Tuesday, June 25, 2013

"Show" Don't "Tell"

The Fish Boil
“Show don’t tell” is a principle of good composition. Of course a good book has descriptive narrative in it as well. The trick is to find balance. But it is easier said than done. I tend to have specific scenes in mind where I want to "show" what is happening and write narrative to connect one scene to another.

Here is an example of “telling.” You will remember it from an earlier entry.

The restaurant was a little less than a mile away so they walked down Main Street acting like tourists, stopping to take in the colorful displays of local vendors. The two arrived at Grady’s log building about a half hour early. Patrons of the restaurant were invited out to the backyard of the structure where they stood around with their drinks in hand to witness the boiling of the fish. As two men piled wood on the fire, the host told his guests what they could expect. Sonja and Damon watched with fascination as the water in the cast iron kettle resting on an iron tripod above the wood fire began to boil.

The head cook lowered a basket of red potatoes into the salted water and then lowered a second basket filled with chunks of whitefish freshly pulled from the waters of Lake Michigan. After a few minutes, oils from the fish rose to the top. Guests were warned to stand back as the cook’s helper tossed kerosene on the wood fire. The flames shot up and suddenly the water boiled over causing everyone in the crowd to cheer. The head cook removed a piece of fish, deemed it perfect and everyone moved back inside to be served their plate of fish and potatoes.

Sonja and Damon sat down to their salad while they waited for their plate of fish. Sonja explained it would be drenched in melted butter but was the best fish you could ever want.

“Telling” or describing the fish boil is not critical to the story. I needed Sonja and Damon to have a date, give readers a feel for the setting, and show my audience the sort of thing the two would be doing as time passed in my story.

I could have accomplished the same goals by “showing” my audience the fish boil segment. Some ways to “show” include using dialogue, action, senses, feelings, or using a combination of these. 
Use dialogue to "show"

Just for fun, let’s try to change the above excerpt to “show” instead of “tell.”

“So what is this fish boil thing we’re going to anyway,” Damon asked.

“It’s a dining experience,” Sonja replied, a twinkle in her eye. “They build a big wood fire out in back of the restaurant and put a pot over it with red potatoes and chunks of whitefish and cook it until it boils over.”

“Great,” Damon responded sarcastically.

“No, really, it’s fun! Everyone cheers at the boil over and the food is great. You’ll love it. It’s a true Door County experience.”

Damon reluctantly pulled his windbreaker over his head. “Wanna take the Harley?”

“No need. We can walk.” Sonja was anxious to show Damon around Fish Creek.

“Oh this keeps getting better and better,” Damon answered without enthusiasm.

Hmm…Maybe I will incorporate a little showing with my telling. I kind of like the way this reveals a little about Damon’s character.

Here is another example. 

Telling- The wood porch wrapped around two sides of the farmhouse. Three rocking chairs were positioned near the front door of the structure. Gavin sat in one of the chairs near the front door and looked out over the cotton field beyond the road.
Use action to "show" what is happening here.

Showing- Gavin’s boots made a clomp, clomp sound as he made his way across the porch. The wooden planks creaked as he lowered himself in the rocking chair nearest the front door and and studied the cotton field across the road.

Anyway, you get the idea. Now take a look at your own writing. Are you doing more telling than showing your readers what is happening? Try a rewrite.

Interestingly enough, while drafting this post I received a great tweet from fellow author Cheryl Wyatt. It challenges the writer to “show” instead of “tell” by using the senses or dialogue. Here is the exercise she poses. Give it a try.


I would love to hear about your writing. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at rwaters.author@gmail,com.

Thank you for the great response in choosing a new name for Shirley. I have chosen "Livvie." Although Livvie got the most votes, Helen was a close second. And now for the winner. I literally put everyone's name in a hat and picked out...drumroll here...Tammie Weatherly! Congrats Tammie. I will get your $5 Starbucks card in the mail to you right away.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

What's in a Name? A Call for Help

I have been calling my book Shirley’s Cuppa Joe, named after the coffee shop. My main character is Sonja. Shirley also has a story to tell. My critique group informed me I should never have my main characters names begin with the same letter. So do I change Shirley’s name or Sonja’s name?

What's in a Name?
If I change Shirley’s name, it changes the name of the character, coffee shop, and book. That’s not a problem. And although Shirley has had her name longer than Sonja, I am still not bound to it.

?? Cuppa Joe
Changing Sonja’s name isn’t problematic for me either. She had a few different names in the drafting stages of my story line. I chose her name though because of its Scandinavian and Eastern European flavor. Wisconsin boasts a large number of Scandinavian and Eastern European citizens. Particularly Polish. (Hey I did my research!)

