Show versus Tell

Hi everyone! Patty Smith Hall here, and today, we’re going to tackle one of the major building blocks of effective writing—Show vs Tell.

If you’ve been to a writing conference, had a critique partner or read books on craft, you’ve probably heard the phrase, ‘show, don’t tell.’ For those of you ‘newbies,’ let me explain.

First off, let’s look at the definition of these words;

The meaning of the word ‘tell’ is ‘communicating information, facts or news to someone in spoken or written words. Other words to describe it are informed, notify, apprise and advise.

newspaper-943004_192028129When I think of telling, I think of a newspaper article. For an article to be informative, it has to answer five questions—who, what, where, when and why. Most (with the exception of editorials) are very basic with little to no description. They’re looking at the situation from ten thousand feet above so they can’t give much detail or expression.

My first draft is a lot like that. I’m trying to get the story down, learning the who, what, where, when, why. During this time, I use words like angrily, solemnly, joyfully, hesitantly or phrases like she or he thought. While its okay to do this, it doesn’t draw your reader into the story or make them feel for your characters. It might look something like this:

‘Maggie stared pensively out the window as she took another sip of coffee.

That’s okay, but it doesn’t give readers a hint of why Maggie feels pensive. It doesn’t even reveal the setting. As a reader, would you finish a book like that or would you read on?

Now let’s look at the word ‘show.’ The definition of ‘show’ is ‘be, allow or cause to be visible; to display a quality, emotion or characteristic; a display or spectacle; a play or stage performance.

I like that last description. Here in the south, we don’t go to a movie. For us, it’s a show which is a fitting description. In a movie, you’re able to see the actor’s expressions, get a feel for the motivations behind their actions.

movie-918655_1920When I start editing my rough draft, I picture each scene as though it were a movie. I slow it down so that I can catch all the nuances of my character’s expressions and how they respond to each plot twist. Writing my story this way brings my readers deeper into the story world and gives my characters more layers which makes the reader care about them.

So how does this look? Let’s take pensive Maddie.

Maddie stared pensively out of the window as she took another sip of her coffee.

But if we look at this as we would a movie scene, this is what we might see:

She missed her mountains.

Maddie stared out the big picture window, drawn to the outline of the Davis Mountains silhouetted against the morning sky. She took another sip of Sally’s coffee, her latest bout of homesickness drowning out the hustle and bustle of the café.

Did the second paragraph draw you into the story? Did you feel for Maddie? That’s what showing rather than telling does. That doesn’t mean you never can use telling. If you want to show the passage of time, telling is a good way of doing that—you’re moving the story forward without going into details that aren’t important to the story. One example for my books is from my first one, Hearts in Flight. My heroine was a pilot who flew test flights during WWII. Only I never wrote about her actually flying a plane! Why? Because it was a romance, her flying wouldn’t have moved the story along.

Here’s a simple way to think of it: Say your husband or wife tells you ‘I’m going to be a better mate.’ That’s all well and good, but wouldn’t showing you with their actions their intentions be even better?

I hope I’ve helped you understand show vs tell a little bit more. Some good articles on the subject are:

Show, Don’t Tell; A Simple Guide for Writers by Jerry Jenkins

Showing Vs Telling in Your Writing by Writer’s Digest

Show Vs Tell by R. Michael Burns

Show Vs Tell: Examples by Camy Tang

Click to Tweet: When I start editing my rough draft, I picture each scene as though it were a movie. #writetip #amwriting @InspiredPrompt @pattywrites

Writing Prompt: Read a page of your WIP. Did you find problems with telling? How can you show the scene?

The Southern Belle Brides Collection

51jkgnu-g-l._sy346_Love as Sweet as Southern Iced Tea

Welcome to the Old South where hospitality is king and charm is queen. Can lasting love been found here amidst chaotic life challenges?

The Belle of the Congaree by Lauralee Bliss
Columbia, South Carolina—1866
Mason Bassinger reluctantly travels to post-war South Carolina seeking lands his carpetbagger brother can buy. Elisa Anderson barely survives after her family’s plantation was destroyed. She welcomes visits by the handsome and wealthy Mason who makes the cottage by the Congaree feel like a home. But when Mason’s true purpose is revealed, will her heart be broken by betrayal?

