Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Show Don't Tell

Received a rejection this week. Yeah, I know. Sob Sob.  But the funny thing is I had just found the problem before the editor wrote me the helpful rejection letter pointing the problem out.  So at least I knew what she was talking about and had to agree with her.  It was a nice rejection by the way. Not a form letter.  She thought enough of my writing to take the time to comment.  She even said I was a strong writer.  Well this helps later on after the disappointment sinks in and you can think objectively about it.  LOL

So how did I find the problem now and why didn't I see it sooner? Like before sending it out!!!  This manuscript has won contests and been critiqued by some of the best, but this problem still slipped by. And its in the first three chapters.  Yikes. 

Screenwriting. The process of screenwriting has taken my writing to a new level. 

Let me explain how, but first, let's grab a bite to eat and a cup of "cookie doodle" coffee. Ruthy would never forgive me if I forgot the goodies. Non-calorie btw.   "Cookie doodle" coffee has vanilla and cinnamon in case you've never had it before.  Yumm.   And to go with it, how about some homemade Snickerdoodle cookies.  They are my favorite.  Don't you just love the smell of cinnamon and baking this time of year???

So back to the screenwriting.  I was published in romance in the eighties, but made the mistake of leaving it and finishing out my previous career, thinking I'd write when retired. LOL.  Nice dream, but the writing changed so much in that time that I had to relearn how to write.  More action, less purple prose, get rid of all the passive tense etc. etc.  

And don't you love "SHOW DON'T TELL".  What in the world does that mean????  I wrestled with that until I took a screenwriting class.   

Our local RWA (Desert Rose in Phoenix area)  had a Saturday workshop entitled Beyond Structure, featuring David Freeman.  He is a Hollywood screenwriter. (www.beyondstructure.com)  A friend and I were so impressed with what we learned we flew to Los Angeles and took his weekend class. It was intensive but what a difference it made.  Then I followed that up with a screenwriting class at Scottsdale Community College which has a great Theater Arts Department. 

The advantage of taking screenwriting classes is that it really SHOWS you how to show not tell. They use visual examples.  They take film clips and show how the action tells the story. Or how the dialogue shows the emotions.  Remember, in film, you can't go in the head and read the characters thoughts and/or emotions. You have to show them through their actions and their dialogue.  And furthermore, you have to move along at a fast pace or you lose your audience. Isn't that what you're hearing about your novels too?  

After taking all of these classes, I started writing screenplays and fell in love with it.  So I pitched to a producer who liked my screenplay, but she couldn't see  a place for it at this time. (Sounds like the publishing business doesn't it?)  So she asked me if I had something else.  I didn't, but I have always thought my manuscript ROAD TO VICTORY would make a great movie because it had bicycle racing and lots of action.  So I pitched the premise of that story and she said "YES. I want to see it."    

ROAD TO VICTORY is the rejection I just received. But I had started writing the screenplay for it earlier this month and noticed that the first three chapters, while a lot of action is going on, is really all one scene. It takes place in the same location.   And that is exactly what Johannaa Raisanen of Harlequin American pointed out.  OMG  if I had only started the screenplay earlier.  It is something so easy to fix.  And so obvious now that I see it from the point of a screenplay.

So fellow authors. I learned a big lesson and hope I've passed on some useful information to you.  If you are having problems with passive voice, plot, character development, dialogue,  try a screenwriting class.  Even a good book on screenwriting helps.  A couple of good ones are: SAVE THE CAT, by Blake Snyder  (He spoke at RWA National in San Francisco last July and was terrific),  THE SCREENWRITER'S WORKBOOK, by Syd Field.

Caroline Romance Authors is offering an online screenwriting workshop that starts this November.  It is entitled IS THAT HOLLYWOOD CALLING?   Cindy Carroll is a member of Script Scene (RWA's screenwriting chapter) and has received honorable mention in a Television/Script category of Writer's Digest, has garnered a request from a production company and teaches the workshop.  IS THAT HOLLYWOOD CALLING is a "quick and dirty course on the differences between writing books and writing scripts and how writing a screenplay can help and improve your novel writing. "  You can still register at www.carolinaromancewriters.com.  For more info, contact Sarah McNeal at starcriter@yahoo.com.