So I think I may change Shirley’s name. I looked up the era in which she would have been born and scanned the most popular names. I prefer two syllables, no /s/ at the beginning, no /a/ at the end and something soft and loving, yet fun and maybe bit adventurous. Here are a few ideas. I’ll try them out with the store name, too. Let me know what you think.

Dottie              Dottie’s Cuppa Joe
Lucy                Lucy’s Cuppa Joe
Livvie              Livvie’s Cuppa Joe
Arlene             Arlene’s Cuppa Joe
Elaine              Elaine’s Cuppa Joe
Evelyn             Evelyn’s Cuppa Joe (I know it has three syllables, but I like the name)
Helen               Helen’s Cuppa Joe
Bessie              Bessie’s Cuppa Joe
Betty                Betty’s Cuppa joe

I found this picture on the internet. It reminds me of Shirley and Joe, back when she was still Shirley. I thought it might help you give her a name.

Win a Gift Card
Well there you have it. Send me your vote or another suggestion via comment or email (rwaters.author@gmail.com ) I will put your name in for a drawing. The winner will receive a $5 Starbucks gift card. Don't call it a bribe...Call it an incentive! I really need your input. Be sure to leave me your email address so if you win I can contact you. I will make my decision about the name by next week.

An Update
I heard from my publisher yesterday. My first novel, Breathing on Her Own is scheduled to be released in March 2014. It is a process. My manuscript is with an editor right now. I will be happy to take you through this journey with me. What do you think? Are you game?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Making Connections

If you read last week’s post, you will remember that +Cindy Huff, my guest blogger, stated that beneficial to attending a conference are the connections you make with editors, agents, and fellow writers.  I attended two days of the Write-to-Publish Writers Conference in Wheaton, Illinois last week and do I have a story for you...

In my latest novel, I wanted Sonja to invite some authors to her coffee shop. The idea was simple. Sonja could have a local author or an author who had written about Door County visit the shop and have a book signing.

I first thought I might make up authors and books to highlight. Then I had the notion of researching to see if I could find a real author to include. One of the first books that came up in my search was A Door County Christmas.  It is a collection of four Christian romance novellas all set in Door County. 

Hmmm… Sounds interesting so far. My husband, filled with kringle and pastries made in the name of research happily ordered the book for me. I contacted one of the four authors, +Cynthia Ruchti, and told her my idea.

“I want to invite you to speak at my fictional coffee shop in Door County,” I typed. The author checked out my blog and agreed to let me include her in my book. Actually, her comment was “This sounds like fun!”

Pretty cool, right? Well, it gets better. As I checked her website I realized Cynthia Ruchti+ was scheduled to lead worship at the Write-to-Publish conference. The very same conference I planned to attend. The very conference I used to launch my writing career last year. As it turns out, Cindy was the worship leader last year as well. I just never made the connection.

Cynthia Ruchti and Me!
So I arrived on Wednesday morning. I am standing in the hall when I see the guest speaker in my book arrive. As she gets close I intend to introduce myself but instead she sees my name badge and gives me a big hug. She led my critique group on Wednesday evening and we had lunch together on Thursday afternoon. What fun. What is even more interesting is that I think I nailed her bubbling personality in the pages of my book. Cynthia Ruchti is a woman who loves the Lord and uses every fiber in her being to share that love.

The fictional book signing was a great success. Here is an excerpt from when Sonja first learns from Melissa that the author has accepted the invitation.

“You’re not going to believe this, Sonja,” she called as she raced up the steps to what Sonja called Shirley’s kitchen. “Remember when you told me to see if one of the authors of A Door County Christmas would be available for the Pumpkin Festival next year?”

“Are you going to say one of them will come next year?” Sonja answered with great anticipation.

“Well, I don’t know about NEXT year, but Cynthia Ruchti can come THIS year!” Melissa giggled.

            “This year? This October?” Sonja was shocked.

“She emailed me back and said it sounds like fun. She lives in Wisconsin. She and her husband love Door County and as it happens she is not scheduled for anything that week except for a women’s Bible study midweek so we need to look at the calendar and send her some dates back!” Melissa was fairly dancing around the kitchen balancing her laptop on one arm and poised to type with the other.

