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Show Don’t Tell – real world lesson

Show Don’t Tell – real world lesson

One of the most frequently given reminders to the new-to-the-craft of fiction is “Show Don’t Tell.”

After hearing that over and over, and often without any substantial guidance on how to improve, the fledgling writer can glaze over hearing that phrase. I did for quite awhile, anyway.

It was surprising and refreshing to see the following in the “signature” yesterday in an email from one of our real-life customers, a Safety Engineer:

Tell them-They will forget

Show them-They will remember

Involve them-They will be committed

I was intrigued, and of course, googled it. References from Chinese Proverbs, to Maya Angelou, and MHSA (Mine Health and Safety Act) led the results.

I gained an added level of appreciation for the “Show don’t tell” rule. I hadn’t “connected the dots.”

From my own experience in training employees in computer programs, it dawned on me: writing rules come from practical, commonsense, “universal truths” we already know. Another mandate for writing well – to “Tell the truth” in your writing, just became a little more digestible as well. Art mimics nature. What we write, even though it’s a made up story, should resonate with the real world, stay true to human nature, and be something that our reader can become a part of, because it is believable.

Imagine that!

 

I’m adding this to my “Lessons learned” list!

15.  Show don’t Tell and other writing rules come from the “real world.” Realistic, relatable fiction writers know that. These “rules”  help to build a more human world for the reader. Instead of fighting them or feeling being bound by them, respect and understand them. They are there for a reason.

To see all the lessons to date, click here:   Go to Lessons I’m Learning….

 
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Posted by on January 15, 2016 in Writing the Book

 

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Reading other debut novels while writing…

Reading

 

 

I’m at the half way point of the first draft of my book, am at around 46,000 words.

I’ve eased off a bit on the intensive study of fiction writing I was doing, and begun to read other new debut novels. And I’m finding it very helpful.

It’s helped me to identify some issues I’ve had in my own writing.  It’s easier to see how someone else handles characters, narrative descriptions, structure and scenes, than to recognize it in my own work. I’ve enjoyed reading these novels, and when I reach a stretch of text I want to skim through, I stop and study it.

When I start a writing session now, I have gained a little distance. It’s provided a welcome break from over-absorption in developing my own story, and the words flow easier.

And…. not only have I gotten help with my own writing and enjoyed the stories, I am also supporting some new writers while I’m at it!

 

Lesson learned:

#13.  Reading other debut novels while I’m writing my first book is very helpful.

 

To see the lessons I’ve learned while writing my first novel, click here:   Lessons I’m learning while writing…

 
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Posted by on May 16, 2015 in Writing the Book

 

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Just where should I begin… ?

beginning

Around Chapter 6 of my-adventure-in-writing-my-first-novel, it became clear I had not started my story in the right place and time.  My MC  (main character) has developed quite a bit, thanks to lessons I have learned along the way, and I can see I have made a miss-step or two…or three… okay, way north of a dozen… in introducing the reader to my little world. While I have resisted rewriting the first chapters in favor of plugging away at the first draft, I could add at least three chapters to the beginning that would make the book flow much better.

When I first started on this journey, my process began with an outline. I thought the plot and character arc(s) and theme were pretty well established, and I was ready to flesh it out with a first draft. But I had not thought my story all the way through.  I discovered this during a conversation with my hubby ~~ by the way, he is far from a gentle critic, which makes for lively interchanges!  I was telling him about a plot problem, and he asked some basic questions I hadn’t even considered.  Along with a not unfamiliar nod to my hubby’s intellect and my own lack of discernment, the discussion helped me take a step back from the story and begin to think more as a reader would. Help them to attach to the story and characters right in the first chapter. When I make some progress on that, it’ll be another lesson to share.

SaveTheCat

Meanwhile, back to the books to see what an expert says about fixing the problem at hand. Blake Snyder’s “Save the Cat,” Chapter 7, presents basic problems with a script (book) and how to work through them.  My particular issue is shared on page 155, in what Snyder calls “Take a Step Back.”

To paraphrase and summarize, when your writing just isn’t coming alive, seems flat or plain isn’t working, sometimes you’ve got to take a step or so back in time and action to find the inciting incident for conflict, growth, or change that will make your story “pop.”  Make that the beginning point. Some indictors you may have to move your beginning point back: needing too much backstory in the narrative; little or no change in your MC (main character) or other characters — lack of conflict or growth; and by the end of the book you still haven’t told the whole (or real) story.

Better to attend to this problem now, methinks, rather than waiting until the end of the first draft.  By going back in now I have a better grasp on the characters that pepper the text, and the beginning chapter needs to introduce not only the main character(s) but the problems that will unfold throughout the book.

