Show, Don't Tell is a mantra frequently repeated to new fiction writers. It's good advice, but can cause some confusion unless it's properly explained.
I was reminded of this recently by a question posed by a new member of my forum at www.mywriterscircle.com. The question she asked was as follows:
"I'm a new writer and I know that the main thing new writers do is that they tell and don't show. I get that. I just don't get how you would show things. Not really.
Okay, this is hard to explain. I have seen instances where it's shown, I just don't get how to do it.
For example: I want to show that someone is quiet and doesn't talk a lot about herself. How would I do that?"
I thought this was a great question, and one that deserved a reasonably in-depth answer.
I wrote about this subject at some length in my CD course Write Any Book in Under 28 Days. I've therefore adapted the relevant section in my answer below, starting with a couple of examples...
(1) It was nine o'clock on the night of Sunday 16 October 2009. This was also the date when, six years earlier, a young cashier named Nicola Smith had been murdered in the bank. Tonight another young cashier, Catherine Nicholls, was working late in the bank on her own. (2) Catherine gazed up from her report to the desk calendar. The date showing was Sunday 16 October 2012. She sighed. Working alone on a Sunday night was bad enough, but the fact that it also happened to be the sixth anniversary of Nicola Smith's murder in this very building was giving her a bad case of the jitters.
In the first example the writer is simply telling the reader things. This is sometimes called reportage.
Much the same information is conveyed in the second example, but here all the events are portrayed through the eyes of a (third-person) viewpoint character, Catherine. The second example works much better at bringing the character of Catherine, and hence the story, to life.
Show, Don't Tell can be expressed in another way: Write In Scenes. Think of your story as a movie or TV show. Rather than telling your readers what happens, your story will be much more entertaining if you show it in a series of vividly portrayed scenes.
Many new writers have difficulty grasping this concept. So they write material such as the following:
George Johnson was in the dining room. He was a tall, thin man with a permanently mournful expression, aged fifty-two. He had spent all his adult life working in local government. He sat at the table and looked at the kitchen door expectantly. Rosemary, his wife of twenty years, knew he would be expecting his usual Thursday night steak. George lived by his routines, and normally Rosemary was happy to go along with them. Someone else might have resented it, but she was normally very easy-going. That day, however, she had had the urge to try something different, so at the supermarket she had gone past the meat to the fish counter, and bought red mullet instead. When George saw the fish, he wondered for a moment whether he had become confused and today was Friday rather than Thursday. He asked Rosemary what was going on. A few moments later he would lose his temper.
Written (correctly) as a scene, this might look more like the version below:
"Is it ready yet?" George shouted from the dining room. "Nearly," Rosemary shouted back. Six new potatoes were neatly stacked on the dinner plate, topped with a sprig of mint and a dollop of butter. The garden peas steamed appetizingly in a little mound alongside them. The fish was almost ready to come out of the oven. Everything looked perfect, but she hesitated. George could be such a stick-in-the-mud. He liked his routines. But just for once, she had decided to do something different. Oh well, it was too late to change now. She put the fish on his plate and took it into the dining room. George looked down at the plate in front of him. "What's this?" "It's fish. Red mullet." "But today's Thursday." Rosemary noticed a pinkish tinge creeping up from his collar. Inwardly, she sighed. "I know it's Thursday. I know we always have steak on Thursday. But just for once, I thought we'd try something different."
As these examples demonstrate, Show, Don't Tell is closely linked with the principle of writing from a single viewpoint.
In beginners' work, the viewpoint is often vague and constantly shifting - from Character A, to Character B, to the omniscient author, back to A again, and so on. By contrast, in a story written in scenes, consistency of viewpoint is usually maintained throughout each scene (though different scenes may have different viewpoint characters).
Look again at the examples with George and Rosemary. The first begins with a few sentences of explanation from the author's perspective. Then the viewpoint shifts to Rosemary, then to George, and finally back to the author again.
By contrast, the second is written as a scene, portrayed from the first word to the last from Rosemary's point of view. I hope you will agree that the second version is more vivid and entertaining for the reader than the first (and, incidentally, helps and encourages readers to identify with Rosemary).
One other thing to watch is when a large proportion of your story consists of one character telling another about something. This is telling rather than showing in another guise. If the action described is important, show it to the reader as it happens, rather than have a character in the story tell someone else about it later.
