I’ve been getting a number of e-mails asking me for writing advice, and while I don’t have time to review and edit every slash fiction sent to me, I thought I’d try to help out by writing fairly short articles (called “Slash Fiction Writing Tips“) regarding general tips and consistent mistakes I see in other people’s work (as well as things I likely struggle with in my own). I am not saying I never make these mistakes because oh boy, do I ever make these mistakes. So you can consider these slash fiction writing tips a refresher for me as well.
Most of these tips will likely be useful in regards to any writing, not just writing for slash fiction, but there may be some in the future that are specific to slash fiction stories so I thought it’d be fun to use the heading. In most cases, there will be a section specifically about the writing tip in regards to slash fiction. I’m going to be posting these as often as I can on Sundays when there isn’t a slash fiction short story to be posted. And most of these slash fiction writing tips are going to be a lot shorter than this one. At least this way the site stays active while I work on Stranger than Slash Fiction.
So let’s get started on these slash fiction writing tips!
Slash Fiction Writing Tip: Show Don’t Tell
If you ever ask for advice or take a creative writing course, this is probably the first thing they’ll tell you. I figured it was a good thing to start with, even if everyone has heard it all before because it’s so easy to make this mistake and usually it’s a simple fix as well.
A writer tells when they simply state an element of the story without using any description to help the reader feel connected to that element. A writer shows when they illustrate the element of the story through dialogue, action, or other descriptions without outright stating the element.
So what’s so bad about telling?
When you resort to telling the reader something your character or another element in your story, the reader often feels disconnected because they may not understand why the character feels that way, and they may feel alienated from the character or the story because they can’t relate or connect to the character, and/or they may just be flat-out bored from reading flat-out feelings.
Basically, you are telling the reader how to feel about the character, and they may not feel that way about the character at all. You want to give the reader wiggle-room to interpret things and come to their own conclusions because it allows them to engage with the story and eventually come to care about the character.
It’s sort of like having one stranger tell you that another stranger is a good person. You want to believe them, sure, but you’ve seen no examples of either stranger being a good person, so you don’t trust them. But if you see examples of the second stranger being a good person, like petting a puppy or bringing someone a drink, you’re more likely to believe that this stranger is a good person.
So what’s so great about showing?
Showing allows the reader to engage with the story. The reader can interpret the character’s actions and come to their own conclusions. While the reader may not come to the same result as you intended, they still feel more engaged with your work because you allowed them to interact with the story instead of giving them flat-out facts about your character. You want your reader to feel connected to the character. By allowing your reader to come to their own conclusions, the reader builds their own bond with the character because they took part in the creation process.
Showing also gives more opportunity for the reader to relate to the character. In a slash fiction story, when you write out “He looked like a god,” chances are your reader isn’t going to be like “Holy shit he sounds amazing”, it’s more likely they’re going to roll their eyes (partly because it’s a cliché, especially in slash fiction). When you write out, “He rested on his muscular stomach on the bed with his round ass perked upwards.” Your reader thinks “I hope someone slaps his ass.” Okay, maybe not, but chances are they’re more likely to come to their own conclusions about whether or not this guy is sexy.
The reader will often connect with how the character looks rather than the fact the character looks sexy. And it’s entirely possible they may dislike or like the character more because of it, but either way, you engaged the reader by letting them come to their own conclusions.
How can I work on improving this in my work writing?
- Avoid vague words that don’t bring a strong image to mind.
For example, saying “He was so angry he hated everyone” doesn’t bring a strong image to the reader. Who is everyone? How much hate? Does he hate himself too?
However, if you say, “His hands balled into fists, his knuckles turning white. His eyes narrowed with his eyebrows clenched against them.” While longer, this passage tries to bring across a clearer image of anger. If there’s not enough that would suggest the character is angry (such as this sentence by itself), you can still throw in a “in anger,” but make sure to add clear images with it.
- Think of ways to describe how your characters feel without specifically saying it.
How do people’s faces and body language change when they express a feeling? Think of family pets. Cats tend to puff out when they’re intimidated, dogs tuck their tail between their legs when they feel shame, even fish dart into their homes when you frighten them. Try to apply these things you observe in people so your characters’ body language can help show the reader their feelings without explicitly saying them.
