Show and Tell – The Show vs Tell Debate Critiqued

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A wise man once asked a simple question: “What is water?”

A few people gave their answers. Some said “H2O”. Some said, “A transparent liquid found in lakes, oceans, and seas.” Other’s said, “A chemical substance.”

The man smiled. “None of the above.”

The people’s brow buried deeper into their foreheads and their mouths twitched, “What?”

“Don’t give me the name or what you’ve been told it is made of”, said the man. “Tell me what it is.”

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Self-Publishing is a lot like life, there’s a question behind everything we think we know. There’s a lot of advice in the Indie Author community. What if I told you that not all of it was good advice? Or shall I say, not all of it is wise advice. It may be useful advice, but is it wisdom?

First, let’s get everyone up to speed. What is the most talked about thing in this community? What is that primary thing that people just can’t stop talking about? Yes, Author Platform is one, but what’s another? That’s right, “Show, Don’t Tell”.

Hold on to your seats. A lot of you are not going to like this:

What if I told you this was not very good advice?

Before you stone me, hear me out. Let’s establish that lots of telling is going on with new authors and it is very much irritating to readers. That said, we do in fact have a problem. Please, for the love of all that is set-apart, make sure your script does not read:

“I walked up to the coffee machine. I grabbed the pot. I walked over to the sink. I filled the pot with water. I put the pot back and turned on the machine. Brandon calls me from the other room. What does Brandon want?”

This may be a tad of an embellishment  on my part but I promise you, it is not far from the truth. With the ease of Self-Publishing a book, many aspiring authors are just putting anything out there. For this, we have lots of telling going on and so the rise of the “Show, Don’t Tell” phenomenon.

For those of you who know me, or rather my writing, by now you know I don’t follow trends just because.  I won’t bow down to JK Rowling or rave over the next Harry Potter book. Not a fan. Sorry. Don’t get me wrong, I take advice. A lot actually, but only advice that is logical and that makes sense. And finally, everyone say it with me: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass”. Great advice, even if we are wearing it out.

Don’t get me wrong, I do sympathize with staunch “Show, Don’t Tell-ers” because I’ve come into contact with many books that sound just like that example. All the author did was tell me what was happening and bored me to death. My brains shifted in my skull and were literally oozing from my temples. OK, gross, but you see what I mean? You don’t want to gross your reader’s people. Here is wisdom: Show AND Tell.

  • Showing – Writing vividly with detailed images, sensory information, and/or dramatized action
  • Telling – Writing in abstract summaries or simple statements

It is the secret no one is talking about.

Or, almost nobody.

Kristen Kieffer wrote a most excellent post on balancing show and tell  and I will quote her in this post because, ya know, no need to reinvent the wheel. Though I’d already written this article as a newsletter for my email list long before I read Kristen’s article, I am glad I eventually came across it as it further solidifies my point and now I can use some of her examples as a reference. In addition, Kristen Lamb says:

“As writers we are often guilty of too much brain-holding, of coaching the reader. We want to control every emotion, perception and description yet often less is more. When we leave blank space for the reader to fill in, the fiction can have room to blossom into something unplanned for. The story becomes richer and the experience more visceral because it transforms into an echo of the audience’s self-projection. Thus instead of one fixed interpretation, we get countless.”

– Kristen Lamb

So anyway, aside from both Kristen’s and a few others, not many people are talking about this aspect of it. As a result of the show vs. tell debate authors are now showing us everything but their booty cheeks. That’s not what show means and makes the story sound just as boring as my example. It’s called Storytelling for a reason. You are supposed to tell a story. The difference is not eliminating telling. You don’t want to show and not tell. You want to balance the amount of telling and showing. The straight action doesn’t work any more than no action. Your characters just can’t be running all over the place, they need quiet, emotional times too.

Storytelling came from the oral traditions of passing along information by word of mouth. It is the days where your grandmothers and great-grandmothers told the stories of their childhoods. It’s when you sat at  their knees to learn of the world that existed before you.

The easiest way to understand this is remembering that Telling gives us the statement, in other words, tells us something is done. Whereas showing is the demonstration of how something is done. That said, why is Anton’s example so popular?

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass”.