Returning to the question posed by the member of my forum, saying that someone is quiet and doesn't talk much about herself is - of course - telling.
If you wanted to show this instead, the key would be to portray the story in scenes from either her viewpoint or someone else's. The action and dialogue (and thoughts if you use her as a viewpoint character) will then convey the desired impression to your reader. Something like this, maybe:
The hands of the clock crept slowly but inexorably toward five. Susie logged off her computer and closed it down. Her colleague Clare was way ahead of her. Her computer was already off, and she was touching up her lipstick. She caught Susie's eye and grinned. "Friday night at last! I suppose you'll be out clubbing it again tonight." "No." Susie picked up her handbag and headed toward the door. "Oh, come on. I know you're out every night really. That Goody Two Shoes schtick is just an act, isn't it?" "See you on Monday, Clare." Susie closed the office door behind her and headed out into the high street. She took a deep breath, relieved that another week was over and she didn't have to pretend to be sociable with her colleagues till Monday. And her favourite dance show was on TV tonight! Despite what Clare might have thought, a night in watching the stars twirl, her ginger cat Darcy purring on her lap, suited her just fine.
As characterization goes, that's about as subtle as a brick, but in a short story for the popular market, it would serve to establish your viewpoint character as a quiet, stay-at-home type. And it does so by showing rather than telling.
To sum up, here are a few tips to help you follow the Show, Don't Tell principle throughout your story...
* Write in scenes portrayed through the eyes (and other senses) of a viewpoint character.
* Don't switch viewpoints in mid-scene.
* Don't include asides or other information that can only come from the author.
* Aim for as high as possible a proportion of action and dialogue.
* Keep reportage and reminiscence to a minimum.
* Aim to write most of your story in your characters' present.
* Avoid having characters tell one another about events - if something is important to the story, show it happening instead.
If you have any comments of your own about "Show, Don't Tell", please do leave them below!
Just wanted to take this opportunity to wish all my readers a Happy Christmas!
Even if you don't celebrate the religious festival, I hope you enjoy the festive period. Thank you for reading at least some of my blog posts this year, and contributing to some interesting discussions.
Naturally, many people at this time are fully occupied with family celebrations. If you have any time on your hands over the holiday period, though - or you just need a break from the festivities - my forum at www.mywriterscircle.com is always open for discussions about writing, or any subject you choose in The Coffee Shop.
And if Santa has brought you (or left you with) a little spare cash, don't forget that my blog sponsors, WCCL/The Self Development Network, offer a wide range of high-quality writing resources that can help you get the new year off to the best possible start. Visit their Write Street portal for a selection, or see this blog post in which I listed all of the WCCL writers' resources. Many of these are available as instant downloads, so you can get started immediately.
Once again, I do hope you have a wonderful Christmas, and a happy and creative new year. Thank you for being a valued reader of My Writing Blog.
As the end of another year approaches, I thought I'd take a look back at the most popular posts on my blog last year (based mainly on comments, social media shares and visitor numbers).
If you missed any of these posts first time round - perhaps you've only discovered my blog recently - I hope you'll enjoy reading them now. And if you've been following me for a while, I hope there are some posts here you'll enjoy revisiting. They are listed in no particular order...
The Warrior Forum is the world's most popular online forum for Internet marketers. In this blog, of course, I usually promote my own forum at www.mywriterscircle.com. I do still recommend MWC as a brilliant resource for writers - but for those of an entrepreneurial bent, I highly recommend The Warrior Forum as well. In this post I gave twelve compelling reasons you really should check it out.
Last year I published a guest post by author Ali Cooper on how self-publishing non-US authors on Amazon (Createspace and Kindle) and Smashwords can reclaim the 30 percent tax otherwise automatically deducted by these US companies. The method Ali set out did work, but was quite time-consuming and laborious. In this post I set out another method that is being used successfully by non-US authors, and involves making just a single phone call.
Pinterest is the new social networking and publishing service that has taken the world by storm. Used properly, it can be a powerful tool for driving traffic to your blog, website or sales page. In this post I revealed my top ten tips for authors on making the most of it.
