The Dreaded Show vs. Tell – Guest post by CJ Davis

Today I’ve got CJ Davis here to talk about his Show vs Tell learning curve. Although it’s a simple concept, it takes a long time to get your head around it.

CJ Davis profile shotOne of my favorite movies of all time is the Matrix.

With the perfect combination of sci-fi, originality and action, the movie stands head and shoulders above most.

Like Neo, the main character from the Matrix who discovers he’s plugged into a virtual reality simulator, I recently had a similar awakening.

No, this awakening was not nearly as dramatic as finding out your whole life is a lie, and you are in fact facing an almost certain death by an evil robot army.

My awakening was more of the subtle kind, but for those who have gone through a similar enlightenment can attest it’s no small matter.

My editor opened my eyes to the dreaded show vs. tell rule, and my reading and writing experience has not been the same since.

The year was 2013 and the excitement of turning in my first novel to my editor had me giddy.

In my naivety, I was certain she was only going to reply with a few grammatical fixes.

Unfortunately, the email I finally received from her was foretelling of all the hard work I had in front of me.

The main focus of her critique was around the show vs. tell rule.

What the heck is show vs. tell I remember thinking.

I looked it up online, and immediately realized I had an enormous amount of work to do.

What is Show vs. Tell?

“Show, don’t tell is a technique often employed in various kinds of texts to enable the reader to experience the story through action, words, thoughts, senses, and feelings rather than through the author’s exposition, summarization, and description. The goal is not to drown the reader in heavy-handed adjectives, but rather to allow readers to interpret significant details in the text.” – Wikipedia

The show vs. tell rule is a very simple concept to understand, but difficult to do.

The most painful part of developing my craft as an author was learning how to write a scene as a “show.”

It took weeks of going back and forth with my editor on how to effectively do this.

At one point, in the early stages, she even suggested that perhaps I should get a ghost writer.

That was a low point for me.

What was very helpful for me on perfecting my show vs. tell writing abilities was working through exercises.

My editor would send me several “tell” phrases, and I would turn them into “shows”.

A couple examples of this include:

He was coming in, and she did not want him to know she’d been smoking.

She quickly grabbed the magazine, which ironically had a cigarette ad with a tough looking cowboy on the back cover, and desperately fanned the smoke out the window.

He didn’t like the coffee, but drank it to not hurt her feelings.

To avoid any ill will, he resisted the urge to make a bitter face after swallowing the mystery liquid she’d given him. It was supposed to be coffee, but he was sure the pool of water collecting on the street on the way in tasted more like coffee than what he just ingested.

After many hard months, and great coaching from my editor, the show vs. tells in my books had improved dramatically.

There is no question; the scenes are more compelling and engaging.  Here is an example from my novel, Blue Courage:

Before (Tell):

Continuing to dangle upside down from the Allosaurus’s clutching jaws; Rajiv didn’t give up. He continued to aggressively swing his blade trying to get the beast to drop him.  Every swing jostled his body and brought an almost unbearable pain to his ankle. The dinosaur appeared to be patiently waiting for his pesky prey to tire before he finished him off. Rajiv was running out of time, as he increasingly lost a lot of blood.

After (Show):

Rajiv grimaced as he felt the bones in his foot crack. Somewhere beyond the pain, he managed to pull his blade free of its sheath and tried to pierce the soft skin near the mouth of the beast. Blood poured from his wounds into his eyes. With a final shake from the beast, Rajiv’s sword flew from his hand and clattered to the ground.

Practice Makes Perfect

Much like Neo when he returns to the matrix, I see the world differently now.

When I’m reading, I see “tells” everywhere, and it always annoys me.

When I’m writing, I can spend twenty minutes on one paragraph, trying to create the perfect “show.”

Shows are inherently harder to pull off, but a necessary craft to master if you want to be a great writer.

Like almost everything in life, practice makes perfect.  Good luck.

CJ Davis is an American writer who lives in Atlanta, GA with his wife and two little girls. By day he is a marketing executive for a software company, and by night he writes novels. His artistic influences include: J.K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins, George Romero, George Lucas, Billy Corgan, Max Brooks, and of course Tolkien, Koontz and King.

 

If you got something out of CJ’s advice on ‘Show vs. Tell’, please check out his book: Blue Courage.