 –Anton Chekhov

When I first read this quote, I pictured a triangular piece of glass that fell from a window and is now sitting on a street corner under the moon. It rained earlier, so the glass is sprinkled with droplets of water. I can tell by the position of the glass and the tiny pieces of gravel on the ground that something bad happened. This caused the glass to shatter and yet, there is the light shining through all of the brokenness. The story is not over because there is hope.

The moon is shining tells me what is happening, but the glint of light on broken glass tells me how it happened. Or at least how I imagine it happened. It is simply demonstration versus information. Don’t tell me the woman was shot in a restaurant. Show me the sweat on the palms of her hands and underneath her armpits, the perspiration sliding down her temples and the shakiness of her hands as the pistol is pointed at her temple.

In the words of Steven Moore, who left a comment on the article 5 Examples of Bad Writing Advice from Great Authors:

“You should only provide enough detail so the reader can participate in the creative process by forming their own ideas about characters.”

Telling is just as important as showing and it is because of this being left out that makes “Show, don’t tell”, strange advice. It just doesn’t explain the entirety of the matter. I don’t need to know every single thing that is happening in the restaurant. You don’t have to show me the fly on the windowsill if it’s not relevant to the story. OK so the waiter is scratching his nose, what does that have to do with the fact this woman is in danger? A general rule of thumb is to show only when it has something to do with the story. Bernice McFadden does a most excellent job at this in This Bitter Earth. Everything mentioned in this book connected somehow. There is nothing mentioned that is insignificant to the story and no question that is not answered by the end of the novel.

Telling is just making a statement without all the drama. “She touched the pillow.” That’s telling. We don’t learn how she touched the pillow or what she thought when she touched the pillow, we are just told she did and it’s enough. We don’t need to overdramatize her touching of the pillow. It’s a matter of knowing when to show and when to tell.

Let’s refer to an example in Kristen Kieffer’s article:

Too much showing:

“His eyes were like the sea during a storm, dark blue and tumultuous. His jaw was chiseled like marble, his nose sharp and strong. His golden locks glimmered in the sunlight as he carried the boxes, ropy arm muscles rippling beneath the crimson fabric of his t-shirt.”

So, I enjoyed reading that actually lol. But, I’m learning something as well. Because I love poetry, I can sometimes show too much! Good thing we have beta readers and editors. Moving on…

Too much telling:

“His eyes were dark blue. His shirt was crimson red. He had a prominent jaw and big muscles. I watched him as he walked into the office, holding a box with his name on it.”

As you can see, too much telling is BORING. My brain is shifting…

Showing and Telling:

“His eyes were dark blue (statement), as tumultuous as a storm at sea (description), a stark contrast to his cheery crimson shirt (description). He had that classic Adonis look so many girls admired (statement). Chiseled jaw (description), strong nose (description), ropy muscles (description), I admired them all as he carried his box of belongings into the office (statement).”

Now that’s a tasty description. Want to create the same in your writing? Kristen advises we use the following formula:

1 Statement + 2-3 descriptions = Balanced writing

I love this advice and will be incorporating this nugget of wisdom in my own writing.

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Meet a Book Reviewer

Wow, I’m truly honored! Special thank you to Linda for introducing me!

I’m writing this quick post to introduce you all to Yecheilyah Ysrayl, a book review blogger, author, and all-round nice gal here on WordPress. It’s not just because she reviewed my novelette, All Good Stories, and gave it 5 stars, I’m writing about her because she gives great (and helpful) reviews. In a market so full, it’s hard to choose what to read, isn’t it? We really need reviews these days that go beyond the minimalistic, “I liked it,” to know what we’re investing our money in. Because money doesn’t grow on trees. Neither do books anymore, for that matter. (Sorry for the cheesy joke, I’ve been watching too much Stephen Colbert.)

If you’d like to check out Yecheilyah’s reviews, you can find a great example by clicking here. (Spoiler alert: it’s mine. It’s a really fantastic review!)