No more having to be creative in disguising the “backstory” so it slips in without boring the reader.  Hmm.  That last sentence indicates I am still such a baby in writing fiction!  On the other hand, now that I see how I was missing the point (again!) on some of the lessons I’ve been studying, I am so glad I am writing a “real book” to learn how to write! The adage “Writing is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration” is so true.

Writing is something I HAVE to do, like eating and sleeping and breathing.  There are days I think this little book is only than exercise for learning how to write;  and then there are days when it excites me because there is a story unfolding. The longer I work on it, poke and prod and carve and pinch it like a lump of clay, the more it begins to be interesting.  And on a really good day, I start to imagine sequels, and prequels needing to be written after I get this one done. I am really falling in love with the characters and the world!

Yes, I have likely gone around the bend, fallen off the truck, got a screw loose.  So what else is new?  Doesn’t someone have to be a bit crazy to want to live a life making up stories!

 

Today’s SUMMARY: being added to my blog page:   “Lessons I am learning… on my way to becoming an author.”

#9   Finding the point where your book should begin– doesn’t always happen upfront when you write the outline or the first draft.  Sometimes you’ve got to take a step or so back in time and action to find the inciting incident for conflict, growth, or change that will make your story “pop.”  Some indictors you may have to move the beginning point back: needing too much backstory in the narrative; little or no change in your MC (main character) — lack of conflict or growth; by the end of the book you still haven’t told the whole story. This is the exact opposite of needing to cut the first two or three chapters that don’t move your story forward!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on January 29, 2015 in Writing the Book

 

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When should you write your “elevator pitch?”

SaveTheCat

Developing an “elevator pitch”  for your novel  makes a lot of sense. The “elevator pitch,” also called a one-line or log line, is a one to two sentence statement that describes EXACTLY what your book is about. It got its name from the scenario: you have just entered an elevator along with an agent/publisher, and you only have a few seconds to pitch your book.

I know I would not be prepared for that opportunity. When should you start writing your elevator pitch?

When I started each of my not-finished-books, I had a great story line and a generalized idea of how to structure my book. I’ve already told you how those languish in my I-want-to-be-a-book storeroom. So this time around, I figured creating a detailed outline and using a story board was the next big step in my growth toward successful fiction writing. And it has helped.

But finding the premise – the pitch – and establishing the genre, I figured, came much later. There was plenty of time for that as the story wrapped up.

My first draft is clicking along, but I already know it’s a flat read. There is some nice writing, but as pointed out when I posted the first chapter for review this week over at Critique Circle, my beginning has no “stakes” for the protagonist. There is nothing to lose, nothing to gain. I have missed the boat on making my characters appealing, and don’t present conflict until far into the story. And they are right on. Pinpointed my main weakness in writing.

I anticipated major rewrites when I went into this,  but I have learned there is a method that can bring more clarity and better writing.  It won’t produce a polished piece right off the bat, but if I heed the advice in, “Save the Cat” by Blake Snyder (recommended by a blog post on Critique Circle), I can save myself a lot of time and produce better and more solid work in that first draft. While Snyder teaches about writing screenplays, the theory he presents also applies to novel writing.

His requirement is to work on your “log line” or “elevator pitch” BEFORE you begin to write your first scene (or chapter). That took me by surprise.

His first major lesson, and this is my paraphrasing from my own experience: writing without knowing your story’s premise, and being able to sum it up in a one or two sentence statement is like going on a vacation without having a destination in mind. I actually did that ONCE, and it didn’t turn out well. Just sort of rambled around and I never “arrived” anywhere until I got back home. I did get a few nice pictures, and learned to decide where I wanted to go the next time.

Snyder also says a log line can’t be written until you have thought your story all the way through. By starting with a pitch line BEFORE I begin writing, I begin to see what I am aiming for, and it serves as a guide for keeping my story on course. Instead of just going for it and “hoping the spaghetti sticks on the wall,” it should help me see if a scene or portrayal of a character fits, and is good for the story.

He gives a lot of specific advice on developing your log line, and great tips on what works when you go to present it to a producer/publisher. This is a great book, and lessons stated in a straightforward, conversational read.

This approach may not work for everyone, but I am choosing to take Snyder’s advice to heart. I’m working on my story’s log line now, even though I’ve banged out five chapters. While the pitch isn’t perfected, I am gaining more clarity on the story’s purpose, and can already see a better layout and places where I need to work on my character conflict and development. What I won’t be doing is rewriting those first five chapters. They are just going to sit there as is, for now. I’ll work on them after the first draft is completed.