Battle for the Afterlife book coverDeath is just the beginning for Navy SEAL Reese Hawthorne.

After an unlikely encounter with the girl of his dreams during a rescue mission in the drug cartel filled jungles of Mexico, Reese awakens in a futuristic city in the Afterlife.

A formidable, massive wall is the only thing protecting the city from countless ferocious prehistoric beasts, and hoards of ghoulish creatures, known as Lost Souls.

On the eve of a perilous cross-country race across the Afterlife realm between the forces of good and evil, war hangs in the balance on the heals of a loose treaty created hundreds of years ago.

Armed with deadly weapons and their enhanced physical abilities, like strength, vision and quickness–the most gifted warriors, are pitted against each other.

The first side to either destroy their opponents, or reach a distant ancient temple far outside the safety of the city walls, will win an unimaginable power, and change the outcome of humanity.

Reese must do everything he can to stop the forces of evil from winning the race and enslaving every free soul in the Universe.

You can see the trailer at CJ Davis’s Amazon Author Profile (bottom right).

If you like CJ’s advice on Show vs. Tell, you might like Amanda Bridgeman’s advice: How to write a thousand words (or maybe more). 

What’s your Show vs. Tell war story? Let us know in the comment.

I’ll be teaching at Conflux!

A person giving a presentation in an auditoriumYes, you read the title right.

I’ll be teaching  a workshop at Conflux this October.

Why?

Because I’ve been lucky enough to find answers to many the questions I’ve had over the last few years in regard to story, structure and reader expectations, and I’d like to pass some of them on.

I’ve compiled as much of my research as I could into a workshop designed to benefit almost any writer, even those who already know everything (like I thought I did). ;-D

So, what’s this workshop about?

Did you ever get the feeling your story wasn’t working? Or not working well enough?

Perhaps you gave it to some beta readers and their reactions didn’t inspire confidence despite the fact they said they liked it?

I’ve had that feeling, and no matter what I changed, people weren’t reacting the way they were supposed to (i.e., by demanding the sequel).

The prose itself was tight, the characters believable, the world intensely real (at least to me), and the story amazing (I might be showing a little bias).

The point is, the story I saw in my head didn’t translate to the page, and I didn’t know how to fix that.

In short, I didn’t have a story that met readers expectations in the ways it was supposed to.

At every level of schooling I ever attended, right through to university, I was told a story needed a beginning, middle and end, but nobody told me what those parts demanded or how to go about identifying problems or areas that weren’t working.

And that’s what I intend to teach in my workshop – the elements of story – the things that nobody else will teach you because most people aren’t even aware they exist.

So if you’ve got the time, come along and take the workshop.

It’s free for Conflux members and ridiculously cheap if you’re not.

You can find more details on the Conflux website: Planning and Structuring a Novel: A Conflux workshop.

The five key elements of a successful writer, Part 5, Gratitude – Guest Post by Amanda Bridgeman

Today I have the privilege of presenting the final part of Amanda Bridgeman’s guest post on being a successful writer.

I can honestly say it’s wonderful to have Amanda here – her advice on writing is always encouraging, and her understanding of the publishing business is both insightful and grounded in experience.

Gratitude

Amanda Bridgeman sitting on a chairIn my eighteen months of being published, I have met quite a lot of people in the industry and I’m happy to say that most of these people have been awesome.

I’m the kind of person who remembers when someone has done right by me (and there have been a lot), and I also remember when they have done wrong.

I was raised to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, so it’s ingrained into me and in everything I do.

When people support me by retweeting or sharing my posts, I always make sure I say thank you and try to reciprocate with their next promo tweet/post.

I also try to pay it forward and support other authors I may not know.

One trend I’m seeing, particularly on Twitter, is that less and less people are saying thank you, and less and less people are reciprocating when you retweet/repost something of theirs.

Now, I obviously don’t expect a big-name author to say thank you or retweet something, as they tend to have thousands/millions of fans, and that is just not feasible.

BUT, when I see ‘small’ authors who are still trying to climb their way up, who don’t say thank-you or offer support in-kind, well I’m a little disappointed to be honest.

I normally give them a few chances before I decide that my time is best used in supporting someone else who will appreciate it.

So, I guess what I’m saying here is: Don’t ever take anything for granted.