Thoroughbreds by Ramona Cecil
Lexington, Kentucky—1918
A family tragedy reunites Ella Jamison with her childhood tormentor, igniting surprisingly different sparks. Clay Garrett questions why God would allow him to fall in love with the one woman least likely to return his affections. But when love blooms against all odds, old secrets threaten to destroy it and, in the process, tear an entire family apart.

The Marmalade Belle by Dianne Christner
Ocala, Florida—1893
A decade-old note draws Maribelle Sinclair into the arms of Jackson, her childhood hero, but the Cavalry dragoon’s soul appears dark and dangerous as the Florida everglades. Virgil, on the other hand, is sweet as mama’s orange marmalade and optimistically forthright. If hearts are windows, like the glass-bottomed boats on nearby Silver River, Maribelle can trust hers to make the right choice.

Debt of Love by Lynn Coleman
Palatka, Florida—1868
Adeline Edwards, a Southern Belle with strong calloused hands from tending cattle, no longer attends balls. Banker, Phineas George Hamilton III, arrives at the plantation to recover the bank’s debt and discovers strong-willed Adeline doubts the bank’s claim. Can they figure out the debt, or will they find balance in love?

Hometown Bride by Patty Smith Hall
Marietta, Georgia—1870
Jilly Chastain never lied, but when her mother fabricates a marriage with her childhood sweetheart, Grayson Hancock, Jilly goes along with it, never expecting Grayson to show up, ready to make their make-believe marriage real.

Miss Beaumont’s Companion by Grace Hitchcock
Baton Rouge, Louisiana—1892
When lady’s companion Aria St. Angelo is coerced into posing as her political employer’s absent daughter for the evening at the Louisiana Governor’s masquerade ball, she wasn’t planning on falling for Byron Roderick, the most eligible bachelor in the capitol.

Above All These Things by Connie Stevens
East central Georgia—1855
Pre-conceived opinions and stubborn pride builds walls of resentment between Annulet Granville, the belle of Thornwalk Manor, and a visiting stranger. Annulet’s parents urge her to find a husband, but she labels Peyton Stafford the enemy. So what is she to do with Christ’s command to love her enemies?

pattyhallA multi-published author with Love Inspired Historical and Barbour, Patty lives in North Georgia with her husband of 35 years, Danny; two gorgeous daughters, her son-in-love and a grandboy who has her wrapped around his tiny finger. When she’s not writing on her back porch, she’s spending time with her family or working in her garden.

 

 

 

 

Description: How Much Is Too Much?

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By Bonita Y. McCoy

Description in a story has two jobs. It helps the reader to understand the scene and allows them to use their imagination to picture the action in their minds.

But have you ever picked up a book and found that it went on and on and on about how a character looked or how the room was decorated?

Reading a novel that contains too much description is like listening to a monotone teacher on a warm afternoon, guaranteed to bore. The reader will flip pages trying to locate the action.

However, a novel that doesn’t contain enough description can leave the reader wandering around the story, lost and confused. It also leaves the reader feeling cheated, thinking he only got half of the novel and that the other half is still stuck somewhere in the writer’s brain.

So, how do we measure how much is enough?

Since there are no hard and fast rules, I put together a few questions that can be used to determine if your description is hitting the mark or if it needs some TLC.

Does the description slow down the pace of the story?

If the description acts like a speed bump in a scene, it is either too long or put in the wrong place. There is a reason why most of the description of a setting is done at the beginning of the scene. One, it puts your reader right in the heart of what’s going on, and two, its out of the way once the dialogue and action starts.

You never want your description to slow down the car chase or interrupt an argument between characters. Action beats are one thing; a long drawn out description of the forest is another.

Does the description add to the plot?

If you tend to tell every movement of a character in minute detail, you are doing what I call housekeeping. You are giving your reader a laundry list of everyday activities that they can fill in for themselves. These don’t add to the plot. They instead lessen the readers involvement in the story.

However, description can be used to add flavor to the plot. In Call of the Wild, one of the characters has no name; he is only known by the description, the man in the red sweater. The description shows the reader that the man is a stranger to the point of view character, and being a scoundrel, he isn’t worth getting to know.

Good choices in what to describe and how to describe it, not only draw your reader into the story but can add spice to your plot.

 Are you over using adjectives and adverbs?

