DMing can be exhaustive vocally and lyrically. Here are some tips/tricks/tools that you can use to make the most of your words, both when talking actively at the table, and when writing notes/adventures for others (or yourself) to read.
SHOW DON'T TELL
You hear this a lot as a film and literature student. It's the biggest non-advice people want to give you. But it's only non-advice because instead of educating you on their uses, people tend to take a side and say one is bad and the other is good. It's important for an artist to make opinions on tools that they find useful, but it's counterproductive to try to teach in that regard. The English language has many tools for a writer or orator (both of which DMs are) to use to create their art.
Let's not take sides now. Let's learn and practice and share knowledge. This short article is set up as four tools, with an example, and a short description of what it does, or what it tries to do.
"It was winter."
What’s it do? The onus is now on you to fill in the scene with your winter. Was it cold? Windy? Snow or rain? Are you comfy or out of place? Your brain creates the scene. It’s personal to you and has nothing to do with an image of winter the artist is trying to give you.
"Tim is sad."
"Eric went to the store."
"It’s so cold out."
Most things we say are “telling”. Not because we are audibly communicating, but because we’re telling someone something instead of an alternative; leading them to a conclusion, painting a picture for them, making a comparison.
Here are three big ways you can show instead of tell. Simile, Personification, and description.
"That winter was like a grave."
What’s it do? It creates emotion. Feeling. Vibe. Atmosphere. Again the onus is on you to fill in the look and the details. What is a grave like to you? What does that evoke? If it’s a solid simile it will create a universal image or draw upon tropes that everyone understand.
"Winter gripped my chest with its icy claws."
What’s it do? More of the above. Emotion. Feeling. It turns the inanimate into living creatures and monsters. It begs you to relate to it, like you would another living creature. Even if that relation is horror, or fear, instead of love or kindness. The relation it creates is entirely based on the relationship between the thing and what it is personified as.
"The snow was shin deep and the pavement dried white. Black trunks of trees held bare branches. No birds were tangled in their limbs."
What’s it do? It’s part mystery, part riddle, part painting. Nowhere do I tell you it’s winter. I show you my winter. The purpose is for the artist to give you their image. The onus is on them to give you what is in their head and for you to see it and experience life in someone else’s mind. The fun for the reader/listener is the discovery of parsing the information together to create a unified image.
To end this article, I have a little tag line that I use to close out my pieces. "Good luck, don't die." But instead I want to ask a question. What's another piece of writing advice or wisdom that you've heard that doesn't make sense or seems contrived?