Here is my understanding of the four components, paraphrasing the major components Snyder says must be included in a successful  log line (elevator pitch):

  1. Must show the main conflict and be emotionally involving.
  2. Must give a picture of what the story is about, and be easily visualized
  3. Must target a specific, defined audience (genre).
  4. Must be accompanied by a “killer title.” (hopefully, more on that at a later date, as I still have no clue!)

 

SUMMARY: being added to “Lessons I am learning… on my way to becoming an author.”

 

  1. The time to develop a log line (elevator pitch, one-line)  is BEFORE you begin writing your story. It can assist in building your outline, and developing your characters and ideas.  A log line can’t be successfully written until you have thought your story all the way through. Only then begin writing your story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on January 5, 2015 in Writing the Book

 

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LESSONS I’m learning on my Journey to becoming an author.

In today’s world, anyone can be published, whether their work is good, not so good, or just plain bad. If I can’t convince an agent or publisher my writing is fantastic and saleable, I can always and easily publish independently.

I’ve got books inside me, just waiting to be written. But I like to do things well, and I want to succeed.  I’ve got a long history of starting books that stall out after a few chapters. They still call out to me to be finished, but I have not known how to translate my thoughts and ideas into a finished project that, with just a bit of tweaking, will become that perfect novel or story. Each story attempted began to wander and finally peter out at some point.  And I found convenient excuses for letting them languish, the most common being:

I don’t have time, because I have responsibilities… there’s the kids, … the job, … the {insert here whatever else is a regular part of living}.

There’s something alive inside me that tells me I have to write. I have always seen stories around me, just begging to be written. When I was much younger, I spent a few years writing weekend features for a small newspaper. Those were easy. Always a well defined amount of space to fill,  a few pictures to snap for illustration, and guaranteed publication. So it’s not surprising, with my background, that the first serious book attempt – with no excuses – would be a “how to” book. This blog was born as a place to collect my thoughts. The process was clear to me:

I know I can write non-fiction.  I have a grasp of language, and this is a subject I am passionate about.

But as anyone who has followed my journey has seen, there was that STORY waiting to be told —  and it demanded my attention and let me know it needed to be written. I am still writing a much shorter “how-to” non fiction book to accompany my novel that  “shows and not tells” the experiences of mature women including choosing, and learning to shoot a firearm safely.

WizardOfOz

Courtesy of pamela-p.deviantart.com

 

 

While it’s easy to be witty, easy to amuse and even amaze your friends and family with short spurts of original writing, a novel is a horse of a different color, and it doesn’t take long to realize  you’re “not in Kansas any more.” No yellow brick road or wonderful wizard behind a curtain is going to provide you with the heart, the mind and the courage this process is going to take.  It’s work. Amazingly difficult at times, but filled with joyful growth if you persevere. It will require adjustment of your self image and development of a “thick skin.”

I’ve shared the first lessons of my journey in the “Writing the Book” category of this blog, and may include a few of them here. My intent with this page is to summarize and share the resources and lessons I am learning along my way as they happen, rather than trying to categorize them.  My plan is to add to this with the newest discovery, lesson or resource entered at the top of the list.

If you have discovered things and resources on your own journey, I would love to hear about them. Sharing what we learn is important!

 

 

Here are the first lessons I’ve learned from the new page on this BLOG, just launched: LESSONS I’m learning on my Journey to becoming an author.  


4.  Find a group of other writers to discuss, review and critique your work. If you have a writer’s group close to where you live (I don’t) – go meet with them regularly.  If you don’t, online help is available.  I discovered the  “Critique Circle” through a comment here on WordPress.  Good, solid, constructive critiques and sharing of technique happens in this environment. The “cost” of these groups is typically giving critiques to other writers.  It’s writers helping writers and sharing what they have learned. I was very surprised that reviewing and giving help to others is one of the best ways to grow in your own writing and self editing!

3.  First drafts are meant to suck.  Go ahead and finish them, even if your chapter/writing is flat or just plain bad. This is you getting your story out, you’ll work with later to polish it and make it shine. Nothing springs forth fully edited and complete. That’s what revisions and drafts #2 – #9999 are for.

2. Study fiction writing from successful authors. I have found these resources here on WordPress and other Blogs, browsing through amazon.com, Goodreads. Start following and forming a community- of other authors on Twitter.  Look at the “creds” of those supplying lessons.  I am wary of those wanting to “sell” me lessons, many of the truly great authors have written books generously sharing the craft, and many blog freely.

1. Read a lot and constantly.  You’ve got to have a rich background and love of reading: the classics, and particularly in the genre you want to write.

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2015 in Writing the Book

 

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