Tuesday, April 23, 2013

SHOW DON'T TELL

Hello Seekerville.

Sandra here all excited about our mention in Writer's Digest as one of the best websites for writers.



Articles in that magazine were instrumental to my becoming published.  They are a great resource. And I am so thankful for all the Seekerville folk who nominated our blog.

You ROCK!!!!   It is because of YOU that we are even here.

When I started writing in the eighties, there were no websites for writers. The Writer's Digest magazine was one of the few resources for craft skills.  Conferences offered workshops but those were few and far between.

I did fall into entering contests and discovered I could get great feedback.  But one of the things judges always said was "show don't tell".

What in the world did that mean?  Now of course, it is plain as night and day to me, but when we all started out, we were nonplussed. In fact, questions like that were one of the reasons we started Seekerville. There were so many questions.  Whenever one of us found an answer, we wanted to share.  We also wanted to make a place where it was easier to find the answer.

By wisdom a house (or village) is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures.  Proverbs 24:3

So in the eighties, I took a sabbatical from my teaching career and did finally get published. I published two Harlequins and two for Popular Library which was an imprint of Warner Books, Inc.  When I returned back to finish my teaching career,  I put my novel writing on hold and then resumed after retiring in 2000.

Love's Miracles published in 1989


As many of you know I had to learn the craft all over again because writing styles had changed. In the eighties there was a lot of what we now call passive writing. Today's writing is fast paced and action packed.  In other words there was a lot more telling.  Today readers want more showing.  

Since I have the rights back for those past novels, I am in the process of putting them back out there. Reading through the old version I see a lot of "telling".  Let me show you some examples and hopefully point out ways to find the telling in your own writing.


Outside the sun was beginning to set. She could see the streaks of color across the western sky. A walk on the cliffs overlooking the ocean would clear her thoughts. She’d need to be sharp and alert when she went back to deal with Zane.


The clues to look for in this piece are the words could and would.  Occasional use of those two words is okay, but if you use them a lot, you are telling not showing.

Let me show you how I changed that to be more active.

     Outside the setting sun streaked colors across the western sky. Margo walked along the cliffs, thankful for the ocean breeze. Dealing with Zane demanded clear thinking.

Can you see how I changed could and would into active verbs?

Another thing to watch out for is the use of the verb to be.  Of course you  will need to use it occasionally, but look for ways to changed any to be verbs into active verbs.


Margo hesitated, observing the fit condition of his body as he stretched. His arms reached skyward while he rotated his head. Living in the wilderness certainly hadn’t harmed his physical condition. Even though he was sweaty and covered with blood, she was aware of a definite beauty in him. Seeing him in this rugged environment and looking as primitive as he did, it was hard to picture him in a business suit sitting in an office. Then again, Vinnie had said he spent most of his time at the docks or on the boats. That was easier for Margo to picture. 


Can you see all of the to be verbs?  Also look at the ing verbs.   Can you see the difference below when you take out those verbs and use action verbs instead?

Zane stretched. His arms reached skyward. He rotated his head and Margo hesitated. In spite of the  sweat and blood, a definite beauty radiated from him. How did this man, so at home in this rugged and primitive environment manage to sit in an office in a business suit? Margo shook away the impossible image and pictured him on the docks where Vinnie said he spent most of his time.  

Now look at the next section. Can you find more examples of telling words?


What she wasn’t prepared for was the sight of him. He had on boots and tight-fitting jeans. His white T-shirt was molded to his chest. That was not unusual. What made her breath go shallow was his face – he’d shaved his beard.
Slowly she stepped out of the Bronco. She headed for the deck. The strangest urge came over her to trace her fingers across the planes of that smooth-shaven skin.
Margo gave herself a shake. “Get a hold of yourself, kiddo,” she muttered under her breath. “He’s your patient. Nothing more. Yesterday’s kiss meant nothing to him and shouldn’t mean anything to you.” But the knowledge that the kiss had affected her strengthened her resolve to get off this case as soon as she returned.

There are the obvious to be words that give you a clue.  But look carefully for other telling words.


What made her breath go shallow was his face.   The telling word is made her breath go shallow.  Show her breath going shallow.  She gave herself a shake.  This telling word is  gave herself a shake. Show her shaking off the thought.


Margo stepped out of the Bronco. Her breath caught. He'd shaved his beard.
She curled her fingers against the urge to trace her fingers across the planes of smooth-shaven skin. Instead she focused on him, but tight fitting jeans and the white T-shirt molded to his chest shook her resolve. 
"Get a hold of yourself, kiddo," Margo muttered under her breath, "He's your patient. Nothing more........etc.

