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Showing posts from June, 2008

Agent Janet Kobobel Grant talks about titles

Janet Kobobel Grant runs Books 'n Such literary agency (where my agent works) and she's blogging at Fiction Matters about Razzle-Dazzle Titlest.

Show versus Tell--when to tell, example one

Telling isn’t always bad. In fact, sometimes it’s preferable. However, you ought to have a darn good reason to tell.

One reason could be to telescope time. If you’re skipping from one place to another, or one time to another, that’s where telling is good.

Say Joe has been arrested and then in the next scene, he’s talking to his jailmate. It’s okay to tell in a sentence or two what happened in between. The reader doesn’t need to know all that detail, and it’s useful for letting the reader know that time has elapsed.

The police slapped the handcuffs on him.

Exactly forty-two minutes later, after being slightly roughed around by the cops who processed him, Joe turned to his bunk mate with a casual, “Got a smoke?”

Or

Joe got on the plane, flew to San Jose, and rented a car.

Two hours and one accident during rush hour later, he arrived at Amelia’s house, ready to break some heads.

Here, we didn’t need to see everything Joe did on the plane, in renting the car, in sitting in traffic. We just need t…

Show versus Tell, example twelve

From contest entries and critiques that I’ve done, I’ve noticed that often people don’t quite understand what exactly is “showing” and what exactly is “telling.” So, I’m starting this series to give numerous examples so that you can see for yourself the various kinds of “telling” that can occur in your own manuscript, and suggestions for fixing it.

She wanted to call her sister to cry over the phone, but she shouldn’t. Tonight was Sherri’s birthday, and she knew Sherri’s husband was going to give her a diamond pendant as a present.

Here, you’re “telling” the reader about why she can’t call her sister, but sometimes a little mystery is good for the reader, to pique their interest and keep them reading.

Also, if you’re in the character’s deep point of view, she wouldn’t “tell” herself why she can’t call her sister, she’d already know and would only mention it in a way that would be cryptic for anyone not in the know. For example:

She could call Sherri, have a good cry … No. She’d ruin ever…

Word of Mouth marketing book

I'm a big fan of Pyromarketing by Greg Stielstra, because he gives great advice that can be applied to marketing fiction.

He blogged about a new book (not written by him) on word of mouth marketing. The best part is, the .pdf download of the book is free!

Word of Mouth Marketing

Show versus Tell, example eleven

From contest entries and critiques that I’ve done, I’ve noticed that often people don’t quite understand what exactly is “showing” and what exactly is “telling.” So, I’m starting this series to give numerous examples so that you can see for yourself the various kinds of “telling” that can occur in your own manuscript, and suggestions for fixing it.

She chewed on her hair, an old habit of hers that she was trying to break.

The second half of that sentence is “telling” the reader about her old habit. There’s a more active way to “show” it by incorporating her emotions into it. For example:

She caught herself chewing her hair and dragged it out of her mouth. Nasty habit. Why couldn’t she break it?

In the example, I’ve delved deeper into her point of view and “shown” the same information in a more active, emotional way.

This might seem like a rather trivial example for “telling,” but think about if you changed all these instances throughout your manuscript. The small changes made would contrib…

Interview with agent Steve Laube

Ronie Kendig has an interesting interview with literary agent Steve Laube on her blog, talking about agent expectations and conferences, specifically the upcoming 2008 ACFW conference:

Agent Steve Laube on the ACFW Conference

Show versus Tell, example ten

From contest entries and critiques that I’ve done, I’ve noticed that often people don’t quite understand what exactly is “showing” and what exactly is “telling.” So, I’m starting this series to give numerous examples so that you can see for yourself the various kinds of “telling” that can occur in your own manuscript, and suggestions for fixing it.

She rushed out of the elevator and bumped Sherri’s arm. “Sorry,” she mumbled.

But Sherri made an exasperated sound. “Just sorry?”

Gloria paused. She was in a hurry, but she couldn’t afford to antagonize her, because Sherri would make her life miserable.

Gloria turned with a plastic smile. “I’m so sorry. Can I help you carry those files?”

The italicized sentence is “telling” the reader about antagonizing Sherri. Granted, it’s only a sentence, and because it’s short, you could keep it in and it wouldn’t be bad.