Act One (www.actoneprogram.com) is an organization of Christian professionals in Hollywood who put on workshops and programs to train Christians for Hollywood  (movies and television).  They offer weekend seminars throughout the year in major cities. They also have an intensive training program in Hollywood where professionals in the movie/television industry mentor beginners trying to break into the industry.  They view Hollywood as a mission field so have an interest in more Christians in the business. 

Not only will screenwriting improve your novel writing, but it is fun. Don't we all love a good movie?  And Hollywood is looking for good romantic comedies.  Me too.

Sandra Leesmith (who also writes children books as Sandy Wardman)



  1. My first writers' conference at the local Christian college featured the drama prof who also wrote and produced several plays.

    I learned so much from that session.

    One point was "don't nail their feet to the floor" which is very tempting to me.

  2. I've heard this before, that studying screenwriting helps. The screenwriting course I often hear recommended is Michael Hague's.

  3. Wow, Sandra, what a post!! I'm thinking I need to run right out and pick up a screenwriting book ASAP! I always yawned when the word "screenwriting" was mentioned, but you have me interested in checking it out. Besides, my editor once had me modify a scene because she said it read more like a screenplay. Huh? I had NO idea what she was talking about, but now I want to find out!

    And a "nice" rejection? Gosh, what's that??? Up until 39 rejections on A Passion Most Pure, I never got one even remotely nice rejection, so if you have a publisher taking the time to give you a "nice" and helpful one, you are way ahead of the game. I actually had one or two who didn't even bother to respond on their own letterhead, but scrawled across my query letter -- "no enthusiasm for this project." Sigh.
    R's hurt, no question about it. But brutally honest R's ... ouch!


  4. Ann and Patricia, Thanks for the added info. Patricia, where can you obtain info about Michael Hague's course?

  5. Hi Julie, I'd recommend Save The Cat. It is entertaining as well as informative. And yes, I could see a wonderful television series about the O'Connor Family from your Boston Series A PASSION MOST PURE and A PASSION REDEEMED. You not only have terrific characters but you show an interesting portion of history that we don't usually get to read about or see in film.

    39 rejections. Well I don't feel so badly now. I bet those publishers are now wishing they'd taken a chance on you. smile

  6. Sandra -- Tina put me on to screenwriter Hague last year. I ordered books & DVDs on Amazon. He also has a website with articles and other info. http://www.screenplaymastery.com/links.htm

  7. Great guns, Sandra! I took David's screenwriting class several years ago. As you say, it's very informative. I think I was too young in the craft to really understand the benefits of the class and a lot of it did not sink in.

    But anyone thinking of taking a screenwriting class needs to be sure to watch all the movies the teacher will be discussing during the class.

    It can get a little boring if you don't. Or if the teacher shows a clip of a movie you haven't seen, you're so wrapped up in wanting to know more about the movie that you can't get back to the lessons at hand! lol

    I wonder if I still have my handouts? I tell you, it's been YEARS!

  8. Thanks Glynna, It always helps to have other resources. Glynna, next time I come visit, I want to see that library of yours. You have the most incredible resources and info. Thanks girlfriend.

    Pam, you're too funny. Yes, you would probably understand more about what Freeman said at this point in the game. I think I need to go back also. You always see something new because you're in a new place.

  9. Oh, that's great advice! I've heard that before about screenwriting but I have yet to take a class. I definitely will now. :)

  10. I second Sandra's recommendation of Save the Cat! Love that book. I thought I "got" show don't tell. But I hadn't really, until I started writing screenplays. Thanks, Sandra, for mentioning my workshop.