Can you see the difference? Can you see how the words made and gave were telling?  The words made and gave in themselves are not a problem, but it is the way I used them. This subtle passivity is what is difficult to see in your work.  The reason those words became passive is they are telling the reader what her reactions are.  In the revised piece, I show her reactions, i.e.  made her breath go shallow versus Her breath caught.  Very subtle but there is a difference.

Another clue to passive writing is the excessive use of adverbs.  Occasional adverbs are great, but go through your manuscript and look for possible changes you can make where you have used adverbs.


He scoffed. “You’re one gutsy lady. I can’t imagine you with any fears.”
“I’m afraid of the dark,” she told him simply and truthfully.
He started to laugh, then after eyeing her carefully he asked, “What caused that?”
Margo frowned as her nightmares came to mind. She couldn’t count the times she had awakened in a dark room to scream at her mother to turn on the lights. She knew what had caused her phobia but couldn’t seem to get it completely under control. Even being a psychologist hadn’t helped. She’d never been able to figure it out, and now wasn’t the time to try. Quickly she set aside her own problems. It was enough that she’d admitted them; she didn’t need to go into details.


Do you see the adverbs?  They aren't really necessary.


He scoffed. “You’re one gutsy lady. I can’t imagine you with any fears.”
“I’m afraid of the dark,.”
His laugh caught in his throat. "What caused that?"
Margo frowned. How many times had she awakened in a dark room to scream at her mother to turn on the lights? Knowledge of the cause of her phobia and psychology hadn't helped. She shifted and focused her attention back on Zane. 

Hopefully these examples will help you find the telling words in your manuscript.  Share with us a couple sentences you found in your work and how you changed them. Practice makes perfect. smile As you can see from these examples, my original novel is written in a passive manner.  My editor, Beth Lieberman, was one of the top editors at Warner and this manner was acceptable and used in the eighties

Since I have the rights and am publishing this book again, I could rewrite this and make the novel more active. However, my current editor and I decided not to change the story too much, as it works fine the way it is as an atmospheric, historical novel dealing with the Vietnam War

Amber Stokes of Editing Through The Seasons  (One of our Seeker friends) did edit and "clean up" some of the scenes that were too graphic for my current taste.  We decided to leave some of the darker content intact, as it wouldn't be the same story without Zane's experiences related to the Vietnam War, and we wanted to maintain a sense of realism to demonstrate the cost of war.

Amber is currently prepping LOVE'S MIRACLES for e-publication, and it will be available in Kindle format in time for Memorial Day. We will be offering free kindle copies during the Memorial Day weekend, so keep watch for announcements. 

She is also said to contact her through her website if you are interested in helping us promote the book and receiving an ARC e-version for review.  

Amber is also working with Lena Goldfinch and they have a wonderful cover in the works. Amber has a "cover reveal" scheduled for May so I won't give anything away. But here is the back cover blurb from the original book.

Dr. Margo Devaull came to Dominic Zanelli's mountain retreat confident that she could help this Vietnam veteran overcome the torment that kept him apart from the world. But her training as a psychologist had not prepared her for the tragic, explosive contradictions brewing inside him. For here was a sensitive artist who could be gentle--and a man whose eyes flashed with violence and pain when he told her to leave and never come back. Yet Margo did come back, slowly gain his trust, and awaken the sleeping needs of his heart. Only by reliving her own wounded past and helping Zane confront a terrible memory from the war could she set them both free--and save their last chance for love.  



There are some excellent posts in our archive listed as Show Don't Tell that will be helpful also. The most current by Debby Giusti is worth checking out.  

Margo and Zane are from the San Francisco Bay Area so I took a stroll down Fisherman's Wharf and bought the fixings for a sidebar of seafood. 



Aromatic sourdough bread, crunchy and fresh from the bakery.  Trays of shrimp, crab, scallops and calamari to toss on a bed of crisp salad greens. There are bowls of the famous Bay Area's Louis Dressing or I also put out bowls of mayonnaise, blue cheese and ranch dressing. 

My seafood favorite is cracked crab on ice so there is plenty of that.  


If its still cold in your neck of the woods, there is an urn of delightful clam chowder.  By the way, that clam chowder is to die for when you put it in a sourdough bowl.  
With permission Fisherman wharf photos from HungryInHouston


Names of those who comment will be in a drawing for a 10 page critique focusing on show don't tell or your choice of one of my books, CURRENT OF LOVE or PRICE OF VICTORY.  There are Children's Books By Sandy you can choose from also. Be sure and check the Weekend Edition for winners.








