Tag Archives: description

Show, Don’t Tell Challenge Share Day

januarychallenge

How did you go with the challenge this month?

As a reminder of what this month’s challenge entailed, or for those who are coming in late and still want to have a go, this was the challenge:

Show, Don’t Tell Challenge

1. Below I will list three ‘telling’ sentences and a photo.

2. Your challenge is to pick one of the sentences or the photo and write a descriptive paragraph or flash fiction (no more than 300 words).

3. You must not use the ‘banned’ word in your piece.

4. You must use each of the five senses.

5. You have two weeks to complete the challenge. In two weeks I will share my challenge piece and invite you to share yours in the comments.

Here are the sentences (and you are more than welcome to do more than one if you want!):

1. I was scared. (banned word = SCARED)

2. The boy ate an apple. (banned word = APPLE)

3. It’s a great party. (banned word = PARTY)

And here’s the photo:

kitten

(banned word = KITTEN or CAT)

Please share your piece in the comments below!

I picked the kitten picture for my piece. Here it is:

An orange ball of fur curled up among long tendrils of grass. Small and scared, it huddles, making tiny mews. I stroke its soft fur–like stroking a cloud–and pick it up with a gentle touch. His whiskers tickle my cheek. His breath is milky and sweet, reminding me of milkshakes at the little cafe by the lake. Blue eyes blink up at me. He searches my face, “Are you my mummy?”

The next challenge will go up in the first week of February.

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What Does ‘Show, Don’t Tell’ Mean?

show dont tell

The writing challenge this month is all about ‘Show, Don’t Tell’, but what does it mean and how can you apply it to your writing?

Showing is all about creating visual imagery for your reader and making them feel as though they are there and connected with your main character. You can tell your reader a character has dark hair and pale skin, but how does your main character view this person? Connect your reader to you character’s mind by showing what they see and feel. Eg: A character who is attracted to these qualities might say, “Dark ebony hair framed her porcelain skin and her red lips were shaped like a cupid’s bow. It was like Snow White had stepped right out of her fairy tale.” A character who doesn’t find those features attractive may describe her in a different light, eg: “Her coal-coloured hair made her bloodless face appear whiter in contrast as though she were one of the undead. The only colour on her face was on her lips, which were caked in red lipstick in the manner of a lady of the night.”

Showing vs. Telling

Here are some more examples of the difference between telling and showing.

Telling: It was a hot day.

Showing: The sun blazed in the sky. Sweat ran down my forehead. The jingle of the ice-cream cart’s bell called to me.

Telling: A tall man.

Showing: The man’s head brushed the top of the door frame as he walked through. I craned my neck to look up at his face.

Further Reading

For a more in-depth look at showing vs. telling and further examples, you can check out these previous posts I have written on the topic.

My Best Advice for Other Aspiring Writers 

This post discusses:

–          Using the five senses.

–          Eliminating ‘was’.

–          Interweaving description into your story.

Show, Don’t Tell 

This post gives a more in-depth explanation of ‘Show, Don’t Tell’ with an example ‘showing’ paragraph like the one I want you to attempt for this month’s challenge.

Keep your eye out for the challenge sharing post at the end of this week. If you’re not subscribed, you can sign up for free (top left-hand side of blog) and you will get an email notification when the post goes live.

Show, Don’t Tell Challenge

januarychallenge

This year I’m featuring a monthly writing challenge on the blog. As ‘show, don’t tell’ is one of my writing mantras and is a topic I’ve covered many times on my blog, I thought it only fitting for it to make up my first challenge.

Here’s how the challenge will work:

1. Below I will list three ‘telling’ sentences and a photo.

2. Your challenge is to pick one of the sentences or the photo and write a descriptive paragraph or flash fiction (no more than 300 words).

3. You must not use the ‘banned’ word in your piece.

4. You must use each of the five senses.

5. You have two weeks to complete the challenge. In two weeks I will share my challenge piece and invite you to share yours in the comments.