Yep, that is what I call making connections. By the way, as I enter this revision stage I will let you in on a few changes my critique group suggested. But that is for another day. See you next week.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Becoming a Writer:The Education Piece

Last year I was privileged to attend the Write-to-Publish Conference in Wheaton, IL. While there, I met a kindred spirit in Cindy Huff. Cindy is the President of the Aurora Illinois Chapter of Word Weavers. I have asked Cindy to contribute her insights on the value of attending a writer’s conference. So as you read this, I am once again attending the Write-to-Publish conference. I hope you are having as great a day as I am!

Meet Cindy Huff
Cindy Huff has been writing since she was a teenager. She has been published in a variety of publications such as Standard, Bread for Children, and Today’s Christian, Children’s Bible Hour, Splickety Magazine, and Christian Communicator and is a columnist for the Aurora Beacon News. Cindy has completed her first novel and continues to add to her short story collection. She is a regular contributor to Examiner.com Cindy is a Bible teacher at Hope Fellowship Church of Aurora, Illinois. Her teaching and drama gifts extend to women’s conferences both in the US and the Philippines. She is member of the Christian Writer’s Guild and President of the Aurora Illinois Chapter of Word Weavers. Check out her writer’s blog Writer’s Patchwork at www.jubileewriter.wordpress.com . Or visit with her on face book www.facebook.com/cindy.e.huff 

From Cindy:
Is attending a writers’ conference on your calendar for this year? If you are a serious writer, it should be. The expense can be declared on your taxes under education. You never stop honing your craft and learning new skills as a writer. Best Selling Author Jerry B Jenkins still attends workshops and classes learning from other established authors.

Meeting Agents and Acquisition Editors
The best place to meet Agents and Acquisition Editors is at a conference.  You can take an appointment time to meet them. No, you can’t just walk up to an agent and ask them to represent you. Don’t confess to an Acquisition Editor “I feel the Holy Spirit telling me your publishing house is the one to publish my book.”
 The key is to have a manuscript to pitch. Discuss your story ideas and see if there is an interest. Practice pitching your story in one or two sentences. Be prepared to answer further questions or adding to your pitch. Otherwise you will waste your appointment rambling on and on. Most appointments are 15 minutes or less. Even if they like your story, they are probably going to ask you to email them your proposal. It is imperative that you follow each ones guidelines in submitting your work.  Meeting their requirements precisely still does not guarantee you a spot as their client. If your writing is not up to standard, the agent or editor will probably pass on your work.

But all is not lost.
At the next conference, after you have improved your manuscript, you can pitch to them again. Developing friendship with these people can open opportunities to be heard in the future. Don’t close a door because they didn’t snatch you up right away. Very few writers ever gain an agent or publishing contract at their first conference. Most conferences limit each participant to two or maybe three appointments. Choose wisely. Be sure to read the information provided in your conference packet explaining what each agent or publisher is presently looking for. Research their websites to be sure you are pitching to people who are interested in your genre or topic. Have a list of those you wish to meet with in order of preference.  Sometimes additional appointment slots open up, giving you a chance to see someone whose schedule was previously filled.

Workshops and Classes
Attending the workshops is a wonderful way to improve your writing knowledge. Each year I review the workshop and class offerings, choosing some I have never attended or a subject taught by someone I have never studied under before. It is always interesting to see a new take on an old subject. I love writing fiction, but taking a class on article writing reminded me there were other publishing doors for me to open. I have a friend who spends more time trying to squeeze in extra appointments to pitch his stuff than actually attending workshops. Because most agent and publisher appointments often run during workshops, you will have to leave your class for your appointment. You want to try to miss as little of those classes and workshops as possible. The knowledge you gain will take your writing to a new level, making your appointments with agents and publishers more successful in the future. Not all the classes are on writing. Courses are offered on social media, the business of writing and speech making. Critiquing workshops can help a writer see how to make his manuscripts better.

Best Part of the Conference
The best take-away from a conference is the friends and connections I make. The first year I might pitch to an agent or publisher, and the next year they remember me. We become friends even if they never sign me. A fellow writer told me that those friendships lead to a recommendation to another agent. And another mentioned when an acquisition editor he befriended changed publishing houses she remembered his manuscript and it fit her present needs. Friends may have connection for job leads. Talking to other attendees over lunch is very encouraging because other writers get you. A casual conversation with a magazine editor helped me to see that my short story was a perfect fit for his publication. And another woman mentioned the kind of article she really wanted and had not received. I went home and wrote that article. Both pieces were published.  Many of these writers, agents and authors are on my face book page, and the information they pass along—whether a helpful article, writing contest or new publishing company—is information I would not have access to if I had not attended the conference.

What was the best thing that happened to you at a conference?