86 comments:

Amber S. said...

Great post, Sandra! :) I'm honored to be mentioned here, and I'm grateful for this opportunity to partner with you on some projects! It's super exciting to see things coming together!

Speaking of which, if any friends of Seekerville are interested in being a part of the "cover reveal" or blog tour, *please* do not hesitate to e-mail me! We're looking for reviewers and bloggers who are willing to share the excitement with their readers, as well as help us spread the word about this powerful romance story with a military theme. :) I've already e-mailed some of you (hope you don't mind!), but if you haven't heard from me and are still interested, contact me at:

amberstokes[at]corban[dot]edu

The super-talented Lena Goldfinch is currently finalizing the new cover art, and I'm looking forward to sharing that all with you soon! You can learn more about Lena here:

http://lenagoldfinch.blogspot.com/

OK, I've gone on long enough! ;) Just have to add (again!) that Sandra is super sweet and a pleasure to work with, and we'd love to have you partner with us in sharing the excitement of her upcoming projects!

~Amber

Deanna Mundy said...

Sandra, Way to go on being listed in Writer's Digest. I enjoyed your post.

deamundy(at)gmail(dot)com

Jenny Blake said...

Thanks for the post Sandra, This is one think I as a reader have heard of but never really understood what was meant. Reading your post has cleared up what this means to me a lot.

Mary Connealy said...

SANDRA SO EXCITED FOR YOU DOING THE RE-RELEASE!!!! HOW FUN!

Virginia Carmichael Munoz said...

Awesome post!!

I got ahold of a huge batch of old Harlequins this winter an sent them out to facebook and author friends. HEELARIOUS. The writing standards have really changed.

I can't wait to read these! The snippets you gave were perfect hooks.

I'm so excited you're putting forth your backlist. Great job!!

Virginia Carmichael Munoz said...

P.S. I'd love to be part of your launch with a review or whatever would be most helpful.

(I'd offer blog time but mine is *cough cough* less than well-attended.)

Debra E. Marvin said...

Sandra - despite the 'telling', your snippets are still compelling and you've hooked us into this new/old book!

And, oh my, the food! I loved my one trip to Fisherman's Wharf and a lunch of clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl.

Thanks for the reminders on passive voice!

Jackie said...

Thanks, Sandra.

What a journey you've had. I'm so glad you shared with us today.

I'll look forward to reading your "new" old story.

Please toss my name in for the drawing. Thanks.

Jackie L.

Debby Giusti said...

Sandra, you're a busy lady. Congrats on repubbing your past books. Can't wait to read them when they come out.

Waving to Amber! So glad you and Sandra are working together.

Great examples today, Sandra, of how to revise and stengthen a story. Excellent!

Fisherman's Wharf! Crab! Clam Chowder! Be still my heart. My favorite stopping point when we visit hubby's family in Marin County, just over the Golden Gate Bridge. We fly into the airport, which is south of the city, rent a car and drive north. But we always have lunch on the way at Fisherman's Wharf.

Hubby's dad used to get crab at the Wharf, pack it in dry ice and then carry it on the plane when he'd come to visit. He knew how much his dil loved/loves crab.

Sandra Leesmith said...

Morning AMBER, Thanks for sharing the info. And folks Amber is really fun to work with. And professional. She has been very patient with me. Last weekend she taught me how to do Goodreads. We're going to tackle Facebook and Twitter this weekend. LOL

Sandra Leesmith said...

Thanks DEANNA.

Sandra Leesmith said...

Thanks JENNY. We as writers were confused also. It takes a lot of craft classes and work with other writers to figure it out.

Bet you're getting excited about your trip.

Sandra Leesmith said...

Hi MARY, Hear you might be thinking of pubbing some backlist also. How fun is that?

This is happening a lot with most authors now and is something definitely encouraged by Amazon.

What is really fun about it is that those books that only last 6 weeks on the shelves are out there again. Readers will be able to find more of their favorite authors.

Glynna Kaye said...

Good morning, Sandra! Fabulous examples of SHOW DON'T TELL! And those are equally fabulous shots of the yummy San Francisco food! They bring back memories of clam chowder in a sourdourgh bowl on The Wharf. A chilly day and I wore my winter jacket--in late June!

I was a reader of "Writers Digest" and "The Writer," too, Sandra. I read them in my college's library when I had a break between classes. No Internet, so no writing support groups or on-line classes to learn the craft. No place to go for feedback. College writing courses didn't teach anything about writing commercial fiction or offer tips on getting published in book-length. It was all about short stories and poetry. How wonderful it would be to have started out with the resourcs we have now!