Here are the sentences (and you are more than welcome to do more than one if you want!):

1. I was scared. (banned word = SCARED)

2. The boy ate an apple. (banned word = APPLE)

3. It’s a great party. (banned word = PARTY)

And here’s the photo:

kitten

(banned word = KITTEN or CAT)

This is meant to be for fun and to challenge ourselves as writers. I can’t wait to see what others come up with.

Aussie Author Month – John Marsden

As part of Aussie Author month I’m going to be doing a series of blog posts focusing on some of my favourite Australian authors—authors who have inspired me in my own writing.

For the first post I want to focus on one of my all time favourite authors: John Marsden. I started reading John Marsden as a teenager and he immediately became my favourite teen/YA writer. He also inspired me to really strive for my writing dream; knowing that an Australian could become such a well known author, not just here, but overseas as well, was a big push for me.

Marsden has written a multitude of books over the years, primarily aimed at teens. At one stage I had read every book he’d ever written. In year eight, my English teacher read our class Tomorrow When the War Began (which I’d already read by then)—every student in my class loved it and there was an influx in the library to borrow the next book in the series. Even the boys.

So how is it that Marsden, nearly a decade before the Harry Potter phenomenon, inspired teens, including reluctant male readers, to get reading?

Voice

This would have to be the number one factor in the appeal of Marsden’s books to teens. Marsden has a way of writing teenage voice realistically that draws teens into the story. Teens feel like they’re reading about someone their own age—they can relate to the feelings and thoughts of the character, because it’s how they think and feel. In particular, I find his ability to write in the voice of a teenage girl particularly brilliant (how many grown men could channel the voice of a teenage girl so realistically?).

To be honest, which I swore I’d be, we’d all had those delusions at times. They were only daydreams, to liberate our families, to fix everything, to be heroes… In reality the prospect of doing something like that was so horrifying and frightening that it made me ill to think of it.” (Tomorrow When the War Began, pg. 232)

I was giving your ear an erotic experience and you were giggling and pushing me away. The only thing that stopped me going further was all the people around, and Mr. Rossi. Like, he might be a good bloke, but if he finds two of his students having sex in the middle of an excursion he’s not exactly going to give us a pat on the head and an A in Art.” (Dear Miffy, pg. 75)

Characters

The characters in Marsden’s books come alive from the first page and make you want to know their story. Part of that is their voice, which I mentioned above, but it is also the layers of depth each character possesses. In books like Letters from the Inside and So Much to Tell You, the stories of the main characters unfold layer by layer. From the beginning the reader knows there is more to this character, some secret, and as the story unfolds we get glimpses of the secret, until we find out the whole story. In other stories, such as the Tomorrow series, we see the main character put in tough situations and continually growing as a character through these situations.

I don’t blame you for being scared of me. I don’t like it but I don’t blame you. I’m scared of myself sometimes.” (Letters from the Inside, pg.96)

…I started trembling and sobbing and hugging myself. I leaned against the wall then slid down until I was on the floor. It seemed like something outside me had taken control. It shook me like I was a washing machine. I knew what it was of course. The image of Shannon, lying there naked and tied up, her blood, the death that I saw in her eyes: Where was I supposed to put that?” (While I Live, pg.266)

Description

Part of what makes Marsden’s descriptions so effective is the way they’re written from the character’s perspective. His descriptions give the reader a clear picture, while showing the reader how the character views his/her world. He very rarely alludes to the characters’ physical descriptions, unless it’s relevant.

