Friday, February 10, 2017

Best of the Archives: Show Don't Tell

Last month I posted Show Don't Tell Part 3. In it, I referred to other posts I had written about the difference between showing and telling. In this post from April of 2013, I talk about the basics. Show Don't Tell Part 1 is our Best of the Archives today. I hope it helps. Comments are closed today.

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. 

Amber is also working with Lena Goldfinch and they have a wonderful cover in the works. 

Love's Miracles published in 2013

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

Sandra Leesmith writes sweet romances to warm the heart. Sandra loves to play pickleball, hike, read, bicycle and write. She is based in Arizona, but she and her husband travel throughout the United States in their motorhome and enjoy the outdoors. You can find Sandra's books here on Amazon. Three of Sandra's most popular books are also audio books at Audible. You can read more of Sandra's posts here.