Sandra Leesmith said...

VIRGINIA that is HEELARIOUS. And I just know reading those is a kick.

That is why I have so much respect and love for RWA. They always focus on craft and helping the unpublished author which raised the bar of the writing quality. Other writing groups end up being competetive, but helping writers learn their craft really helps the business.

Writers in other groups used to ask me, why would you help someone who will take your job? But it doesn't work that way. When you raise the bar, you get more readers so need more writers. Look at the stats. Romance sells and makes up a huge section of the percentage of books sold.

ACFW modeled itself after RWA and look how Christian Fiction has grown. Ask any Seeker and they will tell you how hard it was to get good Christian Fiction in the "old days". But the bar has been raised and look at the selection we have now.

Oops sorry VIRGINIA. I'll get off my soapbox now. But have fun with those old Harlequins. Lots of type A heroes. LOL

Sandra Leesmith said...

Hi DEBRA, Don't you just love Fisherman's Wharf? So much fun to wander around there. When I googled pictures of the wharf I had so much fun looking at everything. Brought back lots of memories.

Sandra Leesmith said...

Hi JACKIE, I guess I did ramble on about my journey.

That's another thing that happens with my writing. I get wordy and have to delete about half. LOL

Sandra Leesmith said...

Hi DEBBY, Oh goodie, you get to visit the Wharf often. I love it there. My grandparents lived in San Francisco and I used to spend a week with them every year. Just me. And we always went to the wharf and I always ordered a whole cracked crab. Yum.

I love the sounds and smells and the fun everyone is having. We would take the streetcar to the wharf and walk around.

BTW Debby's article on Show Don't Tell is excellent. You should read that also for more tips.

Sandra Leesmith said...

HI GLYNNA, I agree. The resources available today for writers is phenomenal. And you can see it in the level of writing that is out there.

Readers are happy. That is what is important.

Wouldn't it be fun to take a trip to San Francisco? I'm ready. smile

Cara Lynn James said...

Sandra, thanks for the great examples of showing vrs. telling. What a difference in the rewrites!

I think the current style of showing is a lot harder to write than just telling, but it's so much better because it brings the reader right into the story.

Rose said...

Hi Sandra,

Great examples! Thank you for sharing.

I took a grammar seminar last week to learn more about commage and the instructor focused more on making strong shorter sentences verses using conjunctions. He also covered active or passive verbs.

So now while I'm in the midst of revisions, I'm thinking about this suggestion. Although I am a believer of varied sentence length.

Sandra Leesmith said...

Hi CARA, I agree with you. You can relate to the characters more when the writing is active. You become them.

Love your characters. You do a great job with that. smile

Sandra Leesmith said...

Hi ROSE, I agree with you about varied sentence length. Too much action and short sentences gets annoying to me. Maybe because I'm older, but I like to kick back and smell the roses as well as get into the action.

I think you will find the balance that feels right to you. Don't you have a new book coming out soon?

Piper Huguley said...

Sandra,

Thank you for writing this helpful post about show don't tell--one of my difficulties. San Francisco is such a vivis example! I can hear the sea lions already....

Congrats to you on repubbing your previous works.

Piper

Audra Harders said...

YAY, Sandra! I'm so excited for your re-release! Memorial Day is just around the corner. God bless you, Amber and Lena while you iron out the final details!!

You go, girlfriend!

Audra Harders said...

Loved the post on show, don't tell, too. No matter how long you've been writing, this is a review worth noting often.

BTW, I love cracked crab. Please pass a plate : )

Connie Queen said...

Sandra,

I've had my share of judge's comments encouraging me to show don't tell. It took awhile to "get" it, but it finally sunk in.

Okay, I'm weird, but I like the first version of the cowboy stretching scene better. I see the mistakes, but to me, it just flows better. Too many "was" words are distracting I have to admit.

You're examples make it so simple.

Jeanne T said...

SANDRA--I loved this post. And it was fun to see how you showed how to eliminate telling. :) I'm good about not using much "To Be" verbs in my writing, but could and would? Hmmm, that's one to work on. Thank you for sharing this today. I'm coming back to make use of your practical applications!

Oh, and we have snow today, so I'm definitely serving up some clam chowder!

Julie Hilton Steele said...

Great post. I had to do a search on -ly words in my current manuscript. They are sneaky devils!