The first lesson I learned in novel writing was to use adverbs and adjectives sparingly. The irony that they use an adverb to explain to us about not using adverbs is not lost on me. However, the advice still applies.

If you use adverbs and adjectives to prop up your word choices, you are cluttering your story. It shows that your nouns and verbs do not convey your meaning, and you are feeling unsure that the reader will understand.

Most of the time, your word choice works fine without the adverb or adjective, but if you aren’t sure, try using a thesaurus to find a word that better shows your meaning. An example of that would be Carol was very angry compared to Carol seethed. One word was able to take the place of three, and the reader got a clearer understanding of Carol’s emotions.

When in doubt about a word choice, check your thesaurus.

Are you trying to use the research you love?

As writers, we all do research, and sometimes, we fall in love with it. We become enamored and want to share all that we have learned with our readers, even at the expense of too much description.

Be honest, does your reader need to know all there is to know about llama care? Even if it’s interesting and you adopted a llama, if it’s not moving the plot forward, it needs to be cut.

Click to tweet: Use only the research that adds depth to your characters or enhances the plot. Everything else is llama liability. #llama #amwriting

These questions are only a start, but they should give you a clearer picture of how you are doing with your use of description. Knowing how much is too much is tricky, even those who have been writing for years find it hard to tell, but with practice, it will get easier to spot its over use. At least, that’s what I hear.

 

Prompt: The editor wanted half the description gone. Martha wanted to throw the piece of work out the window, but she knew that wouldn’t do any good. She had spent months researching the Appalachian Mountains and hated to leave out any of the imagery and colors she had seen on her trips. Frustration filled her. How was she supposed to decide what to keep and what to cut?

Time to Write with Lisa & Gail

Lisa Worthey Smith is a long time Bible teacher who ventured into writing inspirational stories a few years ago, and is now President of Word Weavers North Alabama.

She and her husband are empty nesting in northern Alabama where she spends time in her garden and writes stories of Faith*Hope*Love. Her first two books Oscar the Extraordinary Hummingbird and The Wisdom Tree are available on Amazon.com and she expects to release two books in 2019, Ground Kisser and COFFEE with God at Christmas.


Social media, daily chores, ideas for different stories, unexpected family needs all creep in and steal time that could have been used to crank out more words for the project of the moment. So, how do I manage my writing time?

Pray.

I ask God to give me direction for the day, deferring to His will rather than mine. If I get behind on my writing goals for the day because I spent time with someone who needed encouragement, I don’t count that as a lost day. I never want to be so headstrong on my goals, that I neglect His prompting.

Plan.

I work best with a plan to reach certain goals. I keep a small calendar on my desk to log in my deadlines and use that as a starting point.

Pare it down.

If I need to produce a 40,000 word story, I break that down into monthly, weekly and daily bites so I am not overwhelmed with a 5,000 word deficit a week before my deadline. There is great satisfaction in turning a page on the calendar, knowing those tasks are accomplished without panicking at the bigger picture of what is still before me.

Prioritize my time.

Work comes before leisure, so mornings are dedicated to writing. If something comes up, I still have time later in the day to reach my goal. If I have to give up something, I’ll give up leisure time to accomplish my goals and not deal with the stress of being behind.

Persist.

Of course, there are days when my computer remains unopened. Still, tomorrow I renew my prayer to follow His will, and adjust my goals to match His, and persist. The only thing stopping us from reaching our dreams is to give up. Persist instead.


From Gail Johnson—So, you’ve read the latest on carving out time for writing, but no matter how hard you try, the bullet list doesn’t seem to be working as promised. Oh, what’s a writer to do?

The best thing that you will ever do for your peace of mind is realize that writing isn’t a one size fits all profession. It’s a personal journey for each author. For me, it’s trusting myself, and God, to know what is best. I can’t sit in a chair and stare at a blank screen. It would be easier to lay an egg than writing my rough draft this way.

My goal each day isn’t so much about getting a set number of typed words on paper but staying in my head and listening to my characters. I can do this anytime and anywhere I’m able to pen words to paper, napkin, or shoe sole. 😊

When driving, I dictate to my sweet daughter who is glad to help in my time of need. My entire rough draft is hand-written conversations between my characters. That’s it. No settings. No internal thoughts. Just conversations. They reveal the plot. When I feel I have the gist of the scene, I sit and write the chapters adding the necessary components.

