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Show Don't Tell with Kate Walker

Author Kate Walker with a great post about Showing and Telling in Fiction Writing. 

Kate Walker on the Web:

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Over to Kate now..

Show don’t tell . . .

Show don’t tell has to be one of the most frequently quoted  pieces of advice to writers of popular fiction, but in my experience as a teacher of romance writing, and as a reader for the Romantic Novelists’  Association  New Writers’ Scheme, it’s also often the most ignored or just badly used  piece of assistance on how to write a readable, fast paced, gripping novel.

It’s not just a modern day piece of advice either. It’s been around for years.  And years. Samuel  Clemens, who  as I’m sure you know, wrote as Mark Twain had this important  instruction to give:
Don't tell us that the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream.  -- Samuel Clemens
But still I read so many manuscripts where the author spends a lot of time writing narrative – telling us what happened, what the characters  feel,  what the problem is.  Narrative always slows down the read of your book. It makes the reader aware that she is reading, when the effect you want t to make her feel as if she is watching what is happening, seeing events take place, hearing your characters speak to each other,  noticing the effect the things they say have on each other.  A slow pace to the novel means that the reader can easily put it down, breaking off from all that telling – and often thy are slow to pick up again – maybe they never will.
The best way to make sure that you are showing basically not to tell  your story but to be there. To ‘live’ in the scene and see it happen in your imagination. Thinks about the scene as if it is a scene from a  film. If  you were watching an exciting or emotional  film, you want to watch what happens, hear the dialogue. You wouldn’t expect – or want to have an author’s voice break into the scène and start to tell you that   ‘Felicity felt lost and alone.  She couldn’t believe that Mario had walked out on her on her wedding day.  . . ‘ etc.  No, you’d want to see the scene where Marion declared that he wasn’t going through with the wedding, see him turn on his heel and walk out of the church. You’d   be able to tell his mood and feelings by the way he moved, the  things he said. Similarly, you’d  understand just what was  going through Felicity’s mind if she collapsed on the  altar steps, sobbing as if her  heart was broken  - or if she flung her bouquet after Mario’s retreating back, cursing him and calling him ever name under the sun.
And that’s what your reader wants to see. She wants to see your characters respond to the feelings tangled up inside them – not for you to describe the  way they felt.  
So my first piece of advice is to watch how films or dramas or soap operas show you things. They have plenty of dialogue which is essential for the viewer to feel as if she’s there – but what other techniques do they use to show what people  are feeling –
The camera focussing on their faces
The way they have changed colour – going red In  the face from anger or white from shock
The tone of voice they use
The actions they make
Whether they frown, smile, laugh weep
All of these show the reader what your hero or heroine is feeling without you needing to explain  in lengthy detail.
Amazon
And you can take this further – Use sensory images.  Use all  the five senses.  Talk about the heat in the room, or the scent – and the colour - of the flowers at that ruined wedding. What do Mario’s footsteps sound like walking away ?  The  more you can create a world for your reader by adding in these  details, the more she'll be present at the scene you’re creating.
When you’re describing your characters don’t tell us what other people think they are like of the reputation they have .  Don ‘t say that Mario had a reputation for being  brusque and sarcastic – give him so very brusque and sarcastic dialogue to speak.  If your heroine   is wild and unconventional have her appear  with purple dyed spiky hair, riding on a motorbike- driving rather too fast.  Let your reader see or hear  your characters in the same way that they would in a film,.
So, obviously, dialogue is vital to showing not telling. Using dialogue brings and immediacy and a drama to the scene that really brings it alive.  A very knowledgeable editor once  gave me a  rule of thumb (not an out and out rule because of course there are no rules when writing except to write the best book you can).  Anyway, this rule of thumb was that the proportions of dialogue to narrative should be 60% dialogue, 40%  narrative.   If you think you have to have explanations and descriptions and reasons why – think about a dram broadcast on the radio. You can hear all those emotions in the actor’s words, in their tone of voice. They don’t ever need to  add ‘she said angrily’ or ‘he said brutally’  - you can hear it – and the words themselves, the dialogue the writer puts in their mouths, the circumstances they are in, tell you how it’s being said without any  description being necessary.
Of course you’re writing a novel – not  a radio  drama or a screenplay, so you shouldn’t  avoid  telling altogether.  You need to make sure that your story takes place in a place that the reader can imagine it, so you need to sketch in some description, perhaps a quick summary of what happened between scenes. .  The goal is to make the majority of your story telling is showing the reader what’s happening, and keep the telling to a minimum.
Ask yourself – If this scene was on a film, what details would I notice ?
What would my viewer/reader hear?
What would she see?
What details would make it real?
What details would express the characters emotions  so that I don’t have to say ‘she  was desperately sad.’ Or he was terrified’.  How would they show it?
So -  Don’t TELL your story .
        BE there
       Watch what’s happening and see all the details
And bring your reader into that world with you .

 Kate Walker's latest release...
A runaway princess… 

It should have been easy. Karim al Khalifa, crown prince of Mazarkhad, had one task—retrieve rebellious princess Clementina Saveneski from her hideout in England and return her home to be wed…to another man.
His to find, or his to keep?
It is not for Karim to notice her alluring scent, those seductive curves, the enticing glances she sends his way. No, his family's honor, and his own, require Clementina to be delivered—pure and untouched—to her unwanted bridegroom. And he must resist all temptation to keep her for himself!