Looking forward to your re-claimed story. It works so well. Today's veterans are also returning from war with challenges.

Put me in for the critique.

Peace, Julie

Sandra Leesmith said...

Thanks PIPER, I'm looking forward to meeting you at RWA. You will be there won't you? I bet you are having fun meeting the other Golden Heart finalists online.

Sandra Leesmith said...

Yes AUDRA, that show don't tell is something we always have to watch out for.

Its so much easier to tell it. LOL

I have plenty of cracked crab so help yourself. It is yummy isn't it.

Sandra Leesmith said...

HI CONNIE QUEEN, I'm glad you like the first version since I'm sticking with it. LOL

But going through this gave me some great examples to show you the difference. I'm glad the examples helped.

Sandra Leesmith said...

Hi Jeanne, Brrrr snow? Its in the eighties here so hard to imagine snow. Sure glad I included the clam chowder. It is yummy.

Glad the examples helped. So much of the show don't tell is very subtle which is why it is difficult to see in your own writing. You have the action pictured in your mind so think you are putting it down on paper when actually you are telling us. sigh. Writing is like putting together a puzzle isn't it?

Piper Huguley said...

Sandra,

I live in Atlanta, so that makes it just a tad easier to get to RWA than some of the others in the 2013 GH cohort--two are coming from Australia! I look forward to meeting you too!

On the other hand, I'm already beginning to see how the other parts of my life might sneak in time during the conference--so I may just get a room for some of the time anyway--just to get away!

Piper

Sandra Leesmith said...

HI Julie HS. Glad you're finding those sneaky ly's. They do love to creep in.


Yes, vets today are coming home with so many problems. There are some wonderful programs out there for them Samaritan's Purse has a retreat in Alaska for families. And I just heard about Wounded Warriors Getaway in Texas. KC Frantzen told me about that.



Marianne Barkman said...

Hi Sandra...your voice certainly comes through in the post! I was sure it was you posting before I got to the end. I wonder why? Have a great day!

Sandra Leesmith said...

PIPER I think that is a terrific idea. There is so much going on and it is really hard to go home and then have to do the chores and deal with family when all you want to do is stay and visit with other writers and network.

Julie Lessman said...

EXCELLENT POST, Sandra, WOW!!

LOVED the tidbits from the book and cannot WAIT to dive in, my friend!!

Hugs,
Julie

Sandra Leesmith said...

Hi JULIE, Thanks. Happy writing.

Sandra Leesmith said...

Hi MARIANNE, Thanks. Glad you recognized my voice. That means a lot to an author.

Lots of good reading coming up. Lots of Seeker books coming out next month. smile

Jan Drexler said...

Jeanne T. and I get all the clam chowder, and anyone else who has snow. My thermometer reads 13 degrees this morning, and we have plenty of snow cover left from yesterday's ten inches!

Spring? I think it's coming in July this year!

But that isn't what this discussion is about, is it?

What a great opportunity for you to rework your earlier book! Writing styles change so quickly - like you I had to relearn everything I had been taught in college. I don't think I even want to go back and read the short stories I wrote then...

But when I re-read some of my favorite books, I can see how the styles have changed. One of my favorite authors is Miss Read (author of the Fairacre and Thrush Green books), but if I tried to write like her I'd be laughed out of every contest I tried to enter. Telling? It's the mainstay of her writing - and a large part of the charm.

But we need to write the way readers want to read, don't we? Maybe in another thirty years we'll all be saying "Tell, don't show!"

Myra Johnson said...

JAN--seriously, 13 degrees???? BRRRRRRR!!!!

Great post, Sandra! And how wonderful that your earlier novels are getting a new lease on life!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Sandra, how cool that you're getting those first books back out in circulation! And what solid, good examples of how writing has changed/evolved in the past 20 years...

(Note how NICE I'm being about the time frame, LOL!)

This is just wonderful news!

Sandra Leesmith said...

Brrrrr JAN 13 degrees! Really? I have never been in temps that cold. I can't imagine it.

I'm glad you shared that you had to relearn also. Its amazing how things change. And I laughed when you said in 30 years we'll be telling not showing. LOL

Sandra Leesmith said...

Hi MYRA. Waving.

RUTHY remember how we struggled with trying to figure this out? Thank goodness those days are over.

I have too many other new things to struggle with. LOL

Like Facebook. You are doing great on Facebook. Great going.

Cindy Regnier said...

Show don't tell still throws me - clear to the other end of the page sometimes. Appreciate the lesson Sandra. It's never gets too simple for me. I always loved Show and Tell in school - just gotta get rid of that tell part and let the show speak for itself.

