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Monday, June 30, 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 to know what’s going to happen next.

So in these examples, telescoping time and/or space is a perfectly legitimate reason for telling instead of showing.

Friday, June 27, 2008

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 everything if she called Sherri tonight.


And just leave it at that. It creates an aura of mystery that makes the reader wonder why tonight is so special, plus you’re in deep point of view, which draws the reader into her dilemma. Later, you can reveal Sherri’s special birthday gift to explain why she couldn’t call and ruin her birthday.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

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 contribute to the whole of the writing, making it just a bit crisper and sharper.

Monday, June 23, 2008

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, emotional way to convey the information if you go deeper into Gloria’s point of view. For example:

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

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

Gloria paused. Was she already late? If she just blew past … No, she got a headache at the thought of Sherri’s sour face and insolent work habits if she didn’t appease her.

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


In framing the information as Gloria’s clicking thought process, the information is more interesting to the reader.

Friday, June 20, 2008

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 that the “telling” about the house isn’t just tacked onto the narrative, but a vital part of her impressions of the scene. It’s just a tactic to convey the information in a more interesting way to the reader.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

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. She had twenty-one pairs in her closet already.

But she’d just gotten paid. And she could honestly say it was her only extravagance.


In the example, the information is part of her thought process as she justifies buying a new pair of shoes rather than tacked on as a section of “telling” in the narrative.

However, because the section of “telling” is only three words long, you could leave it in, especially if the information is vital for the reader to know for the current scene. It’s up to you.

Monday, June 16, 2008

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 about? I always wanted a brother—”

“Half-brother.”

“Whatever, half-brother. My point is, now you have one without having the annoyance of growing up with him.” Amy winked.

Jeannie pulled his letter close to her again to look at it. “I wonder what it was like, growing up in New Orleans.”

“What I wonder is why he wants to meet now, why he felt he had to wait until both your feuding parents were gone. After all, you’re both adults.”


All the information in the “telling” paragraph is now “shown” in the dialogue, which is more interesting for the reader and doesn’t pull her out of the story world with a paragraph of “telling” narrative.

Friday, June 13, 2008

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 what your Mama told you.”

Amy found the violet pattern on the china cup absolutely fascinating. Why did Jeannie always have to just jump straight into it?

“So?”

Amy spoke to the cluster of violets. “I’m too drained. I don’t want to talk about it.”

“But I want to know.”

Amy raised her eyes to glare at Jeannie. “Show some tact for once, will you?”


The information about Jeannie being direct is “shown” by an emotional reaction to it—her unhappy thoughts wondering why Jeannie had to be that way. Also, Jeannie’s tendency for lack of tact is “shown” with Amy’s angry line of dialogue.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

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. It is also inexpensive, since you can choose option (a), which is only $40.

Also, I have often found that some writing issues can be seen in the first 3,000-6,000 words, and so a Screening Critique would give you feedback that you can use to revise the rest of your manuscript.

After the Screening Critique, you don’t have to hire me for your full manuscript right away. If you want to take some time to apply the feedback from the Screening Critique and revise your full manuscript, go ahead. When you contact me to do your full manuscript, simply remind me that I did a Screening Critique for you so that I remember to give you a discount.

See my info page, "What the Story Sensei is about" for more information about my other services.

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.

If you just wanted to show the house and neighborhood, there are more active ways to “show” it. For example:

Old Mrs. Tarkington shuffled past the house, staying in the shade from the trees lining the street. She raised one arm in a wave, the other arm clutching yet another casserole, probably meant for deaf Mr. Billings next door. Yup, he was already on his porch anticipating his dinner that night.

Bless Mrs. Tarkington. Would Mr. Billings—or any of the other neighbors—starve without her?


In the example, I show the trees lining the street as well as the friendliness of the neighbors with a concrete example of kindness.

Or:

She tripped a little over the threshold. Really graceful. She ought to fix that. Then she giggled at an image of Daddy tripping as he carried Mama over the threshold into the house over thirty years ago. Naw, the house had been new then—no loose boards.


In the example, I kept the info about Daddy and Mama over the threshold because she realized she needed to fix it—linking the memory with the current action.

Monday, June 09, 2008

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 figures that the worst wreath would come from Barnaby Jenkins, the slime. And she was stuck holding it for the next hour.


In the example, I’ve added more emotional reactions to the wreath (heaving, gagging, Daddy hating it) and more emotive words to Daddy’s garden (stately, cheerful). It simply makes the information more alive.

I also added the second paragraph to show why the reader needed to know about the wreath and Daddy’s garden (actually, Daddy’s flower preferences)—the information was needed to explain her emotional reaction in the current action, her holding the darn thing for another hour.

Friday, June 06, 2008

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 and ran down the side of her nose. Oh, no. Her stomach heaved as the warm wet tickled the end of her nose.

Mama saw the tear, because the volume rose to screeching that stung Clara’s ears. “Crying is for sissies!”

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

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 tone both thrilled and annoyed her. “Who’s to say I’d have stayed if you’d been Principal?”


Exceptions:

The question to ask is: Does the reader need to know she’d been secretary at the high school three years ago right at this moment in the story? Does the reader need to know she’s secretary for the intermediate school right at this moment in the story? If they don’t, then save it for later when the information is vital to the current action.

For example, say the story goes:

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.

If she’d still been there, she’d be one of the dead bodies on the lawn, just another victim of the bombing. The thought sent a spasm through her as if her innards were trying to wiggle out of her skin.


In this example, then yes, the reader needed to know she’d been the high school secretary because the scene affects her emotionally, thinking she could have been one of the bombing victims.

However, if the story goes on to talk about something else, then the second sentence in the example—talking about being secretary at the high school three years ago—is not only “telling” the reader about the character, it’s extraneous information. Delete it and save it for later.

Monday, June 02, 2008

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 thinking about it. Her hands shook as she cleaned up the spilled juice from the counter. Why was she doing this? Why couldn’t she stop herself? Her sugar canister had been knocked askew by half an inch. She looked away, but an itching grew in her hand until she finally reached out to realign it with the other two canisters on the counter. She also straightened the potted violet by the sink, the coffeemaker in its corner, and the container of cooking utensils by the stove. She actually felt calmer now.


In the second example, the reader is drawn into her point of view to feel her agitation, to experience her compulsive acts of orderliness, and to see her fidgeting calm herself.
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