  11. Show don't tell is probably my greatest weakness. That and making my heroes too sweet. Sigh. That's just not realistic, is it? But I digress. Yes, I probably need to get one of those books on screenwriting to better understand how to show don't tell. But you know what? Today I'm so tired of reading craft books and WAITING! LET ME MOVE ON WITH MY (PUBLISHED) LIFE! PLEASE!!! I'm so tired of waiting I could scream. I think I will. AAAIIIIEEEEHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!

    Glad I got that out of my system.

    So sorry about the rejection, Sandra. I completely know how you feel. Thanks for the great advice and for letting me scream. ;-)

  12. I like this, Sandra. Before when I've heard about screenwriting my reaction is always, "I don't want to write movies or plays." So I don't pay attention.

    but to improve my novel writing? Well, it makes sense doesn't it that screen writing would be the ultimate 'show don't tell'. I"m going to keep my eyes open for a screenwriting class and chase down some the material you've got here.

    Save the cat, huh?

  13. Back again. Took the pups for a walk in the park.

    Anyway, Mary and Jennifer, you will find the screenwriting classes very interesting and helpful. They help you think about scenes and each scene has its arc, etc.

    However, I must say Miss Mary that your books read like a fun movie already. I could always picture the action so clearly when I read CALICO CANYON and PETTICOAT JUNCTION. Those would make fun movies btw. They are looking for good romances.

  14. Cindy, Glad to have you here. I will be taking your online class IS THAT HOLLYWOOD CALLING? as I signed up for it. Maybe you can tell us a little about what you plan to cover and how it can help our writing.

    Carolina RWA is sponsoring the workshop folks. I always like to support our chapters, especially when they offer craft related workshops online or locally.

  15. Melanie, I Can Sooooooooo Relate. This business is crazy. But we love it anyway. Or we're addicted. Or something.

    Maybe I better put out some See's candies with those snickerdoodles. Chocolate always helps.

    But a good scream helps too. Go for it. I'll join you.
    AAAAAAAAAAARGH I HATE WAITING TOO. Anyone else want to join us????

    In my Bible study class we're studying Abraham. You don't want to do this because that poor man had to wait DECADES for his promises. Yikes. Please please don't make us wait decades. However he is credited for righteousness because he never lost faith. sigh.

  16. Hi, Sandra. Thanks for signing up. I hope you enjoy it. Sure, I can tell you a bit more about the course. It's a month long course and there are assignments. I cover: Introduction, The Basics of Screenwriting (assignment), Show don’t tell (assignment), The polish (assignment), Queries (assignment), Contests, Meetings/pitches/conferences (assignment), After you sell, Do’s and don’ts list, Resource list, Recommended reading list.

  17. Sandra, thanks for the great post! I took Blake Snyder's Save the Cat workshop at RWA and planned to get his book. I'm ordering it today. I'll look at my WIP for ways to up emotion in dialogue and action, instead of relying on introspection more than I should. Thanks! And thanks for the coffee and snickerdoodles. Yummy!


  18. I have "Show Don't Tell" written all over my only manuscript. I have a hard time visualizing things. Screenwriting would probably help me with that tremendously! This is a great teaching post and a huge encouragement to learn and grow!



  19. Good post, Sandra.

    The ACFW conf listed a screenwriting workshop and since I'm an extra in the film/TV industry, I was very interested in taking it.

    However, I assumed it was for those people who had their writing techniques down and wanted to expand. Boy, was I wrong.

    I hope the ACFW will offer this workshop again b/c hubby has already given me to go-ahead for Denver. :-)

  20. You critiqued my first 2 chapters without even looking at them, Sandra : ) Thanks for the tip on location. I think I get so wrapped up in GMC that I forget to change the terrain.

    My critique partner and best bud writes screenplays. She's always telling me to visualize my book as a movie. Tough stuff sometimes!