Buy Link:

Amazon

Amazon UK

Harlequin

 Mills & Boon

31 comments:

  1. Hi Kate, as a reader you've just explained to me why I LOVE dialogue. I knew I always did, i just didn't realise why. I love it because it means interaction between the two and it helps set the emotion. I do love the beautiful descriptions but not pages and pages and pages of descriptions and non-talking :)

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    1. Hello Tash! It's interesting, isn't it, how a reader can know they enjoy something - and not understand the 'technique' behind it. I love dialogue too - love writing it, love reading it. I've never been one for reading through long passages of description, however well written - I find I get such much more of the emotion and character from the dialogue and that's why I read romances- for the emotion and the character!

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    2. So do I Kate, LOVE the emotion and character! It's a great escape from the everyday grind :)

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  2. Great writing advice. And using all the senses really brings the story alive.

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    1. Hello Lynda - and thank you. When I'm writing I always try to think I the 'five senses' - what will someone4 see, hear, smell . . at this time. It makes the scene/.character really come alive.

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  3. Great advice! Bringing the reader in to the scene is vital! :)

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    1. Hi Jemi - it's true, bringing the reader into the scene is so vital. If they just feel they're on the outside looking in then they won't connect/get involved - and a reader who's involved is one who's enjoying the book.

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  4. "Live in the scene"-that's great advice .

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    1. Good afternoon Kelly - well, it's afternoon here in the UK - I always try to live in the scene to get across the most of the emotional and the characters. If I don't feel it/see it/ scent it - how can my reader?

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  5. Excellently put, Kate. Another reason why it's so important to read our work out loud. We should be able to hear and see what's happening. Thanks for visiting my blog, Kelly. Happy IWSG.

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    1. Thank you Joylene - and yes, reading our work out loud makes it come alive - or not! Nothing makes me realise quite so fast that something isn't working - specially dialogue - if I can't read it aloud in the mood it's supposed to communicate.

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  6. That's something I work on often. It's important to avoid too much narrative. I had to write in a genre that was unfamiliar to me recently and I found it was way more narrative heavy than my writing usually is. Maybe that comfort is important!

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    1. HI Stephanie. I try to avoid too much narrative - don't always manage it but I do work on it! And I think that writing in a new genre can make it tricky to avoid that narrative at first. Perhaps one is trying to work one's way into the story - and putting in narrative to explain how things are. I often go back through my work, take a look at the places where it seems narrative heavy , and try to work it to be more dialogue if possible.

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  7. Wonderful advice. Making a scene run in your head like a movie and then writing what you are watching makes immense sense. Thanks for the invaluable tips!

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    1. Hi Adite - and thank you! I think that when I'm writing I tend to 'see' the scene I'm writing inside my head as if it's a scene from a movie or a soap or some drama - it I can't make that work and can't hear the dialogue then it's like watching a film with the sound turned off - really frustrating!

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  8. Awesome post! I love the "be there" line--that's perfect :)

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    1. Hell Meradath - and thank you too! When I'm teaching and I use the 'be there' line, I can almost see the lightbulbs go on over people's heads. It's great to know they've 'got it.'

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  9. Hello everyone - so sorry to be late coming in to chat with you. I was away from home, teaching, for a couple of days and I've only just caught up again - so now I'm going to read through everyone's comments - thank you all for being here - and write some replies . .

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  10. Great advice! It is important to make the reader feel the scenes.

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    1. Sorry to be late again - huge electrical storms and a long uncomfortable time in the dentist's chair kept me away from my desk. So I'm catching up again. Thank you for visiting Sherry. And yes, if the reader doesn't feel the scenes, or feel like she's there then you've lost your chance to keep her totally in the story./

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    1. Thank you Cherie. I do think some people struggle with Show don't Tell - so if this helps I'm really pleased.

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  12. Another great post on show don't tell. I love the Samuel Clemens quote, too! I always pretend the scenes I have to write are a movie. ;)

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    1. Hi Chrys - isn't that Samuel Clemens quote great - and perfect writing advice. The pretending scenes are in a movie thing is why I love going on a long car journey - when I'm not driving of course! I can just let the scene play over inside my head.

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  13. Hi Kelly. Great to see Kate here. Love the post. Helps me remove some of my telling in my current edit.

    Denise

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    1. Hi Denise - lovely to see you here. And even better if my post helped you with your current edit! I'm so happy to help.

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  14. Hi Kelly and Kate - such sensible advice .. so many stories witter and that loses interest in the article, the plot, the story line - essential to keep us on the same path ..

    Cheers Hilary

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    1. Hello Hilary and thanks for coming by. That description of 'wittering' writers makes me shudder. I was reading a novel last night - and ll the 'telling' in it just made me put it down. I haven't picked it up since - don't think I will again.

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  15. Congrats and best of luck to Kate on her new release!

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  16. Hi - er 'Squid'! And thank you for visiting - thanks too for the congrats and good luck message. I appreciate that.

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  17. Great post! Thanks so much for sharing this advice. I continue to work on showing not telling, and it is definitely an area I still need to improve- but I am making progress. The tips in this post will be helpful to me- as I keep needing reminders. :)

    Wishing Kate the best of luck!

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