…Lisa came in, went to her bed and lay on it face down. And after a few moments she began crying! I could hear her. And I could see her shoulders shuddering. Lisa, the strong one, who never cries! It got worse: her crying became louder, uncontrolled, sobbing. From deep, deep down… I fluttered around the dorm wanting to help her.” (So Much to Tell You, pg.39)

… we ran the way rabbits do when they get a sniff of the warren and think they can just make it. We put our ears back, kept close to the ground and went for it… The fence loomed up at me. I dived to go under it. Still like a rabbit. Beside me Fi did the same. As we went down, the first shot wailed above our heads.” (Darkness, Be My Friend, pg. 234)

If you (or your kids) have yet to pick up a book by John Marsden, I highly recommend picking one up.

If you have (or write for) preteen boys, try Staying Alive in Year 5. For teen girls, try So Much to Tell You. For teen boys, try Dear Miffy. And everybody should read Tomorrow When the War Began at least once in their lifetime, it’s a Aussie literature must-read.

A side note in regards to Aussie Author Month:

One of the aims of Aussie Author month is to raise awareness and funds for the Indigenous Literacy Project – a project that aims to raise Literacy levels amongst Inigenous Australians living in rural and remote communities. You can learn more here: http://www.indigenousliteracyproject.org.au/ and you can donate to the project as part of Aussie Author month here: http://www.gofundraise.com.au/page/ausbooks

Writing Effective Description

This week on #scribechat on Twitter (Thursday 9pm ET US/Friday 11am AEST Aus.) the topic was ‘Editing your Manuscript’. One question that came up was regarding description. So today I’m going to address the topic of writing effective description in your novel.

Show, Don’t Tell This is the most important thing to remember when writing description. I’ve written a post about this before (Show, Don’t Tell). What is the difference between showing and telling? Telling is exactly that: telling. You tell the reader that the character is ‘tall with long brown hair and blue eyes’. Sometimes the writer tries to be more subtle about it, the biggest cliche being a character looking in a mirror to describe him/herself, but it is still telling. Showing means interweaving the details in the story. If the character is tall you might write, “His head brushed the top of the doorframe as he entered the room.” In this example you are showing the reader the character is tall, without having to even use the word ‘tall’.

When I am editing I use a blue highlighter to highlight any sections of my manuscript where I am telling instead of showing.

Use All 5 Senses This is related to showing rather than telling. Whenever you describe anything in your novel, don’t just think about the visual elements, try to imagine the smells, tastes, sounds and how things feel. It’s the difference between your reader viewing a photograph of your scene, or becoming immersed within the scene. You want your readers to feel like they are there, experiencing what your characters are experiencing. Instead of just telling the reader there’s a building on fire, describe the sound of the flames crackling, the smell of the smoke and how the smoke burns your character’s throat.

Here’s an exercise: Go sit outside and close your eyes. What sounds can you hear? Are there birds tweeting in the trees, or cars revving their engines? What can you smell? Can you smell the sweet aroma of flowers, or maybe you can smell rain in the air? What can you feel? Is the sun warm on your face, or is the wind sending chills through your body? Now when you write your next scene think about where your character is, what time of year it is, what time of day and what is going on around him/her and incorporate the different senses into the scene.

Move the Plot Forward It’s important to keep your plot in mind no matter what you are describing. Avoid adding excessive details that do not relate to your plot. Is it important that your main character’s best friend has a mole on her chin? Does it matter if someone’s eyes are blue or brown? Character development and world building are both necessary to give your story life, but try not to bog your story down in too much detail or readers will be inclined to skip over the long drawn out descriptions. Cut out what is unnecessary, then build up the parts relating to your plot. Instead of spending a page and a half describing what your character looks like, use that space to delve into who your character really is and what motivates him/her. Instead of telling your reader your character has a scar on her left knee, you might write, “Liz ran a finger over the scar on her knee, remembering how she’d fallen off her motorbike in the Championship race last year and lost the race.” From this we find out Liz likes to ride motorbikes competitively and if the story is related to her racing it might show us how she is out to prove herself. This shows a very different character to one who might have got the scar from a knife fight.

These are the three main points I keep in mind when writing/editing description in my manuscript. Do you have any other important tips you follow for writing effective description? Please share them!

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.