Telling vs Showing

So there’s tons of blog posts and articles and other information out there on how to “show not tell”, which is one of the main pieces of advice new writers hear and themselves spout. I’m not going to talk about how to do that- I want to talk for a moment about when to show, not tell.

Yes. Sometimes, you want to tell.

Why? Great question, because it informs When and that helps you use this tool appropriately. When you show what’s going on, you decrease distance, increase your reader’s buy-in, and thereby increase tension, all through immersion. When you tell, you increase distance and lose tension. So you need to be aware of that corresponding decrease in tension when you have a section of telling- you’ll have to work to regain that tension afterward. Also, keep in mind a book that is constantly super deep and super showy and super tense and involved can be wearying for some readers. Backing off gives a moment of rest to then let them be drawn back into your net recharged and ready to re-engage.

I put it simply. Show when the moment is important and you need your reader engaged in your character’s struggle. This is going to be most moments. You can tell when you’re just moving the story along from point to point in time or space. This will be the vast minority of times.

So for instance, this is a passage from Windward:

“They gathered, the bonded riding on their dragons, winding single file down the rocky slope. The light mist retreated from them, leaving behind droplets to adorn hair and scales as the morning sun burned the last of it away with gentle heat. Claws scraped on the rocky soil, and the sweeping rasp of scaled tails as they made their way down the path filled the heavy air like a funeral song. The rocks rose, bald domes jutting up from forested crowns around which the slight breeze toyed with the scent of fresh soil, damp mosses, and sawdust.”

Do you smell it? Do you see it? Do you feel it? I sure hope so, or I failed as a writer. This is a heavy moment in the story, a moment for showing.

She and Aturadin had even taken to sleeping outside her room to protect her from further visits from Laetiran, though other bonded whispered at the unusual arrangements. And still the girl remained prickly, while the days went by and Palon couldn’t find the time to fly—not without leaving the girl unguarded. Dragonfire blast through her if she didn’t try everything to reach the girl.

Now here, the fact that they’re spending their nights sleeping outside the room is important, but actually showing it would be boring, since nothing happens. But the fact that it’s happening is the important part. The same goes for Palon’s increasing frustration- but here we start to slip back toward showing, until the last line is thoroughly in Palon’s head again, giving the reader her thoughts on the situation: Dragonfire blast through her.

Other great times to tell are if you have a traveling moment, where you’re just getting characters from A to B. “The road to Arbah had been long and dusty, and he had been certain the sun would roast them long before they saw the city gates.” We’re not showing the journey because the journey doesn’t matter. The fact it happened does, because we need to bring the reader along with us. Same with jumping forward in time. If nothing happens for 3 weeks or even 3 days, please don’t show the reader! I’ve read passages like that and it’s just plain boring. If your character is bored and you’re showing that boredom, your reader will be bored.

The times when you tell should be short and sweet. You want to keep as much of your character’s voice as you possibly can in the telling, too. Then switch back to showing the moment you can, and immediately immerse the reader back in the sights, sounds, feels, and emotions of the goings on around your character.

Happy writing!

 

 

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Oh, synopses, you wonderful, awful things…

So I just finished powering through another round of edits for Windward to prepare it for RevPit, despite feeling like my brain was leaking out my ears. Yesterday afternoon saw me chugging water and passing out on the couch from busting my butt to beat the deadline (last weekend saw me entering Writers of the Future, so it’s been… a thing).

Anyway, now that I can think and type and actually use words again I wanted to talk about something that I hate. I hate it worse than query writing guys. The dreaded synopsis.

I’m not going to sit here and pretend I’m good at writing synopses, because I really suck at them. But I write them anyway. Why? They are such a valuable tool to check and make sure your story didn’t go off track (especially if you are a discovery writer like me. My stories are always going “track? What track? What’s down this hiiillllllll?!”) Here’s the breakdown.