Mary Connealy said...

Show don't tell is always one that's tricky. One of my big revision goals is to find passive language and change it to active.

I think of 'show' as acting.
I write my books and make the characters act the book out on the page. So if they're sitting, thinking, even something talking, they're not ACTING. Make them move. Make them act your book out rather than think it out.

Sandra Leesmith said...

HI CINDY, Don't feel alone. Show don't tell is a BIG issue with all of us writers. Like I've said many times, its the subtle aspects of it that are difficult to see.

Sandra Leesmith said...

Great tip MARY.

One of the biggest helps to make my writing more active was taking screenwriting classes.

No, I don't aspire to be a screenwriter, but writing screenplays really helps to focus on action and also helps get rid of excess.

On screen everything has to happen in a short time span.

Missy Tippens said...

Excellent post, Sandra! I loved your examples. You're right about how subtle the differences are. That's why it's so hard to catch it in our own work sometimes!

Congrats on getting ready to re-release these stories!!

But shame on you for making me so hungry! I had Pop Tarts for breakfast, and they haven't quite lasted until lunch. :)

Janet Dean said...

Wonderful post, Sandra! Fun to examine how storytelling has changed over the years. Show, Don't Tell was a journey for me. I'm finally at the place where I stop and rewrite without needing a critique to point out telling, at least most of the time. Telling is far easier than showing. Probably why we all tend to do it, especially early on.

Fun to revisit San Francisco, one of my favorite cities to visit. Thanks for the delicious seafood! We just returned from Florida. I had snow crab, fish, scallops, shrimp. Much was not from the Gulf, but I loved every bite!

Janet

Sandra Leesmith said...

Hi MISSY, Yes, the differences can be subtle.

So grab some crab and make a salad. Its yummy. And San Francisco sourdough is very unique. They say its because of the salt air.

Sandra Leesmith said...

HI JANET, I remember our fun time when RWA National Conference was held in San Francisco. I'm looking forward to seeing you again in Atlanta. The way time is flying July will be here before you know it. smile

Vince said...

Hi Sandra:

This post brings up an important point I don’t think is often questioned.

Are ‘showing’ examples really better than the ‘telling’ examples that authors give in writing blogs? Often I strongly feel the ‘telling’ example was better. This seems even more so when it involves Deep POV. Sometimes I think the ‘so-called’ better Deep POV example is almost unintelligible. Is this a modern day example of the “Emperor’s Clothes”? I think it is.

For example:

Right now I am reading Louis L’Amour’s “Kiowa Trail” for the third time in about twenty years. The first two times I loved it. But today I am noticing that it is mostly ‘tell’ and ‘backstory’ flashbacks and these passages now annoy me as they never did before. But here’s the thing: the telling and backstory parts are absolutely fascinating. They tell how so much of what we think we know about the old west is actually wrong and L’Amour is telling us in the context of the story how it really was. We learn and feel superior after reading this part of his book. It’s part of the L’Amour realism that makes his books the best of the genre. The best by far as measured by sales!

This leads me to question the value of a universal acceptance of the ‘show don’t tell’ dogma.

What we need is a reader test. We need to give readers samples of both ‘show’ and ‘tell’ (like you have done in your post) and ask them which they like best. (Which provides the best reading experience.) That should be the only true criteria of what is best.

This would make a great experiment for a psychology class. Also important would be the age and educational background of the readers. In many cases ‘telling’ is far superior to ‘showing’.

BTW: Frustrating the reader by not giving him needed information as to what is happening may keep the reader reading but it also degrades the reading enjoyment. Many very good writers never do this. They provide the reader with full information upfront to invest the reader deeply into the story and make the reader turn pages by making their story interesting (in it’s own right and not by virtue of leaving critical information out). This creates sympathy for the characters sooner and is in itself the strongest page turning motivation.

I’m just not one to put a lot of faith in current writing fads. I’d like to see some empirical evidence.

Vince

CatMom said...

Wow, Sandra! This post is a goldmine for me--because I am STILL working on "Show don't Tell" *sigh*. Thank you for including all those helpful examples, and CONGRATS on re-releasing your older books--how exciting!
Hugs from Georgia (where it's a GORGEOUS spring day!), Patti Jo

Sandra Leesmith said...

HI VINCE, You sure do bring up a valid point. The classics aren't classics without good reason. It would be interesting to run a poll.

Now though, the editors are looking for active voice so that forces one to use it if they want to get published by a traditional publisher.