Remember, this is my process. It may not be your cup of tea. Learn what’s best for you. Trust your quirkiness; it’s what makes you, you. Finding your own process will make the words flow like warm honey across hot biscuits.


Gail Johnson enjoys sharing her passion for life and Christ through the power of the written word. Whether it’s through stories, articles, or songs, she invites her reader and listener to “taste and see” the hope she has found in a faithful God and loving Savior.

She is the author of Treasures of Hope, Discovering the Beautiful Truth Beneath My Painful Past, a memoir. A member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), she writes fiction, non-fiction, and songs. Her Southern Gospel song “Less of Me and More of You” came in the top 5 runners-up in the 2010 Singing News/Solid Gospel Songwriters Search. Born and raised in Georgia, she is a wife and mother of two adult children. She enjoys lots of family time, good music, maple pecan ice cream, and southern living. In the past, she has published articles and interviews on the web, in the local newspaper, and in church magazines.


Click to Tweet: My goal each day isn’t so much about getting a set number of typed words on paper but staying in my head and listening to my characters.  Via @InspiredPrompt from @GailJohnson87 #amwriting #inspiration

Writing Prompt: It’s morning, the sun is shining. You open the curtains to find something you never expected to see in your front yard. Using NO adverbs or adjectives, describe what you see.

Inspired Prompt Thanks You!

Hello, friends of Inspired Prompt! It’s hard to believe that 2018 has almost come to an end. Wasn’t it just January?

We want to take a moment and thank you for being there for us. Your comments, thoughts, shares, and visits mean the world to our Crew. Our purpose and the work put in by Betty, Gail, Shirley, Tammy, Fay, Christina, Harriet, Carlton, Bonita, Karen, Cammi, Kristy, myself, and all our guest bloggers is to help YOU be all you can be when it comes to writing.

We truly want to make a difference in our part of the world. 2019 is going to be our best year yet. We will explore such topics as:

  1. Time to Write.
  2. Basics of fiction writing.
  3. Publishing in 2019.
  4. Other ways to break into publication.
  5. Releasing a book.

And so much more! Join us for our Monday and Friday posts on the topic of the month and our fun Wednesday and Saturday interviews. We’ll also be adding articles to our pages:

  • “How To” of Writing
  • Inspired Marketing
  • Creativity Tool Box
  • Choose Happy

Maybe you’d like to be interviewed or be a guest blogger. If so, go to our guest guidelines page to learn more.  We’d love to showcase your book, blog, or yourself. 🙂

We’ll see you soon!

Happy New Year from Betty, Jennifer and the entire Inspired Prompt Crew!

 

Devotional Books: Wrapping Up November

By Jennifer Hallmark

I love to read devotional books. I always have at least one on my nightstand. There is no better way to start or end a day than with a section from the Bible and an encouraging thought about God, love, and life.

To wrap up this month of all things devotional, I’d remind you of our earlier posts you might have missed.

8 Steps to Writing a “Shout from the Housetops” Devotion by Bonita McCoy

Christian Devotions: The Birthing of a Ministry by Cindy Sproles

Devotion Writing: Journeying to Publication by Martin Wiles

Hopefully Devoted by Carlton Hughes

So You Want to Write a Devotional Book? by Shirley Crowder

Resources for Anyone Who’d Like to Write Devotional Books by Jennifer Hallmark

Apples of Gold by Harriet Michael

Writing the Rightly Divided by Kristy Horine

Encouraging Others Through Devotional  blogging by Tammy Trail

I know you’ll enjoy all these posts, whether you are a writer of devotions or strictly a reader. My favorite devotional books are:

Streams in the Desert

Jesus Every Day

God in the Dark: 31 Devotions  to Let the Light Back In

My Utmost for His Highest

Jesus Calling

Do you like devotional books? Do you get a new one each year in January? Who are your favorite devotional writers? Share a comment below and you’ll be entered to win a Kindle copy of Unglued Devotional: 60 Days of Imperfect Progress by Lysa Terkheurst.

Click to tweet: Devotional Writing: Wrapping Up November. What are your favorite devotional books? #devotional #amreading

Writing Prompt: Take one of the Psalms and write a devotional thought about it. If you’d like, share below also…