    “They’re all scared of me,” Carro remarked. “It’s delicious.”
    As they made their way through the temporary dirt streets, she went over the plans in her head. She didn’t realize she was quietly murmuring until he pressed a finger to his lips, hushing her. She huffed and limped over a boulder in her path, coming face to face with a tent larger than any other, its canvas walls flapping in the wind.
    They had arrived.
    Liz paused, taking a breath to steel herself, but Carro just ducked inside. She followed soon after. Concealed within the walls of the tent was a thick, wooden table empty of all but one, a figure dressed head-to-toe in black with her back to them, a scroll spread out in front of her. Liz knew this woman. She was her savior. Liz cleared her throat a bit. The woman turned with a start, and, finding them there, breathed out a sigh of relief.
    “Lady Goultia,” Liz said, nodding her head. Carro stared. Liz suddenly felt very conscious of her bare feet, and shuffled around. The Lady had practically been her mother for the past few years.
    “Liz,” the woman replied. Liz almost thought she saw the hint of a smile dancing upon her lips. “And Carro. How went your journey?”
    “Fine,” Carro said, searching her expression.
    Lady Goultia had smooth brown skin, leafy freckles spread across her cheeks, and pearly white teeth. She was tall, with assorted scars crisscrossing her squared shoulders. Liz wasn’t sure from where the ropey lines had come. Her dark hair tumbled down her back in a carefully disarrayed mess. She wore a gown of war. A reminder of what was to come, Liz realized, something rippling down her spine, making her shiver despite the heat.
    “Tranovan’s army marches toward here at an incredible speed,” Lady Goultia began to mutter under her breath, tracing the map with her forefinger. “If they were to reach here before a day were to pass…”
    “Lady,” Carro interjected, “we came to–”
    “I know what you came here to do,” Lady Goultia said. Liz straightened her posture as best she could with her bad ankle, carefully standing back. “And you will have quarters with the rest of your guild in the eastern section, if you still would wish.”
    “Yes,” Liz blurted. “We would like preparations for a stay. Please.”
    “Until the battle.” The woman’s calculating eyes flicking toward Carro, who was standing at Liz’s side. “You will be allowed here until the battle, Carro. And you, Liz, you can stay here as long as you wish.”
    “Milady-” Carro started.
    “I will not have your foolish magic running rampant through my camps.”
    “But you need me,” he protested, his voice dangerously low.
    “You have signed a document pledging your allegiance, have you not?” Carro began to say something more, but she cut him off. “I have no need to please you as of the moment.”
    He stood stock-still a moment, their eyes locking, but stiffly nodded his head. Liz suddenly became hyperaware of the ever-growing pool of sweat collecting on her upper lip, like persistent moths flocking to a flame.
    “Good. Now, my guard will escort you toward your quarters.” Carro nodded again, then pivoted on his heel and pushed through the flaps of the tent. Liz followed after him, dipping her head once more to Lady Goultia as she exited.

    Reply
    • Sue

      Tense exchange! The only stage directions that distracted me slightly were the huffing and nodding– I’m not sure they were needed, since the dialogue and other action was already strong and clear. Otherwise though, I read straight through anxious to figure out how these three characters fit together. Great scene– thanks for sharing it here.

      Reply
      • gemma feltovich

        Thank you! I’m relatively new to writing (I’m 14) so this website contributes a lot to my process with its nice articles, opportunities for practice, and feedback. I will make a note of the nodding– ha.

        Reply
  19. Tony

    I like your examples best! I always had a miserable time reading Twain and thought it was very hypocritical for him to give such advice given his flowery, over-stylized writing! Article has some good points though. A mature writer wastes no words!

    Reply
    • Sue

      Glad they helped, Tony. Thanks for stopping by.

      Reply
  20. Musick Fisher

    Without question, those Scholastic Achievement books that my mother bought for me throughout my school years and at Christmas time always kept me searching for more knowledge. The turn of each page and discovering new things was a real joy to me.

    Please join bestseller writers group http://facebook.com/bestsellergirl

    Reply
  21. Catherine Arnold

    I couldn’t quite understand why “amused” in that dialogue was unnecessary. If the story changes tones wouldn’t that be important? Or is it the fact that the small change of tone isn’t necessary?

    Reply
    • Sue

      I took out amused because I felt Lutz’s joke was already clear. (Admittedly, this might not be as obvious with so few lines here, but this sort of playful banter is common throughout the novel between Lutz and Cici.) One of the things I’ve been watching in my dialogue revision lately is trying to let the dialogue carry the tone as much as possible.

      As to your question of detail, it’s likely going to be different in every scene. Some need more narration than others. Twain’s point is to watch for careless or repetitive details. If the details are needed to set the scene or move the action or character forward, then they’re probably needed. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

      Reply
  22. Catherine Arnold

    Also, I sometimes have a difficult time adding enough detail, do you have any tips to having enough detail without overusing stage directions?

    Reply
  23. Tinthia Clemant

    “You’ve got to be kidding!” Her eyes went wide with amazement. Yuck!!! Didn’t propel the story forward and only filled space, as mentioned above. Here’s another try. “You’ve got to be kidding!” Amber grabbed her phone and began punching the screen. “I’m calling him right now and giving him a piece of mind.” Better?

    Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. One Essential Writing Tip From Mark Twain | Creative Writing - […] “ Good stage directions match the pace of the scene and give only information the reader needs. Tweet this…

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

104
Share to...