This is my slightly tongue-in-cheek article about the history of my forum at www.mywriterscircle.com, as published in The Author, journal of the UK Society of Authors. If you're an MWC member especially, you won't want to miss this!
In this post I looked at the pros and cons for writers of working with a collaborator. Overall, I think there is a lot to be said for it, but you do need to choose your writing partner/s very carefully. This is another post that generated a lot of interest and shares.
I'm back on one of my favourite topics, grammar and punctuation, in this post. The greengrocer's apostrophe (as it's often called in Britain) is a very common mistake. Find out all about it here, and make sure you aren't guilty of using it yourself!
I shared a few infographics on my blog this year, but this one is probably my favourite. It's based on tips and advice shared on Twitter by storyboard artist Emma Coats. Emma set out "22 Rules of Storytelling" based on what she learned working for the animation studio Pixar (responsible for such blockbusters as the Toy Story series and Finding Nemo). There are some real gems for all fiction writers here.
RebelMouse is one of my discoveries of 2012. It's a free service that lets you create your own beautiful-looking social-media homepage in just minutes, aggregating content from Facebook, Twitter and other networks you may belong to. Find out more here, and then check out my own RebelMouse page at www.rebelmouse.com/nickdaws. You might also like to read this subsequent post, where I revealed how it's possible to use RebelMouse as a money-making tool.
I reviewed a number of products and services for writers on my blog this year, but this handy tool is possibly my top pick. It provides a means for even non-expert designers to create more than passable e-book cover images. It can be used for many other web-related tasks as well, including creating banners, blog headers, logos, and so on.
Having mentioned E-Book Cover Maker Pro, it would be unfair not to include as well this excellent all-purpose training course and software tool for creating Kindle e-books (along with cover images, promotional web pages, and more). Obviously, I still recommend my own Kindle Kash as well - but if you want a complete all-in-one package that not only trains you but formats and compiles your e-book too, Kindle Ritual is well worth your consideration.
For nonfiction books especially, the ability to print out pages from a Kindle e-book can sometimes come in very handy. There is no print option on the Kindle device itself, but in this post I revealed four different methods you can use to print out some or all of a Kindle e-book.
Do check out these posts, and feel free to add your own additional comments if you like. And watch out for more great posts from me (and my guest bloggers) on all aspects of writing in 2013!
Photo Credit: Winter Sunset by Nick Daws. All rights reserved.
If you're aiming to make a living as a freelance writer these days, you really do need as many strings to your bow as possible.
And one thing I'm finding increasingly important is some sort of ability to create graphics and videos.
In the last few weeks, I've been asked by my clients at More Money Review to produce video reviews of some money-making opportunities.
I've also been asked to create a video testimonial for another company I work with, and to perform various other video- and graphics-related tasks as well.
None of this comes naturally to me - I became a writer for a reason! - but it's something I've had to get to grips with. If you're looking to boost your writing income, you need to think about it as well.
Video in particular is huge these days, and more and more businesses are looking for help in this area. You could argue that it's not something writers should be expected to do, but I see it as just another channel through which we can communicate.
If you can write a story or an article, you can plan and script a short video - and with inexpensive modern technology you can even produce it as well. It then becomes another service you can offer for a fee to clients and potential clients. And you can use videos and graphics to to promote your own books and services as well, of course.
Obviously, you're not going to produce broadcast-quality videos (initially anyway), but for many purposes that doesn't matter. As long as you can put your (or your client's) message across in a clear and reasonably entertaining way, that will often be good enough.
I guess you may be waiting for a sales pitch now, but I don't have one. For screencasts such as these - where you show what's happening on your computer while providing a spoken commentary - I currently use the free Screenr or Screencast-o-Matic services, with audio via my Skype phone. I really must get a proper microphone, but for now this set-up works fine for me.
For videos where I'm talking to the camera (gulp!) I bought a cheap (10 UKP) webcam and am using it in conjunction with Debut, a video recording and editing program that's free for home use.
Just for fun, I recorded a quick video using this set-up with Christmas best wishes for my blog readers. I've embedded this below...
As always, if you are receiving this post by email or RSS, you may need to visit my blog to see the video.
As you will notice, I still have a bit to learn about creating videos (and graphics), so if anyone can recommend a good book or course suitable for writers, do let me know!