The publishing industry is a small one, so don’t be rude, don’t be selfish, don’t think that you don’t need anyone else’s help.

I guarantee you that being kind and generous, being supportive, and being thankful will get you more places, faster.

If someone is taking the time to retweet/share your book news, they are helping you promote and potentially sell your book, so for god’s sake show your appreciation and say thank you!

And that doesn’t just go for supporting other authors, it applies to everyone in the industry and your readers too. Especially your readers.

Catch the rest of Amanda’s series on the five key elements of being a successful writer:

Aurora Series of covers

Born and raised in the seaside/country town of Geraldton, Western Australia, Amanda was raised her on a diet of Rocky, Rambo, Muhammad Ali and AC/DC. She studied film & television/creative writing at Murdoch University. Her debut novel Aurora:Darwin was published with Momentum in May 2013; the sequel Aurora: Pegasus was published in December 2013; and Aurora: Meridian will be released on 11 September 2014.

 Where you can find Amanda:

The five key elements of a successful writer, Part 4, Understanding – Guest Post by Amanda Bridgeman

Today Amanda Bridgeman is back with part 4 of her guest blog series on being a successful writer – understanding!

Understanding 

Amanda Bridgeman sitting on a chairReading a ‘bad’ review of your work can gut you.

All that hard work, all that heart and soul you poured into your story, dismissed within a few strokes of an angry reader’s keyboard.

But you must never respond to these reviews (even if the things they claim in the review are incorrect).

Just stop and think about the last time you read a book and thought ‘that was crap’ or ‘that was boring’ or ‘that wasn’t my cup-of-tea’.

Or what about the latest film you saw? Did you come out of the cinema and post on Twitter/Facebook ‘That ending was rubbish’.

Or did you post while watching a TV show about how unrealistic that car chase scene was? We all do it.

We all spew forth our criticisms about everything in life and generally it’s an easy thing to do because we don’t personally know the people behind what we’re criticising.

When you become a published author and are placed in the public eye, your thoughts on this will change dramatically.

At least, mine did.

When you experience first-hand public criticism, you tend to shift and adapt your own responses to things with this in mind.

I am more mindful now about ‘shooting from the hip’. I try to think about what I’m going to say publicly on Facebook, twitter, etc, before I say it.

Because I know now what it feels like to be on the receiving end, and I also know that once you say something on social media, etc, it is out there forever.

So when you have a reader/reviewer talking about your book and ‘shooting from the hip’, try to be understanding.

They don’t know you personally, they just, very honestly, didn’t like your book. And again, that’s the life of a writer.

Not everyone will like your book, just the same way that you won’t like everything that you read.

Aurora Meridian cover artIt is fundamental that you understand and accept this.

It is also fundamental that you don’t focus on the negative too much. You must focus your efforts on those that DO love your work.

After all, these are the people you write for, and these are the people who will champion your book.

You need to understand your market, you need to understand the industry, and most importantly you need to understand that not everyone will like your book.

Some authors don’t read any of their reviews – good or bad, but most, just like me, can’t help themselves.

We like to see what people loved about our books, and yes, if you’re serious about being a writer, you will also be interested to see what people didn’t like about your books, as it can be a useful tool in improving your writing.

I read an article on Stephen King once where he said (talking about beta readers), if one person says they don’t like something about your book, then that’s just their opinion.

But if five people say the same thing – you need to fix it. What your beta readers may have missed, the general public might not, and that may just help you with your next book.

Join Amanda tomorrow for the last part in her series: Gratitude.

The five key elements of a successful writer, Part 3, Discipline– Guest Post by Amanda Bridgeman

Amanda Bridgeman graces us again today with the third instalment of her five key elements to being a successful writer. Today she talks about discipline.

Discipline

Amanda Bridgeman sitting on a chairBooks don’t write themselves.

They take a hell of a lot of time (and blood, sweat and tears), so stop procrastinating and get to it!

The best analogy here is with athletes.

The most successful athletes are those that are incredibly disciplined and spend every waking moment doing everything they can to make themselves a better athlete (they train for hours, they watch what they eat, they ensure they get enough sleep, etc, etc).

You must be disciplined and set time aside to write, or to promote, or to learn.

If you don’t then you will never achieve your goals.