I think it will become a moot point as writers self-pub more. They can do what they want.s

I mean look at Harry Potter. Rawlins broke all the rules. No one thought children could read such a long novel. l

So good buddy, why don't you run a poll? It would be fun to find out the results.

Sandra Leesmith said...

Hi PATTI JO, So happy this helps you. Now finding it in your own work. That's the hard part. The only reason I'm seeing it so clearly in my own writing now is that I haven't read this book in years so its like its someone else. Truthfully, I'm amazed that I knew all this stuff to write. LOL

Pam Hillman said...

Wow, Sandra, Love's Miracle sounds SO good. A wounded, tortured hero. Oh my stars! :)

Can't wait to see the cover and it's releasing Memorial Day weekend???

Perfect!!!

Amber S. said...

VIRGINIA: We'd love to have you on the launch team! A review would be super helpful, especially if you'd be willing to share it on Goodreads and Amazon. :) I can't seem to find your e-mail on your blog... Would you mind e-mailing me at: amberstokes[at]corban[dot]edu? I'll send you an e-ARC formatted for Kindle and keep you informed about blog tour info in case you still want to be a part of that. :)

Thanks so much!

SANDRA: Awww! Thank you for the sweet words! :) It's been great working with you!

DEBBY: Waving back to you! :)

~Amber

Sandra Leesmith said...

Hi Pam, I've been really excited about all the activity for
CLAIMING MARIAH. I'm reading it now. woo hoooo

Tina Radcliffe said...

You ARE busy, Sandra. These are terrific show don't tell examples too.

Sandra Leesmith said...

Thanks TINA,

Happy writing today.

Tina is wonderful. She is so patient when she answers my many questions. smile

Sherida Stewart said...

Thank you, Sandra.....I *think* I'm getting it, but I'm concerned about the subtle areas that I'm missing. I'm currently editing/rewriting my Speedbo project...the H/h are on a train. The first chapter is filled with their thoughts (probably backstory). I feel it's natural while riding a train to reflect on the past or the future...(or think about plots for romance novels), but this is probably considered telling...or maybe it's deep point of view. So much to learn! I'm so thankful for Seekerville!!!

Please enter my name in the drawing.

There is nothing like San Francisco sour dough bread!!! I'll have the clam chowder, please. Can we finish with Ghirardelli chocolate? Are they still just down the street? Yum!

Thanks again for your helpful post!

Sandra Leesmith said...

Oh SHERIDA, you just made my mouth drool. Yes, yes, Ghirardelli is still down the street. Let's go.

Yes, it is natural to think while riding which is why they recommend staying away from riding in cars to open a book with. But its tough to say without knowing more than what you've said. Historicals can get away with much more telling I think.

There is a general consensus not to bring out too much backstory in the first chapter, but to hint and tease at it and reveal it in snippets as you go along.

Does that help?

For example, we know from the little snippets you've read about Zane that something happened in Vietnam, but you won't find out until the end of the book. There will just be small snippets throughout. Otherwise why would I finish the book?

Sherida Stewart said...

Thanks, Sandra. I'll keep working! I'm understanding why all the editing/rewriting is necessary after that first draft. Heading for Ghirardelli Chocolate *wishing* !!!

Sandra Leesmith said...

I'll meet you there and we'll sit with steaming hot chocolate and whipped cream and talk about show don't tell. How about that? Wow really wishing!!!!

Debra E. Marvin said...

I like Vince's point. Sometimes telling works just dandy. Rules break and fall away when the story is so captivating you forget to notice. I will try not to do it, of course, but I'm back to being more forgiving of it in a story that catches my fancy.

All of Sandra's examples of telling managed to pull me into the story and I wanted more. Yes, the replacement 'show' version was great. Maybe it's because I've been reading long enough that the classics and 'seventies-style' fiction just don't feel all that bad. The 'mistakes' lose their punch when I find myself a few more chapters into the story!

Jenny Blake said...

Sandra Im very excited. the dr asked if im still waking at 4. well I think I can tell her no its now 3! I do sleep a little more after that. But I am getting a tad excited. 8 days till I leave now.

I am beginning to wonder if I should just pack for winter (besides Atlanta and Hawaii). Is it warmer in Washington DC yet or Washington state?

Sandra Leesmith said...

DEBRA you are priceless. See already Jan's prediction that we are trending back to tell don't show is taking place. LOL

I agree with you though. If the characters are compelling, it isn't going to matter as much to how it is written.

Oh my. There is a lesson!!

Sandra Leesmith said...