But even a sentence can “burp” the reader out of the reading flow because it’s a sentence of “telling” narrative. There’s a more vibrant, …

Show versus Tell, example nine

From contest entries and critiques that I’ve done, I’ve noticed that often people don’t quite understand what exactly is “showing” and what exactly is “telling.” So, I’m doing this series to give numerous examples so that you can see for yourself the various kinds of “telling” that can occur in your own manuscript, and suggestions for fixing it.

She arrived at her parents’ home, which always reminded her of a gingerbread house.

The italicized phrase is “telling” the reader what the house looks like. Instead, why not “show” the reader her emotional reaction to the house while you describe it? It would make a more vibrant way of “showing” the same information. For example:

She arrived at her parents’ house, a great big gingerbread confection that made her want to gag at the sweetness.

or

She arrived at her parents’ house, a great big gingerbread confection that lifted her spirits as if she were on a sugar rush.

In the examples, the character’s emotions are incorporated in the description so t…

Show versus Tell, example eight

From contest entries and critiques that I’ve done, I’ve noticed that often people don’t quite understand what exactly is “showing” and what exactly is “telling.” So, I’m doing this series to give numerous examples so that you can see for yourself the various kinds of “telling” that can occur in your own manuscript, and suggestions for fixing it.

She admired the rows of Salvatore Ferragamo shoes, her only extravagance.

The italicized phrase is “telling.”

Now before you start screaming that it’s short (after all, it’s only three words), think about it—if you eliminate as much “telling” from your manuscript as possible, the vibrancy of the writing as a whole goes up a notch.

Instead of “telling” the reader about how Ferragamo shoes are her only extravagance at that point, save it for when it’s vital to the current action. For example:

She slowed as she passed the Neimann Marcus shoe section. Oh, that black leather one …

No, she shouldn’t—she’d bought a pair of Ferragamo’s only two weeks ago. …

Show versus Tell, example seven

From contest entries and critiques that I’ve done, I’ve noticed that often people don’t quite understand what exactly is “showing” and what exactly is “telling.” So, I’m doing this series to give numerous examples so that you can see for yourself the various kinds of “telling” that can occur in your own manuscript, and suggestions for fixing it.

Amy’s eyes were the size of her forgotten hard-boiled egg. “That’s amazing!”

So amazing that it had ruined Jeannie’s peaceful breakfast. She had a half-brother in New Orleans that she’d never even known existed before. He had written and wanted to meet her, now that their feuding parents were both gone.

The second paragraph is “telling.” Granted, it’s short—which might be a good enough reason to keep it as is—but there’s also a more vibrant way of “showing” this with dialogue.

Amy’s eyes were the size of her forgotten hard-boiled egg. “That’s amazing!”

“Amazing enough to ruin my breakfast.” Jeannie toyed with her cold toast.

“What are you talking …

Show versus Tell, example six

From contest entries and critiques that I’ve done, I’ve noticed that often people don’t quite understand what exactly is “showing” and what exactly is “telling.” So, I’m doing this series to give numerous examples so that you can see for yourself the various kinds of “telling” that can occur in your own manuscript, and suggestions for fixing it.

Jeannie looked Amy in the eyes. “So, tell me what your Mama told you.”

Just like Jeannie to be straight to the point. She’d always been that way, even in grade school. Sometimes her directness was a bit tactless and got her in trouble. Amy was so unlike Jeannie—tender-hearted to the point of not wanting to hurt anybody’s feelings.

The entire second paragraph is telling. What information in that paragraph does the reader absolutely need to know for the current scene?

Also, the first sentence in the paragraph is extraneous—you already show her directness by her line of dialogue.

Here’s a better example.

Jeannie looked Amy in the eyes. “So, tell me wh…

New service - Screening Critique

I have added a new service to my Story Sensei critique business!

Screening Critique

I now offer an inexpensive partial manuscript critique that you can choose first to find out if you’d like to hire me for your full manuscript.

My Screening Critique is one of four options:

(a) the first 3,000 words of your manuscript for $40.

(b) the first 6,000 words of your manuscript for $75.

(c) the first 3,000 words of your manuscript PLUS a two-page, single-spaced synopsis for $60 ($40 for manuscript, $20 for 2-page synopsis).

(d) the first 6,000 words of your manuscript PLUS a two-page, single-spaced synopsis for $95 ($75 for manuscript, $20 for 2-page synopsis).

After the critique, if you decide you would like to hire me for your full manuscript, you can send me the rest of your manuscript and I will give you a discount off the cost of the full manuscript critique—$40 or $75, or whatever the cost of your Screening Critique.