And even more importantly, if you’d like her to review YOUR…

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Yecheilyah’s Book Reviews – All Good Stories by Linda G. Hill

Title: All Good Stories

Author: Linda G. Hill

Print Length: 62 pages

Publication Date: August 10, 2016

Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC

Language: English

ASIN: B01JQWMQAE

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

Familiar with Linda through her blog, Life in Progress, I expected humor. What I didn’t expect was to finish the book in two hours laughing my butt off! Everyone knows how I love a good laugh and Linda did not disappoint. All Good Stories is a romantic comedy about friends Jupiter and Xavier and takes place, for the most part, at the bookstore where Xavier works. From the onset, we can tell there’s a bit more heart invested on Xavier’s part. The cute way Jupiter shortens his name, the way he dreams of being with her, and the added bonus of being her best friend.

However, Jupiter’s got a new novel. It wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t lead her to Bob the Blogger, a novelist and blogger obsessed with alliterations whose profile picture looks nothing like the real him. After a steamy three hours commenting back and forth with Jupiter, Bob has agreed to critique her novel, has written her three love poems with the added warning that he will NOT use the first letter of her best friends’ name (because he’s a Serial Alliterator and X just wouldn’t go well with his alliterations), and has given her his phone number.

Bob’s weirdness causes Xavier’s growing love and concern for Jupiter to thicken into a hilarious investigation. Plus, what’s Jupiter’s book about anyway?

Though funny, this book also has an underlying message that I enjoyed. You all know I love books with a purpose. The seriousness of meeting people online and of rushed relationships have been at the focal point of many of the books I’ve been reading lately. All Good Stories is definitely a good story and it is also well written.

I enjoyed the pacing of the read and that it did not slow down toward the end. It’s a short read but it didn’t need to drag on beyond what the author gave us. It’s like a literary treat if ever you’re waiting at the doctor’s office or airport and could use a good chuckle or two.

Ratings:
Plot Movement / Strength: 5/5
Entertainment Factor: 5/5
Characterization: 4/5
Authenticity / Believable: 4/5
Thought Provoking: 4/5
Overall Rating: 5 / 5 stars

All Good Stories is available  now!

AND we’d like to give special highlight

to Linda’s amazing Cover Artist Belinda Borradaile!

Check her out here!

Book Cover For Linda G HIll
Book Cover For Linda G HIll

Please also follow Linda on the web!

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For free short stories and poetry: https://lindaghillfiction.com

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Did you just write a book? In need of more reviews? Register Your Book Here! Please be sure to read through my guidelines and to register long books far enough in advance for me to read them thoroughly  if you have a preferred date for your published review. (By long I mean anything 300 pages and over). I publish reviews to this blog every Friday (as well as your Amazon page, Goodreads, my Author Website under “Authors” Facebook, Twitter, and are featured in my email newsletters). Books are read in the order in which they are received. Stay tuned for next week’s awesome author!

7 Tips for Making Time to Write

Great tips on making time to write.

Yesterday, even though I was tuned into the blog, I didn’t do much of anything outside of revise my novel! I’m excited at how the true story is unfolding (the one you don’t usually see under the first draft) and felt really accomplished afterward. I was busy, sure, and there were a million and one things to do but I made time.

The point: The greatest investment you can make with your writing is not money, it is time.

A Writer's Path

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by Kelsie Engen

Is there not enough time in the day to write? Or do you simply not know how to make the time?

It’s hard to believe, but it’s already time to discuss our writing insecurities again. And what’s worse, this Wednesday is already a week into the month! (How does time go by so quickly?)

This month the IWSG question is:

How do you find the time to write in your busy day?

I’ve always been a highly self-motivated person–when it matters. And writing happens to matter immensely to me.

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Your Peace

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The only time anything negative possesses power over us is when we weaken ourselves. Indeed, darkness will be there lets face it, just as the sun rises it also sets. Still, light prevails and if you’re looking closely enough you’ll see that sometimes growth comes from knowing tomorrow’s peace begins with today. Everything is energy and as positive energy is higher than negative energy, a stress-free life begins with operating outside of that negative space. As such one can then use and control the positivity and live with daily productivity, growth and advancement. To control energy. It means that you have the power to change everything around you, for every situation that wishes to show its face today also has a solution. If we’re willing to look close enough we can see the purpose. Yes, its hard but beneath the surface is a purpose and that purpose is to cultivate something in you. If we choose to look close enough, we can discover what that is. If we choose to endure. If we choose light even when it’s lonely. Even when it’s difficult, and even when it’s painful. If we choose to command our peace to be still.