And if you have any other comments or suggestions about the use of videos and graphics by writers, I'd love to hear them as well. Please post your comments below!
Book Trailer Treasure Map is a new product launch by Deborah Drum and Amy Harrop.
It's a guide to producing video book trailers to help promote your book or e-book. Debbie and Amy were kind enough to allow me a review copy, so here's what I discovered.
Book Trailer Treasure Map is essentially a multimedia training course in five modules. Each module has a number of instructional videos, along with downloadable manuals, templates, checklists, and so on. You access all the resources via a dedicated members' website.
The five modules are as follows:
(1) Book Trailer Essentials: Elements of Successful Book Trailers
(2) Prepping Your Book Trailer
(3) Producing Your Book Trailer (with examples)
(4) Promoting Your Book Trailer- Getting the Word Out
(5) Essential Resources
The videos are really the heart of the training. They are based on screen captures, with commentary by Debbie or Amy, and are clear and informative.
The five modules take you step by step through planning, producing and promoting your video trailer. They cover a range of methods, from some that are quick and easy even for those without previous experience, to others that are more challenging but have the potential to produce more original (and better quality) videos. I found the range of approaches - and resources - set out here a real eye-opener.
Inevitably when covering a variety of methods the course does not go into great detail about how to use any particular software or resource. Rather, Debbie and Amy reveal what is possible and give you a "route map" to follow, but you may need to do a little extra research to work out how exactly to apply whatever specific method you opt for. To be fair, Debbie and Amy also provide links to YouTube video tutorials on most of the resources they discuss, from Windows Movie Maker to Animoto.
Most of the programs and resources mentioned are free, or else they come bundled with many Windows computers, e.g. Microsoft PowerPoint and Windows Movie Maker. You will also learn from the course where to obtain royalty-free images, audio and stock footage, and where to submit your finished video book trailer to ensure maximum exposure.
If you prefer not to adopt a DIY approach, Debbie and Amy also advise on how to outsource your video, and recommend a range of companies. Even if you do decide to outsource production, of course, it will still help a lot if you know how you want your video structured. You will also undoubtedly need to promote it yourself, although some outsourcers will help with this.
Finally, Debbie and Amy do of course practice what they preach. Both are self-published authors, and both have produced video trailers to help promote their books. Here is an example trailer created by Debbie for her children's book "I Want to be a Gold Medalist".
If you are receiving this post by email or RSS, you may need to visit my blog to see the video.
Overall, I thought Book Trailer Treasure Map was a comprehensive and well-researched guide to producing a video book trailer. It won't literally create your trailer for you, but I've no doubt that after studying it you will be enthused by how "do-able" this is, and itching to get started on a trailer of your own.
Video book trailers are fast becoming a "must-have" for any author serious about promoting their work online. In my view, at the current offer price of under $10 - with a 30-day money-back guarantee - Book Trailer Treasure Map is pretty much a no-brainer for any self-publishing author. It's on sale via the popular JVZoo self-publishing platform.
If you have any comments or questions, as ever, please post them below and I will do my best to answer them.
Disclosure: I received a free review copy of Book Trailer Treasure Map. In addition, some links in this review include my affiliate code, so if you click through and make a purchase, a proportion of the fee will go to me. This hasn't influenced my review, but you should of course complete your own due diligence and read the sales page (and this review) carefully to determine whether this product will be relevant to your needs.
50 Shades of Grey is, of course, an erotic novel by British author E.L. James which has smashed all publishing records and created a mini-industry of me-too books and products trying to cash in on their success.
In Britain it has become the biggest-selling novel of all time, overtaking J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Worldwide, sales have now topped 65 million, with over 35 million copies sold in the US alone.
Opinions have been split down the middle about the book, with some readers loving it and others simply baffled by its popularity (and sales).
The slightly tongue-in-cheek infographic below contains some lesser-known facts about 50 Shades that might assist you if you are looking for the "secret sauce" to emulate its success!
Note that because of the size of the image and the limitations of the blogging platform I use, the graphic may not display optimally. You may therefore prefer to click through this link to view it or this link to download it.
So what do you make of the 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon? Have you read the book, and - if so - did you like it? And what do you think Ms James' success can teach other "unknown" authors who are struggling to achieve sales? I'd love to hear your views!