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I'm writing a short story about a girl who has apparently 'missed' an earthquake. This is the beginning of the second scene (here is the first):

Erin was sitting on her bed, working on a new song. Becoming an artist wasn't something she had in mind; writing songs was just a way of putting her thoughts in order. But tonight, she couldn't concentrate. Every chord she played sounded wrong, and every rhyme she wrote was flat and meaningless. She put down her guitar and stared vacantly at the ceiling. How long I have been living under this roof? she wondered. It had been almost four years since she had moved back from Taipei. Then, as if something had just popped up into her head, she grabbed the remote control from the table, turned on the TV, and switched to the news. 4 killed, 8 injured in chain highway crash. Drunk man hit a 63-year-old woman on the sidewalk. She died on the spot. Erin switched to another news station. 8 police officers investigated for corruption, 4 praised for performance. Unemployment rate rises to 4% in May. Rain possible over the weekend. She scratched her ear, turned off the TV, and stared again at the ceiling. No news about any earthquake, she said to herself. She stood up and walked to her bookshelf. Then, as if she were looking for a secret passage, she examined the books carefully. They were stacked perfectly side by side, like piano keys. It seemed like they hadn't moved a single inch since the last time she'd checked them. She wondered if Ruth had told the thing about the earthquake as a joke. Or maybe she lied to me, she thought. But no matter how she looked at it, there wasn't any reason for Ruth to do so.

Erin left out a sign. "Why I'm thinking so much about this? "

She walked back to her bed, grabbed her phone, and dialed Benjamin's number. He answered after a few seconds.

"Did you see my missed calls?" Erin asked.

This is the first time I write a scene where a character is checking the news. I would like to know if I'm including too many details or useless information. Is there something I should add?

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    I think this would benefit a lot from a few paragraph breaks. If the "News" bit is its own (run-on) paragraph, I think it works. The way this read right now, it's all a mishmash with the scene itself. Oh, and maybe put it in quotes? Because it's another "character" (the TV/news host) saying it? – Jürgen A. Erhard Jun 27 '12 at 23:14
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In this case I would say you have it pretty well balanced. The whole point of her checking the news is to see if anyone else noticed the Earthquake, so seeing what's on the news works well. There's just enough there to give us a feel for it and so we can all fill it in with the same old day-to-day news we're all familiar with.

All in all, I think you've managed a good balance for Show vs. Tell. You're showing just enough to let us know what it is without having to resorting to telling us.

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For me, there is too much irrelevance.

Have you ever heard the "If you show a gun in scene one, you had better use it by scene three" advice? That springs to mind when I read the whole Erin-on-her-bed bit. If you are going to tell us that she is musical and moved from Taipei, that hade better become relevant very soon. If not, it is doing nothing to move the narrative forward and should be deleted.

Some specific sentences are too much 'tell'. "Then, as if something had just popped up into her head, she grabbed the remote control from the table, turned on the TV, and switched to the news" could be made a lot shorter. Grabbing the remote shows us that she acted on impulse and doesn't need to be stated. She can just turn on the news, and this implies that the TV is on - again there is no need to say it.

In "No news about any earthquake, she said to herself" there is no need to say that she said it to herself. The reader can work that out for themselves.

Similarly with "They were stacked perfectly side by side, like piano keys. It seemed like they hadn't moved a single inch since the last time she'd checked them." Just tell us they are neatly stacked - readers have minds and can figure out that if they are stacked neatly they haven't moved.

  • "If you show a gun in scene one, you had better use it by scene three" - this is one playwright's advice for playwrights. Applying it to novels, and as a maxim no less, is as absurd as applying it to kunqu opera or disco dancing. Why did you move your foot just now? Are you going anywhere? Then stand still! – aniline Aug 29 at 11:22
  • Your first mistake is saying it was advice from a playwright. It was advice from Anton Chekhov, widely regarded as one of the best short-story writers ever. Your second is saying it was advice for playwrights. It wasn’t: “Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off.” No mention of plays, and chapters are found in novels. Your third mistake is your opinion that it can’t be applied to novels. It is a dramatic principle, applicable to any form of drama. – Roaring Fish Aug 29 at 11:46

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