    Thanks, Sandra. Good food (and coffee) for thought : )

  21. Hi Cindy--- Did I see the word contest in the syllabus? My, my, this group does love a contest. It will be interesting to learn what contests are out there for screenwriters. I'm looking forward to advice on where and how to pitch also.

    But most of us really can use the help with plotting, active voice and dialogue. Thanks for offering the course. I'm looking forward to it.

  22. Hi Janet, Blake Snyder was great wasn't he? He really loves romance writers because we help each other. He wants to establish that in the film industry.

    Hey Kim, Can't lose by learning something new. And don't we all have SHOW DON'T TELL all over our manuscripts? Hang in there.

    Anita Mae, An extra. I'm impressed. Yes, if you have contacts, you might really love screenwriting. Go for it. And lucky you--already committed to Denver. Hooray.

    Audra, You're lucky to have a screenwriter partner. They do see the action and the plot more clearly. How funny that you had the same scene too. Glad it helped.

  23. Hi, Sandra. I do go over contests, specifically the differences between RWA contests and screenwriting contests. And there are some big differences.

  24. Hello Sandra:

    The best writing class I took in college was a screenwriting class by an author who let us see her original MASH scripts. She wrote the MASH episode where the wounded solider thought he was Jesus. This was one of the most memorable MASHs I’ve ever seen. She gave us a copy of the production script with all its markups. Wow!

    I’ve read a few romance authors who I thought could make ten times more money in screenwriting because they were so good with dialogue and scene management. Two great ones are Trish Wylie and Lucy Monroe.

    Caveat: I found that you do not want to write like a screenwriter in your novel, rather, you want to “think” like a screenwriter. (Writing like a screenwriter when the reader does not have a big screen to watch is not a good idea.) Thinking in scenes and in storyboard visuals, can add vitality to your writing that you might not otherwise experience.

    By the way, I have found an outstanding book on screenwriting that might actually be of more value to novel authors: “Story: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting” (Hardcover) by Robert Mckee . This book is available in audio tape as well.



  25. Hey Vince, You make a good point. You're right, because in actual screenwriting you leave out a lot of necessary elements that you need in novels. However the techniques for plot, dialogue and scenes really help in giving depth to your novel.

    Thanks for the resource. I haven't seen that one and will surely look it up.

  26. Been months since I visited this blog. Had lost the addy. It was wonderful to browse through the posts. I have saved the blog in my favorites and hope to visit often. Blessings from Costa Rica

  27. Sandra,
    GREAT topic!!! I went to Michael Hague's workshop at RWA two years ago and soaked up everything he had to say. Bought his book. Underlined it. Reread it. Fantastic stuff!!!

    Then I did the same with Blake Synder this year.

    You mentioned your first three chapters were really one scene. Okay, you need to explain how you're going to change those chapters to make them more "show don't tell."

    And someone said seeing scenes through their storyboards. That made a light bulb go on!

    Thanks for great tips!!! I'm heading back to my WIP.

  28. Kathie, Bienvenido. Good to have you back and all the way from Costa Rica. Are you living there? Traveling? My hubby and I have some fond memories of Costa Rica. Great country and people there. Good location for a novel too. smile

  29. Thanks Debby, Glad you're back to your wip because I love your suspense novels. They are the kind you can't put down. smile

    So glad to hear the screenwriting helped you. I can see the action in your stories. I'll surely have to look into Michael Hague.

  30. Sandra, I missed the party yesterday, but I wanted you to know that I really appreciate your post. That's an area I've avoided reading about, but it makes a lot of sense to study it. With television viewing, our culture is almost trained to read the way a scriptwriter writes. (Okay. That made sense in my head.)

  31. Lorna, You're so right. Modern day audiences want the fast pace and the action that they are used to on the screen. That is what made it so tough when returned to writing. I was from the old laid back school. LOL

    But hey, life nowadays is fast paced and we don't have time to be strolling around in a scene. Readers want to get to the action, the romance, the love. so whatever it takes.

    Thanks everyone for joining me.