Synopses can show you plotholes. When you’re writing, it can make total sense that Character A goes off with Character B, but then when you’re reducing that chapter to two sentences for your synopsis and you can’t think of a single good reason for that event… Time to edit! Similarly, because the previous chapter was also two sentences, you can look back and realize that the real answer was there all along! (Why did they fix Thor’s Hammer in Stargate if they weren’t going to use it to de-Goa’uld-ify Share’ when she was pregnant like three episodes later?)

Synopses show you slow sections. If you find you have nothing to write about what happened for an entire chapter… that could be a problem. It’s time then to take another look and see if you can spice things up. Increase the tension, add in a fight, throw in some drama, whatever. Just make sure your random-giant-bashing-through-a-mountain then also still makes sense after the fact.

Writing your synopsis can help you pin down your themes. Then, you can go back through in editing and polish those themes till they shine, creating a cohesive story instead of a series of semi-related events. This is something I really struggled with, and still do some.

Synopses aren’t just for agents and editors. They aren’t something to avoid at all costs. Instead, they are a tool you can use even previous to submitting to agents and editors, to really clean up your story.

 

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Breaking Rules

I wrote this February 15, 2017 but I’m leaving it up, and then going to talk about what I’ve learned in the last two years.

So getting traditionally published is notoriously difficult. It seems only a fool would stack those odds even more against themselves. It also seems I am one of those fools.

I’m a big believer in following your passions, especially when they are hobbies. I’m not going to be able to write well if I’m trying to force myself to write something I don’t care about. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), this project breaks a lot of traditional rules.

First, I have multiple protagonists, which means multiple people to make known to the reader and forge a connection between. Second, those protagonists all know each other extremely well, having grown up together, so it’s not like they’re constantly learning new things about each other than I can use as a window for the reader. Third, they’ve all lived in the culture we begin in all their lives, so again, no good window (though having Eian helps just a bit for that, because children force adults to explain things they take for granted). This culture is significantly different from Western civilization in a number of important ways, but the trick is to convey that without boring or preaching at the reader. Fourth, the protagonists are not new to their powers. Oh, and I’ve never been before published under any name, and have a series here to pitch. Five and Six.

This is not a coming of age story. This is not a traditional “go kill the dragon and return home triumphantly” story, either.

 

So, I think it’s important to know how your story stands out. I love all the ways Between Starfalls sets itself apart from many other fantasy novels. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing out there like it. But focusing too much on the differences, it can be hard to find the target audience. Also, to be perfectly honest, I was a little bitter.

I’m past that now, I think. I’ve decided self-publishing is the best thing for me, for this series, and so I’m actually grateful my book didn’t get picked up. One of the main reasons I wanted to do traditional publishing was to avoid the marketing. I didn’t realize then that traditional published authors still have to do a lot of their own marketing (unless they’re a big name). Additionally, as I’ve grown and improved, so has my manuscript. It is so much better now than it was then, it’s really no wonder it wasn’t picked up.

So yes, differences matter. Finding a new lens to look in on a story can be difficult. But don’t be bitter, and find the similarities, too. Good luck!

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Querying

So, the age old question of wannabe authors (of which I am one, of course, so take this post with a hefty grain of salt): When is my manuscript ready to send to agents?

Here’s what I’ve learned (a reminder about that grain of salt, since I’m sure I’ll continue learning). Growing your writing skills is essential and an ongoing process. I’ve found my beta readers to be essential to bettering my manuscript, but for me they weren’t enough, by themselves. Reading quality books in the same genre was also essential. The same issues in style and structure that I’ve faced in my writing, other authors have also faced, and reading their published works lets me glean a little of how they solved those issues. I have found that reading at the same level gave better results: reading Middle Grade books is entertaining, but didn’t grow my skills as much as reading Adult books.