Sorry Jenny, I'm in the desert where where its toasty warm in the eighties. You will have to ask someone from those areas.

I usually travel prepared for anything. so bring layers.

Jenny Blake said...

I figured I would pack for all seasons as it will be going into winter when I get home. I plan to buy some sweaters while there. (mine dont fit well anymore way to big).
It would be ironic if I got to see fresh snow for the first time. (actually it would be cool but I dont want cold!)

Sandra Leesmith said...

JENNY you are excited about coming to the United States. It is still on my bucket list to visit Australia. smile. One of these days.

Safe travels.

Vince said...

Hi Sandra & Debra:

There is storytelling in which a story is told and then there is the manner of expressing or delivering that story. These are two different things. (Unless you literally believe that the medium is the message). I think many writers equate one with the other without giving the difference much thought. The parables in the Bible are all told. Should they have been ‘shown’? Did Jesus get it wrong?

Here’s a question: "would you rather read an 'A' story that is told or a 'C' story that is shown? I think I know what your answer would be.

For centuries editors were gods: when they spoke their words became true simply because they said them. These days are coming to an end. There is a new freedom in the Indie press. Writers can once again go back to the best method of expression for any given story.

I think this is going to open a new age of great discovery in story telling.

Vince

Sandra Leesmith said...

VINCE, you are amazing. I can't stop chuckling.

The parables in the Bible are all told. Should they have been ‘shown’? Did Jesus get it wrong?

This is priceless.

Love your question also. A story of course.

And yes, I think there has been a tremendous paradigm shift within the publishing business. Actually it was predicted years ago. I heard a speaker discuss this at the Maui Writing Conference in 2001. What prevented it from happening sooner was the electronic readers. They were awful. And the speaker said the changes wouldn't occur until they invented a reader friendly electronic reader.

And they have. The Kindle followed by the Nook and now the IPad have revolutionized the publishing world.

And hence the world for authors.

I've seen big name authors self-pubbing their backlists and even new releases. Why not? They have the advantage of a known name.

Publishing has changed, but the conundrum now is the marketing. So you have a book out there. How do you make it known? The world of book stores, distributors and the known marketing tools are becoming extinct. There is a paradigm shift in marketing also, but what is it? That is the question.

What's your take on that?

Hey, if you conduct the poll you talked about earlier, I'll post the results on Seekerville.



Walt Mussell said...

Great post, Sandra!

Walt Mussell said...

I'm assuming that Seekerville will soon be flooded with new visitors due to the appearance in the magazine.

Chill N said...

Sandra, what a timely post for me. I recently encountered an interesting 'show/tell' situation in judging a contest entry. The story had more telling than we normally find these days, but the technique worked because the story felt as if it was written during the time period in which it was set. A refreshing approach that worked nicely.

What great news about the re-releases! I am so glad authors are doing this and making it possible for readers who 'caught on' to the author later in the author's career to enjoy more of their stories. Okay, that is the most convoluted sentence I've written in a long time ... good luck reading it :-)

Nancy C

Sandra Leesmith said...

HI WALT, I'm not sure. Its been slower today. The Yankee Belle Cafe has been doing great.

Thanks for joining us.

Sandra Leesmith said...

Hi NANCY, Interesting that they wrote in the time period style. That is brave but sure follows what we were discussing earlier about whether telling is really that bad to do.

Hey, I could read and understand the sentence. That is scary. LOL

Sandra Leesmith said...

Its about time for the next post so thanks all of you for joining us.

Have a great week.

Happy writing.

And be sure and check the Weekend Edition for winners.

Sandra Leesmith said...

Its about time for the next post so thanks all of you for joining us.

Have a great week.

Happy writing.

And be sure and check the Weekend Edition for winners.

Natalie Monk said...

I guess it shows I'm a newby, but the "could," "would" and "made" caught me by surprise. I'm always cutting adverbs as I write, but don't think about the other ones. I need to, though. Now I want to read through my ms and make sure I'm "showing."
Thanks for a great post, Sandra!

Sandra Leesmith said...

Hi NATALIE, Yes, those words are sneaky and subtle. It helps to go through the manuscript and look for those words. You will be surprised at how often you use them.

Gail Kittleson said...

I'm late, just got this, but still want to say thanks for the great examples, Sandra. And also for the SF pics - 35 years ago, we went there on our honeymoon.

Gail Kittleson

Anna R. Weaver said...

Thanks for the tips, Sandra. I'm making a list for things to look for in my ms as soon as I get some writing time. :)

jubileewriter said...

I love how a post that gives examples. This was so helpful.