Show, Don’t Tell

One of the most important aspects of ‘good’ writing is the author’s ability to show rather than simply tell when writing. What does that mean? It means instead of simply telling the reader what is happening, you need to show them and make them feel as though they are a part of the story. When setting a scene or describing something try not to tell the reader what something ‘is’, instead allow the reader to experience the scene through the use of the five senses. What can you see? What can you hear? How does it feel? How does it smell? How does it taste? By incorporating the five senses when describing something, the reader can become immersed in the scene or story. The reader can put him or herself in the character’s position and relate to what is happening.

In class I sometimes do a writing activity with my students that I picked up from another teacher when I was doing my teaching rounds at university. The activity is called ‘Show, don’t tell’. I write a simple sentence on the board, for example: “It was a hot day.” The students must then rewrite this sentence using the ‘show, don’t tell’ technique and incorporate all five sense to create a more descriptive and engaging version of the sentence on the board. So if I take that simple sentence, “It was a hot day” and use ‘show, don’t tell’, I might end up with something like this:

“I squinted as I stepped out into the blazing sun, its yellow glare almost blinding me. The air carried the scent of burnt eucalyptus leaves. The crickets chirping, hidden from sight, were loud and clear: the quintessential sound of Summer. I had barely been outside for a few minutes, but already I could feel my skin beginning to burn under the sun’s intense gaze. Beads of sweat trickled down my face and onto my lips, filling my mouth with their salty taste…”

You probably wouldn’t go that over the top in your descriptions normally, but you can see how a simple sentence that merely ‘tells’ us that it is a hot day, can be transformed into a much more descriptive piece that shows the reader that the day is hot. You will notice that not once in this description do I use the word ‘hot’, but the reader does not need to be told that it is hot, they can infer this for themselves through the descriptions used.

I know that when I am writing, I can sometimes forget to show and I only tell what is happening, but when I go back to edit I pick out those offending sentences and rework them to ensure they are showing what is happening and not just telling.

I’ve just added a short piece to my short story collection titled ‘Once Like Them’, I think it somewhat exemplifies the way in which the concept of ‘show, don’t tell’ can be incorporated into writing.

I would encourage anyone who wishes to improve their descriptive writing to have a go at the ‘show, don’t tell’ exercise. Just think of a simple sentence, then rewrite it using all five senses.

25,000 words in one month

NaNoWriMo is officially over. Most NaNoers were aiming to write over 50,000 words in the month of November, but I always knew that goal would be little lofty for me due to work and being a mum to two young children. However I am extremely pleased with what I did achieve during NaNoWriMo as 25,000 words in one month is still quite an effort and has launched me over the halfway mark of my novel (considering I had already written a few chapters before NaNo officialy started). But even more than getting so much written in such a short space of time, NaNo has given me renewed motivation and momentum on my novel, and that is the real reward for me at the end of this endeavor.

It has been a new experience for me to push myself to churn out so many words in short spurts. Two methods I used during NaNo were Write or Die and Rat Races. Write or Die is a program where you set a time or word goal and then get ‘punished’ if you stop writing before reaching that goal. I chose the mediocre punishment of having a loud noise sound if I stopped writing for more than a few seconds. This was a real motivator for me because usually I was writing while my baby was napping, so I did not want that noise to sound and wake her up! However it was not as harsh as the punishment of having your work start erasing itself. Rat Races were writing races I participated in with other NaNoers on a writing forum. Basically someone would set a start and finish time and anyone who joined in had to write as much as they could in that time bracket to see who could write the most. The good thing about these methods is that I was able to achieve a lot of writing that I may have otherwise procrastinated over. However, I guess the down side of these methods is that you end up just writing without thinking and as a result could write absolute rubbish. I’ve yet to go and read over what I’ve written during NaNo, and I’m a little scared of how much editing I may have to do!

I have learnt a few things as a result of NaNo, though, which I think will help me with my future writing. First of all I have shown myself that if I use my spare time effectively I can get a lot written. I have also found that the best cure for writer’s block is to just write, even if the end result needs to get cut in the editing process, at least it has helped the plot to progress and allowed me as the writer to regain momentum again. And finally, even if I only write 50 words a day, it still all adds up in the end and it is worth just writing something everyday as it helps keep the story alive in my mind.

Creating visual imagery

I’ve been working hard on my novel this past month as part of NaNoWriMo and making great progress. I am at a stage in my novel where my characters are about to enter a labyrinth so I spent most of yesterday sketching a labyrinth on a piece of paper to help me better visualise how my characters will proceed through the labyrinth in my story. I’ve found many times in the past when writing stories I like to sketch elements of my story to help me get a good visual image in solid form. In the past I’ve sketched the layout of the houses in a street, creatures appearing in a story and characters. I nearly always sketch characters for my story, I find it helps inspire me when describing them, because sketching them first allows me to consider all aspects of their physical appearance. As for things like street layouts and labyrinths, I’ve found it helps me keep all the details consistent when I am writing a story.