Aurora Meridian cover artPersistence pays when it comes to writing, and the only way to get something done is to get something done!

So set yourself a deadline and stick to it.

The most successful writers out there (aside from having a mass of talent), are hard workers.

They are disciplined, they are dedicated, and they dare to dream.

Part 4 tomorrow: Understanding.

Catch up on Amanda’s very first guest blog post here: How to write a thousand words (or maybe more).

The five key elements of a successful writer, Part 2, Willingness – Guest Post by Amanda Bridgeman

Amanda Bridgeman is back with some more fantastic advice on the key elements of being a successful writer, and today (as usual) she’s spot-on. It all comes back to the fact that you’ve got to be open and eager to achieve things. Here’s how Amanda puts it:

Willingness

Amanda Bridgeman sitting on a chairBe eager to learn and continue to learn.

Be willing to listen to the advice of your editor, your publisher, your marketing people.

Be willing to attend conferences and talks and listen to what the ‘pros’ have to say, and also what the ‘fans’ have to say.

Be willing to take classes to hone your skills.

Be willing to read across genres and read often.

Be willing to spend time keeping your finger on the pulse of popular culture (Film, TV, music, etc).

Be willing to keep your eye on what is happening in the real world.

Assume that you know nothing (Jon Snow) and strive to learn more.

You must always be willing to improve yourself and your writing, and every step of the way you must be professional while you do it.

Part 3 tomorrow – Discipline

Aurora Series of covers

Miss yesterday’s post? Find out about what Amanda has to say about having Patience.

Five Key Elements of a Successful Writer, Part 1, Patience – Guest Post by Amanda Bridgeman

Amanda Bridgeman sitting on a chairWhen I saw a tweet from Amanda (pure luck with the timing as I’m rarely on Twitter) asking if people would be happy to host her on a blog tour, I jumped at the chance. Amanda’s a fantastic writer with some great insights into the publishing industry (not to mention a lovely person), so I was keen to host her here.

I asked her to  share some of her experience into her writing career, and randomly picked ‘the darkest hour’ as a topic.

Well, she knocked the topic out of the arena, across three States and into a pretty neat little Territory called the ACT, almost punching it into orbit on the way.

This is part one, on the subject of… [drum roll]… needing patience as a writer!

When I asked Chris what he would like me to write about for this blog, he suggested discussing my darkest hour.

I thought about this, and decided to discuss the ways in which you can help avoid experiencing that darkest hour.

Aurora Meridian cover artThe one thing I have learnt about being a published writer is that it is a constant roller coaster of a ride and it will continue that way until you decide to pull the plug.

I’ve never been much of a roller coaster fan, but I’m slowly getting used to it.

You will have your awesome ‘up’ days, and you will have your depressing ‘down’ days.

But that’s the life of a writer – you either accept it or you don’t.

There are ways to minimise the impact, though, by preparing yourself and managing your expectations.

So here is the first of five aspects I think every writer must strive to embrace in order to ward off your darkest days.

Patience

If you want to be published, you must realise and accept that it takes time.

A lot of time.

Firstly you must write that book, then you must whip that book into shape, then you need to ship it around to all the different players, then you need to wait for responses, then you need to negotiate contacts, then you need to go through several rounds of editing, then you need to market and sell your book.

All of this can take years. And even then, when you finally release your book, it is highly unlikely that it will be an overnight sensation – rocketing up the charts.

You need patience to bring your book to publication, then you need patience while you build up your readership.

There is a phenomenal amount of books out there, so it can take time to reach readers. So be realistic with your expectations. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Serious writers are in this for the long haul, and patience is their most prized possession. Don’t believe me? Check out these blogs by Peter M Ball:

Born and raised in the seaside/country town of Geraldton, Western Australia, Amanda hails from fishing and farming stock. The youngest of four children, her three brothers raised her on a diet of Rocky, Rambo, Muhammad Ali and AC/DC. She studied film & television/creative writing at Murdoch University (BA Communication Studies) in Perth, Western Australia, which has been her home ever since, aside from a nineteen month stint in London (England). Her debut novel Aurora:Darwin was published with Momentum in May 2013; the sequel Aurora: Pegasus was published in December 2013; and Aurora: Meridian will be released on 11 September 2014.

Part 2… “Willingness”

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