Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Showing versus Telling

Show and tell. This is one of the most important rules in writing fiction. Always “show” the story, never “tell” it. Of course, there are times when passages of “telling” are necessary (i.e. in narrative summary). There are some incidences where it’s acceptable, such as in transitions. Or perhaps there’s a jump in time that needs to be conveyed. But for the most part, the more a writer “shows,” the better.

What is showing? Showing takes place in real time; we see things unfold as they happen. Showing shows us where we are, gives us a location we can picture. Then there’s action, something that happens, and with that comes dialogue.

Ever hear the saying: Actions speak louder than words? The same rule applies to writing. Actions bring characters to life, it makes your characters believable, and it makes us a part of the story and a part of them. We’ll learn more about a character and become more connected to them by what they do, rather than by what the narrator “tells” us they do. It also brings in the five senses: touch, taste, see, smell, and feel.

Here’s a brief example below. Both lines are saying the same thing, only one is “telling” and the other is “showing:”

TELLING: Michael was scared. But he tried to hide it.

SHOWING: Michael took a deep breath and puffed up his chest. But his hand trembled when he reached for the doorknob. He stuffed it in his pocket, then turned to his companion and chuckled.

Which lines engage you more as a reader? Notice the second lines show “action,” whereas the first lines “tell” what he’s feeling.

One tip I always give to clients on how to show and not tell is to start with the object and have it "do something." Another key is to cut the "was" phrases.

BEFORE: It was early in the morning. The sun was coming up over the horizon and shining on the crops of flax.

Here, the object is the sun. In the second sentence we begin with the "object," but we have that troublesome "was" phrase, which makes this passage "telling."

AFTER: The morning sun cast lances of light over the blue and purple valleys. A breeze carried the scent of flaxen crops and manure to the early risers.

Notice the deleted "was" phrases and how we start with the object and we have that object "do something." Also, notice how we had room to add more from the five senses, such as smell.

That example was a bit complicated, so let's break it down into something more simple.

BEFORE: The breeze was cold.

AFTER: The Canadian breeze sliced through his coat and nipped his skin.

Now, I'm not saying these can't be worded better, but the idea is to have the breeze "do something." In this case, the breeze is slicing and nipping.

Hope this has been helpful, and if anyone has something to add, please do!

Happy writing!


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Using Commas With "And"

Dear Grammar Guru,

When do I use a comma with and?


Dear Confused,

Use a comma before and:

(1) in a series of three or more words, phrases, or clauses

Many artists, writers, and composers find inspiration in daydreaming and mediation. Today many authorities omit the comma before and if the phrases are short. Caution: Make sure the sentence does not confuse the reader if the comma is omitted. Example: I enjoy reading, writing and walking dogs. Writing dogs? How does one do that? Retain the final comma, or rewrite the sentence: I enjoy reading novels, writing poetry and walking dogs.

(2) after the first sentence in a compound sentence

A compound sentence is two sentences joined by a coordinating conjunction (most commonly and, but, or). Example: Henry David Thoreau urged simple and honest approaches to life, and he was jailed for refusing to pay a tax to support the Mexican War. Notice there is a complete sentence on both sides of and.

Do not a comma after and unless another rule dictates that usage. Example: "I did not ask you to finance the project, and, in my opinion, you are out of line," my sister said. The comma after and is not because of and. In my opinion is a parenthetical expression or interrupter; it requires a comma before and after it. Without the parenthetical expression, the sentence would require no comma after and. "I did not ask you to finance the project, and you are out of line," my sister said.

Grammar Guru

Sunday, April 4, 2010

A Slice of Writer's Life

To Writer's Conference Or Not?

Unless it's in your backyard, the cost of attending writer's conferences these days is prohibitive for many writers of all levels. A conference is a unique experience and there are many pros and cons to attending. You've surely read or heard about the networking principle and how meeting other writers and attending workshops and panels with industry professionals usually contributes a great deal of positive energy and information to your work as a writer. But is it worth it in the long run to pay for transportation, hotel, food, the conference, and shipping your booty back home from the hotel? Short answer: yes, but you should choose carefully in order to get the most bang for your buck and time.

I've attended many conferences over the last twenty years. From small local gatherings to large meetings with 2000 romance writers standing in line at the ladies room, and I have never regretted going to any of them. Each one provided me with another notch of understanding what it takes to be a writer who can claim the ultimate label of published author. Sure, I had to wear the scarlett letter on my name badge for several years: Aspiring Writer, but the more I absorbed and the more I applied and the more I practiced the habits of published writers the sooner I ditched the 'aspiring' title and now proudly wear the published author name tag. I even hang a color photo of my published book covers from the bottom of my conference name tag to validate my status. But it took many years of internship at conferences before everything changed.

It wasn't just attending conferences that changed my status from aspiring to published. The more I circulated with other writers in the same boat or whose ship had come in, the more I learned how to behave like a published author. Like any good writer, I applied the practices we use to gather good material for our stories to attending conferences. I dressed like the published authors. I sat near them in the bars and restaurants and listened to them talk to their editors and agents. I volunteered to work for the conference and more than once helped famous authors set up their workshops or arrange for transportation. I struck up random conversations with editors and other aspiring writers about contemporary topics like the future of ebook readers and print on demand publishing. I attended sessions that included panels of editors, agents, and published authors. Although I heard the same information repeatedly, I filed it all away and eventually it all paid off.

Look for conferences that are within your budget and neighborhood first. Save your money and attend a big national conference every two or three years. Save the workshop materials in a file. Take a small notebook with you everywhere and make notes about what you see and hear at the conference. And save all your "aspiring writer" name tags for the scrapbook until one day you get the "published author" badge and everything changes. Just remember to be nice to all the "aspiring writers" you meet. You never know when one will be the next published author. It could be you!

Be well, write well,
Joy Held

I will be leading a workshop at the 2010 Romantic Times Booklovers Convention, April 28-May 2 in Columbus, OH. My workshop is titled "Your Brain On Yoga: How Exercise and Nutrition Make You A Better Writer."

Are you going to a writer con soon? Tell me about it!