Can I get some quick examples?
Let’s start with something simple:
Telling: She was hungry.
Showing: Her stomach growled.
And here’s something more complex:
Telling: She looked at the clock as her pen scratched at the exam. She wanted to finish soon. She was hungry.
Showing: She looked at the clock, feeling her pen crawl across the exam page. Her stomach growled, and her Professor raised his head to examine her.
How do I know when I’m telling and when I’m showing?
So sometimes the difference between showing and telling is a little ambiguous, or perhaps even more of a personal choice. But there are some ways to find out when you’re telling instead of showing.
Ask yourself, “Is there another way I can say this by simply describing the character or something else around them?” Or, more simply, “Is there another way I can say this?” and “Is this telling really necessary?”
In some cases of telling that I see, the writer uses the telling to support the showing. The showing often speaks for itself and does not need the telling to support it. And if the telling is necessary, but you cannot think of another way to say it, then chances are it is nothing that needs to be removed. I would still suggest showing it to someone else to give it the once-over.
How is this “Showing instead of Telling” writing tip important in slash fiction?
I notice in slash fiction people frequently rely on telling for us to understand how attractive characters are and that the main characters are in love. More often than not, this is more of an issue of space and speed – they want to write some fast and short slash fiction, but it’s still not really an excuse for poor storytelling even if it’s just silly slash fiction.
When it comes to the characters’ personal appearance in slash fiction, more often than not your readers are going to decide whether or not the character is sexy, and they’re probably not as worried about what the character looks like if they connect with your characters emotionally.
The way around this is you want your lead character in your slash fiction to find the other character attractive, so you would describe him using traits the other character finds attractive. If your character likes chubby men, then by all means let him be attracted to chubby men. Describe the character as heavy, and describe your character’s eyes running over him in hunger. It doesn’t really matter whether or not your reader is attracted to the character (physically, anyway), you want your reader to understand that your lead (or whoever) is attracted to the character so it makes sense when they start to bone or when he jerks off thinking about him. And it’s more likely your reader is going to be interested when they bone in your slash fiction because they know how much your character wants to bone the other, even if he’s physically not really to their taste.
When it comes to your characters’ relationships in slash fiction, I understand that it’s hard to develop a relationship in a short space, and I don’t really have any tips without seeing your specific slash fiction work. But it’s often worth taking the time to build the characters’ relationship so that the reader is interested in them when they fuck. Sure, the fucking can be interesting in itself, but when your reader is emotionally invested in the characters, when they finally get the opportunity to fuck each other, your reader is going to care that much more about them and, in turn, about your slash fiction story.
So just saying they’re in love in your slash fiction work isn’t enough. If they’re already an established couple, show how much they love each other. They can be sickly sweet, leaving each other romantic notes and flowers, or they can be considerate to the other’s wishes. They can bicker or fight, maybe they’ve been together for so long the other’s habits is finally getting annoying. You can even show that they’re used to the other’s routine by being able to move around them easily.
If they’re just starting a relationship or starting to show interest in your slash fiction, throw in the new couple problems. They’re not used to sleeping in the same bed so they struggle when they try to fall asleep. They actually cleaned their bathroom because they have a guest over. They can be nervous, they can be shy. Chances are things aren’t going to fall into place right away, and chances are there’s going to be some things that either piss them off or make them fall more in love.
But you definitely want to show that they’re in love or lust or like or just friends with benefits. Just telling the reader isn’t enough to make them actually care about your characters. They might still be happy or like it, but the work will be more lasting once they want to see what happens to the characters next in your slash fiction story.
And that’s it for this week’s slash fiction writing tip! You can ask me questions about it, request future suggestions, and I’ll try to respond! The next Slash Fiction Writing Tips update will likely be advice on how to take and apply criticism from others. There will be a section about how to handle your emotions, and there will be a small part about posting slash fiction of the fan variety.
I also just want to note a friend of mine (who prefers to remain anonymous) helped me write this slash fiction writing tip out! (Though she, herself, never wrote it specifically for slash fiction!) So if some passages from here look familiar, chances are you’ve talked to her before <3