The Screening Critique is a good way to determine if you like my editing style.…

Show versus Tell, example five

From contest entries and critiques that I’ve done, I’ve noticed that often people don’t quite understand what exactly is “showing” and what exactly is “telling.” So, I’m doing this series to give numerous examples so that you can see for yourself the various kinds of “telling” that can occur in your own manuscript, and suggestions for fixing it.

She rocked back and forth on the porch swing.

Her family had moved into this house when Daddy carried Mama over the threshold. She’d broken this swing a few times by jumping on it, her brother had dug a hole under the front porch, and her sister had painted flowers along the white-washed railings. The neighbors were friendly and the tree-lined street cool in summertime. Her backyard ran against a giant meadow that belonged to some development company.

The second paragraph is all “telling” information about her family and her house.

Does the reader absolutely need to know all that information right at that moment in the story? If not, then cut it.

I…

Show versus Tell, example four

From contest entries and critiques that I’ve done, I’ve noticed that often people don’t quite understand what exactly is “showing” and what exactly is “telling.” So, I’m doing this series to give numerous examples so that you can see for yourself the various kinds of “telling” that can occur in your own manuscript, and suggestions for fixing it.

She stared at the funeral wreath, full of white lilies. She remembered Daddy’s garden, thriving with lush red roses and golden daffodils.

The second sentence is “telling” the reader about a remembrance. The question to ask is, does the reader absolutely need to know the information about Daddy’s garden right at that moment?

If no, then cut it.

If they do need to know the info, there’s a more active and emotional way to “show” it. For example:

The cloying scent of the funeral wreath made her stomach heave and her throat gag. Daddy would have hated it. Lilies had had no place in his garden among the more stately roses and cheerful daffodils.

It figure…

Show versus Tell, example three

From contest entries and critiques that I’ve done, I’ve noticed that often people don’t quite understand what exactly is “showing” and what exactly is “telling.” So, I’m doing this series to give numerous examples so that you can see for yourself the various kinds of “telling” that can occur in your own manuscript, and suggestions for fixing it.

”How dare you use wire hangers?!” Mama threw one at her, and the edge scratched her arm. She flinched.

She didn’t cry as Mama yelled at her. She had learned that tears only made her scream louder.

The italicized sentence is “telling” the reader about her past experience. (Actually, the “as Mama yelled at her” is also “telling” and extraneous because you “show” Mama yelling in the previous paragraph.) There’s a more active and emotional way to “show” this. For example:

”How dare you use wire hangers?!” Mama threw one at her, and the edge scratched her arm. She flinched.

She mustn’t cry. She mustn’t. She screwed her eyes shut, but a tear squeezed out…

Show versus Tell, example two

From contest entries and critiques that I’ve done, I’ve noticed that often people don’t quite understand what exactly is “showing” and what exactly is “telling.” So, I’m doing this series to give numerous examples so that you can see for yourself the various kinds of “telling” that can occur in your own manuscript, and suggestions for fixing it.

She looked out at the high school. Three years ago, she’d been secretary there, and now she was secretary for the intermediate school instead.

The second sentence is “telling” the reader about the character. This information is the kind of thing that could probably be more actively “shown” in dialogue. For example:

(This conversation might be something that comes later in the story)
He took her hand. “Why don’t you come work for me at the high school?”

She pulled her hand away. “Nuh-uh. I already did that.”

“Huh?”

“I was secretary at the high school three years ago. Now I’m at the intermediate school.”

“So I’m three years too late.”

His flirtatious ton…

Show versus Tell, example one

From contest entries and critiques that I’ve done, I’ve noticed that often people don’t quite understand what exactly is “showing” and what exactly is “telling.” So, I’m starting this series to give numerous examples so that you can see for yourself the various kinds of “telling” that can occur in your own manuscript, and suggestions for fixing it.

She had almost been kil—no, she had to stop thinking about it. Her hands shook as she cleaned up the spilled juice from the counter. She tended to be a little obsessive-compulsive, putting things in order, cleaning things up as soon as the mess happened. If anything was even a little out of place, she had to straighten it or she couldn’t concentrate. She used her fidgeting now to calm herself.

Pretty much everything after the second sentence is “telling.” Rather than “telling” the reader about her personality, it would be more vivid to “show” it to them through her actions and thoughts. For example:

She had almost been kil—no, she had to stop …