Reading to Write – Message for Aspiring Authors

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Earlier this week, as I scrolled through my email, I came across my girl Lisa’s Guest Blog Post  on the importance of having a good story line when writing erotica.First, I invite you to check out Lisa’s post (especially if you’re an Erotica writer) to get a better understanding of what I’m about to say. Lisa drew me in and nailed it. I’ll definitely be reading up on her upcoming series. Check her post out here.

One of the reasons I don’t review Erotica (I do read it occasionally, I just don’t review it) is because I’ve had bad experiences with Indie Author writers of this genre and not just Erotica but also Urban Fiction. Many of the writers who are emerging now showcase a variety of books that have bomb book covers and invite you in to read. Sometimes I just sit back and scroll through Google looking at book covers! They’re really nice. In fact, that’s what happened to me. This one cover was so enticing I just had to see what the book was about. Then, I got into the book and I’ve never been able to finish it. Needless to say, I was turned all the way off.

When I finished reading Lisa’s post a thought struck me, “They’re not reading.” It occurred to me that there are many people who write strictly from their own experiences and backgrounds, which is great no doubt, but is it enough? Are the stories really up to par? Or is it just that relatable aspect that we love and support? From a genuine writing perspective, are these books well written? Many of them are. But many of them are not.

I love how many of these books capture the gritty realness, but I’d be remised if I didn’t mention that I also see that something is missing. That missing link is reading. Many new writers, especially of Urban Fiction though not strictly UF, do not read books to write books.  In addition,  many of us are just not broadening our reading shelves. Many writers who write these books only read these kinds of books. This isn’t a bad thing but for writers, is this enough? The truth is no, it’s not. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy UF and applaud Urban Fiction’s impact on the increased reading of teens. Because of Street Lit, for instance, black teens are coming into libraries, checking out books, and increasing the number of books read.  However, for Indie Authors venturing into this genre reading books that are actually not well written, this provides for those readers no nurturing of the skill.

If you plan to write a book, it’s not enough just to read the kinds of books that you love. It occurred to me, after reading Lisa’s post, that there’s a host of young writers writing books who have never been readers and never plan to.

Note: There is NO such thing as being a writer who does not like to read. This is not judgement. This is fact. It is the same as saying that you like to teach elementary school but you don’t like children. How can you ever learn to write if you don’t read? Anyone can write and I encourage many young writers to do just that. However, to craft, a story of your own that is truly engaging will require you to study how other writers have done it. This can only be done by reading other writers.

Reading helps writers with:

Story Structure and Dialogue Tags

I didn’t learn about how to structure a basic story from a classroom, I learned it from a book. Writer’s don’t have to have a Masters in English or a Bachelors in Creative Writing. All we have to do is read more. It was books that taught me about dialogue tags before I knew what they were (not college). Sure, I didn’t know what it was called, but I did know how they were to be written.

“Writing in The Guardian, Dan Hurley pointed to recent studies confirming that the relationship between reading and intelligence is so close that it could be symbiotic. Listing out three types of intelligence most recognized by psychologists, Hurley stated that people who read overall performed better on all fronts.”

Why do you think brothers come home from Prison geniuses? All they did was read.

Plot

Speaking of story structure, a lot happens to a reader subconsciously that is then spilled into his / her writing. When a person reads, he or she is processing everything about that book to include the plot. You can learn how to write a good plot even if you haven’t been in school. Even if you knew nothing about the grammatical rules and even if you don’t understand it. Read more and you will learn from your teachers in ink: Authors.

Vocabulary

Study the language of the book and the style of the writer. Look at the vocabulary, how does the writer use the words? As a writer words are your everything anyway so you want to know how to use them. Don’t just read books to hurry up and finish them just so that you can say that you read it. Take your time with it so you can study it. Pay attention to what the author did with the words, how they made you feel, the symbolism, and multiple meanings. I have books I’ve been reading for a while now because I am studying them. I need to take my time and process how this bestselling author delivers.

Inspiration

I hear a lot about inspiration in the blogosphere but did you know that reading is the secret weapon of inspiration? Yes! Whenever you get writer’s block or can’t decide what to do next, read. It’ll jump start the creative juices. There is a way this works, though: As you read and come up with ideas, write them down! Remember, don’t just read, study what you read. Reading is the most powerful form of research for a writer.