I have learned that just because a book is published doesn’t mean I can learn from it. I used to be the kind of person that finished every book I started, but I no longer have time for that. If I find too many plot holes and inconsistencies, I’m done. I need to read books with storytelling far beyond my own current ability (and sometimes more than once, because usually I can’t pay enough attention to structure, etc on the first read on account of the overwhelming amount of awesome). However, I’ve found that I don’t need to stick too tightly to my own chosen genre. While I write epic fantasy, I’ve also found that urban fantasy can give me some good tips and tricks on how to show the world to the reader.

What I’ve noticed is that I go through stages. I write, and I think it’s good, and then I send it away or let it sit and read, and then when I look at it again, I’m like, “Wait, I thought this was good?” So I button it up again and feel pretty proud of myself, and the cycle repeats. But through this, my skill grows, and my first drafts of other projects are significantly better than the first draft of the previous project, and I can see a lot of errors or problems that I didn’t see before. All of this is good.

I’ve read from agents that the right time to send your manuscript is when you can think of nothing else to do to it. This is what I’ve done, and will continue doing, even though it sucks. I know that my writing skill will continue to improve, and I worry that I’m burning bridges by sending off a work that in a few years I will be disgusted by the pride I felt in it. But if I wait to be at the pinnacle of skill, I will always be waiting, and what then is the point of this journey? So I send my manuscript to a few agents at a time, revising in between until there’s nothing else I can think to do to it, and knowing that I’m getting better, even if my journey is slower than it could potentially be. I’m not in a hurry. I can bide my time.

If you’re on this journey with me, good luck, and I hope this post helps.

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Royal Thief by Laura Kehoe

I’m so excited for one of my beta readers! Laura Kehoe published her first novel, Royal Thief, in November of this year. I was fortunate enough to beta read her novel while she beta read mine- reciprocity rocks. She’s a talented writer with a great story in her head. If you’re into fantasy worlds without an abundance of gore, but don’t want to sacrifice excitement and internal struggles, Royal Thief is the book for you! Check her out!

Grab the book on Amazon.

Visit Laura’s website.

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Creative Musings

Creative endeavors are always rather dicey. It’s a series of risks, one after another, never knowing whether or not you’re on the right track until it’s far too late. But that’s the fun of them, too.

What I have here is a journey of creativity that first began many many years ago. This iteration began about four years ago as a Nanowrimo project, and after countless revisions, has become something that I think… is something. Who knows if anyone will enjoy it- I sure don’t. But I do know it’s the kind of story that grabs you and won’t let you go, even though there are times when I am not sure I’m equal to the task. I’ve been submitting to agents, and as I go through the query process at a rather leisurely pace (I like to gather all the feedback I can and make significant changes before the next batch of eight to ten queries), I’m learning so much, about the publishing industry, about the craft of writing, about my books and characters and the world they are set in, and about myself. It’s amazing, even with its low times.

Some writers would have given up by now. I’ve sent 27 queries in about eighteen months, and had three requests for further material (1 partial, 2 requests for the full manuscript). I’ve not yet been offered representation, but I have had good feedback, feedback that tells me I’m on the right track, even if I haven’t made it to the finish line yet.

Feedback like: “I read with great interest. Unfortunately, I’m going to be passing at this time. Fiction, as I’m sure you know, is just about the toughest thing to sell in the current marketplace. I need to really fall in love with something before I can even think of taking it on. Though there is much to appreciate here, I’m afraid that I ultimately didn’t believe I would be its best advocate.”

Feedback like: “We have finished reading, and thought the world you created was gorgeous. Your main characters were very well constructed, and we enjoyed your manuscript. However, we felt it was not quite the right fit for [agent]’s list, and she has a few projects that are just too similar to this one.”

What sets me apart from writers would would have confined this story to a bottom drawer somewhere? It’s not talent, nor is it guts. I think it’s mostly that this story simply won’t let me go. I can’t quit. I have to write it.

All I can do is hope you enjoy it when it does finally see the light of day. 😀

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