I don’t know if any other writers out there are inclined to do the same thing, or something similar, but it is just a little something I do to really immerse myself in the story I am writing. I remember when I was younger and I wrote stories I would actually dress my Barbie dolls up as my characters so I could give my characters physical form. I’ve also used the Sims video game to give physical form to my characters too.

In regards to using visual imagery in my current novel, ywriter (the program I’ve been using to set out my story) has a great little feature that allows you to include images in your character bios, location descriptions and even with your scenes. This feature really appealed to me and I have been using it to its full extent. I’ve had a lot of fun googling images I think suit the various locations/characters/scenes in my novel so I can put them into ywriter.

I guess I should stop procrastinating now and get back to my novel… back into the labyrinth I go 😉

NaNoWriMo and other updates

It’s been a little while since my last blog entry, so here is an update on what I’ve been doing of late:

– I’m still working on my novel, though I’ve slowed down somewhat after hitting a slight roadblock, which I’ve just about worked out now.

– I’ve been doing a lot of character development and relooking at my overall plot to give myself new perspective and motivation.

– I downloaded a great free program called ywriter which has been designed by an author for authors. The program allows you to input all your novel’s information including character information, location information, you can write your novel in scenes, swap scenes and chapters around, keep notes and (my favourite part) it even reads your writing aloud to you! I’ve only just started using it, but I already love it and I know it is going to be a fantastic resource while working on my novel.

– I’ve been inspired by an event called NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in which participants attempt to write 50000 words in a month. I’m not joining officially as I don’t believe I will be able to churn out 50000 words during November, but I am inspired to at least attempt to get some serious writing on my novel during November using NaNoWriMo as my motivation. The idea is to just write, without worrying about editing, whenever you have spare time. Then once November is over you can go back and edit and turn that writing into something legible.

– While procrastinating on my novel, I’ve been writing a novella on the side. It’s a horror story set within a high school. Originally I wrote this plot idea about 11 years ago as a script and made it into a short film for an English project. I’ve unearthed the plot and am now attempting to turn it a more substantial story.

So that’s what I’ve been doing lately. I’ll keep my blog updated during November and let you know how my novel is progressing during the madness of NaNoWriMo.

Foreshadowing

I am currently reading Dan Brown’s latest novel, The Lost Symbol, and this book, along with a recent review I received for one of my online stories, made me really think about the significance of foreshadowing in great novels (particularly of the mystery genre). I’ve always admired writers who can seamlessly include foreshadowing in their stories so that the reader doesn’t even realise the significance until the end when all is revealed. I think I’ve read too many of Dan Brown’s earlier works though and I was looking out for ‘foreshadowings’ from the very first page. I have my predictions on how the novel will end, but I’m still hoping I will be surprised and that I have read the signs all wrong.

That’s the great thing about foreshadowing, when used well the reader won’t even realise the significance and the ending comes as a complete surprise, but then on second reading the reader can pick out those little foreshadowings and realise the answer was there the entire time. J.K. Rowling is another author who I think used this device well in her Harry Potter series of books. A simple example of this is in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets when Harry and the Weasleys have a run in with Lucius Malfoy at the beginning of the book, which turns out to be quite significant in regards to the ending. Not only does she use this device within each individual book, she also uses it extremely well in regards to the series overall. Who would have thought that the diary in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets would resurface four books later and contribute to an even more significant part of the plot of the series?

Another device, which tends to go hand-in-hand with foreshadowing, is the infamous red herring. Dan Brown and J.K. Rowling also tend to use these in their writing. A well placed red herring will throw a reader off the scent of the real villain/solution, thus creating that surprise ending that the reader never saw coming.

I saw a spoof of the Harry Potter series recently, which blatantly played on J.K. Rowling’s use of foreshadowing in the series. The Snape character was questioning students on what a Horcrux was (which Hermione answered, of course) and then Snape followed up this question by asking what foreshadowing meant (again answered accurately by Hermione). It was really this little scene that got me thinking about J.K. Rowling’s use of foreshadowing in Harry Potter, and also how other authors are able to use it effectively. As a result of my reflections on foreshadowing I decided to write a short piece incorporating this device to test my writing skills. I posted my piece on an online writing site and was pleased to note that my reviewers were all quite surprised at the end of the piece and had never suspected the subtly placed *item* at the beginning of the piece.

I will be adding a new section to my blog today for short stories and I will be including this piece for you to judge for yourselves (as well as the review that really got me thinking). Of course, having been forewarned will most likely have you searching for the foreshadowing in much the same way I have been dissecting The Lost Symbol for foreshadowings as I read it. Perhaps I will still surprise you.

Edit: You can now check out my page on ‘Short Stories’, including a sub-page with my short story An Ordinary Day.

A Strong Beginning

Today I was discussing beginnings on a writers’ forum and I mentioned that I believed the basis of a strong beginning to any story is the ‘hook’. A strong beginning draws your readers into the story and makes them want to continue reading. How the beginning is structured depends a lot on what sort of story you are writing and the genre of the story. Some stories are effective when they start at the end and then go back to the beginning to explain how the characters got to that point. This can be effective as the reader wants to know how the characters ended up there. Some beginnings launch straight into the action so that the reader is thrown right into the middle of the story right from the first few words. Some authors (myself included) use a descriptive passage to start their stories to set the scene or to introduce their main character.

However it is written, the most important part is finding that hook. How are you going to get the readers to want to keep reading? Here are a few of my beginnings where I have tried to hook the reader and the various methods I used:

Starting at the end

I would never have believed when I woke up yesterday morning that I would be dead only twenty-four hours later.



Setting up the characters and story

Lleyton waited in his bedroom.

“She’ll be here any second,” he thought to himself.

Lleyton ran his hand through his sleek blonde hair and turned his eyes towards the closed door, willing it to open. He started to become anxious; worried that she would not come at all.

Introducing the main character

The door creaked open slowly. A man with an unkept appearance and a gnarled face entered the room, his back hunched over as he pushed a bucket and mop in front of him. He sloshed the mop about in the soapy water and proceeded to wet the floor in an even sweeping motion.

Reflection (of thought)

Peter studied his reflection in the tall, ebony framed mirror. He straightened his black bow tie and smoothed his plain black dinner jacket. He attempted to flatten his dark hair where it stubbornly stood up at the back, but it simply refused to lie flat.

As Peter studied his image reflected in the mirrored glass, he couldn’t help but remember how often he had been compared to his father, Vincent. Peter was the spitting image of his father, everyone had always said so. Peter sighed regretfully. He would give anything for his father to be with him right now, to have him by his side as he celebrated his special day.

Setting the time period

It had been seven months since the war ended. The few Black Spider Militants that were still roaming free had gone underground. We had honoured the dead and spent months rebuilding our homes and the surrounding areas, which had been destroyed as a result of Manello’s reign of terror and the fighting that had taken place.

Setting the scene

The dining room denoted wealth. Heavy velvet drapes were drawn over tall narrow windows. Silver and gold plates and goblets adorned antique cabinets. A maid busied herself stoking the large open fire in the corner before disappearing silently out of sight, as though she had never been there. Three young women sat erect at the mahogany dining table, the chandelier that hung from the ceiling casting a dull light upon them.

Creating an atmosphere

A cruel wind whipped violently against the stone walls of the castle. The grey sky carried a sense of foreboding. A lone figure fought against the elements to gain entry through the wooden front doors of Pickerton House.
Straight into the action

Take that!
Penny Wentworth felt the pain consume her entire body. Her shrill scream echoed around the stone dungeon.
Caroline Fey released the lever and looked down upon the defeated form of Penny with a contemptuous sneer.
“Well girly, you’re not so cocky now are you?” she taunted.


An Aspiring Author

I recently read an article that suggested, in this modern world of computing and the internet, aspiring authors would be wise to start a blog to help them promote their writing and create a platform for themselves. I have been considering starting a blog for some time now and this article not only gave me the push to do so, but it also gave me a subject to blog about: writing.

I have been writing fiction and poetry for as long as I can remember; for as long as I have been able to write really. I remember writing my first ‘novel’ at seven years of age about my best friend turning into a fairy and riding on a unicorn. Back then I thought I had written quite a long chaptered story, but looking back now it was really only a page per chapter written in large handwriting and only five chapters long. Nowadays (20 years later) you can be assured that my writing constitiutes much more than a couple of handwritten pages. My longest piece of work to date is a completed novel entitled ‘Sunday’s Child’ and it constitutes over 50,000 words.

‘Sunday’s Child’ is a crime genre novel, I enjoy writing the crime genre and also the genres of mystery and even science fiction at times, however my favourite genre to write would be the fantasy/magic genre. I’m currently working on a series of novels aimed at a young adult readership involving four teenagers who are sent to a world in another realm. At the moment I have been trying to dedicate a minimum of an hour a day on this particular series. I have several other work-in-progress stories that I have been working on as well, both aimed at a younger audience (one involving time-travel and the other involving a magic necklace).

I am hoping to keep this blog as a way of updating progress on my stories, including excerpts of my writing, poetry and drabbles, sharing any useful tips or writing advice I happen to come across and just sharing my passion for writing with anybody who reads this blog. 🙂

A writing blog

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