Show Don’t Tell!


I recently entered a writing contest and was surprised to see that most of the negative comments reflected my telling not showing.

While two of the three judges were very complimentary of my work, they joined the one who wasn’t, to point out places where I was telling and not showing.

I thought I could use a refresher on how to show and not tell, and of course, wanted to share it with you.

I can’t count how many times I’ve heard the phrase-show don’t tell. Everybody knows you’re supposed to show and not tell. You want the reader to experience the scene as if they are one of the characters walking through the story beside the hero/heroine.

If you’re like me, you know what you’re supposed to do, but it’s a lot harder than it seems. Once you start writing that novel, you’ll understand what I’m talking about.

There are 5 tools for showing:

  • Dialogue
  • Action
  • Interior dialogue
  • Interior emotion
  • Description-Sensory

If you’re doing anything that’s not one of these 5 things, you’re telling.

Why is it so important to show versus tell? Showing provides your reader with a powerful emotional experience.

It doesn’t matter how great you do everything else in that novel if you’re missing that emotional experience, you lose. If everything you did is bad, but you have a great emotional experience, you may still win.

It all comes down to the takeaway. Every great novelist will tell you, you have to give your reader that powerful emotional experience or they won’t be coming back.

-Something to think about πŸ™‚

-Jan R

Show Don’t Tell!

Why You Should Enter Writing Contests!!!

I entered the ACFW Genesis contest a couple of months ago and received the results from the judges this past week. I did not win, but received a plethora of information that I could use to improve my novel as well as future endeavors.

I’m posting the tally sheet with the middle score and judge who offered the most commentary. Two of the judges really seemed to like my work, and one did not. But I’m leaving that for a future blog post πŸ™‚

They were judging my summary and the first fifteen pages of the novel. Along with the scorecard, they provided commentary on those pages, pointing out the reason I received the scores that I did and ways to improve my writing.

The judges were editors and published authors. They were people with experience. If you’re like me, you’ve had friends and family review your work. While they can tell you if it’s a good story or not, they probably don’t have a clear understanding of the mechanics or expectations a book requires to be published.

It was $35 dollars well spent. I got invaluable information, and a chance to get my work in front of professionals in the field.

Entry: Ariel’s Revenge

Judge #: GHRJ298 | File Name: 000069014.docx

Does the entry hold your interest to the end?5.00Yes, I found the summary very interesting! Love that it’s a complex adventure with mystery.
Is the point of view consistent? Are POV changes smooth and logical?5.00Yes, each is well-placed.
Do sensory details (sight, sound, touch, smell, taste) enhance the scenes?4.00It is mostly smell and feel.
Is there a sense of time and place?4.00I can tell by the way they speak and transportation that it’s like the 1700s, but I’m not sure when exactly.
Do the scenes move the story forward?3.00Yes, but Ariel reflects and comments too much and repeats those that they slow down the story and tension. I have pointed this out in the Word doc.
Is there an opening line that immediately hooks the reader into the story?5.00Yes, I like that it starts with Ariel speaking and it gives mystery to why she’s doing what she’s doing that I want to keep reading to find out.
Is the writing fresh and original?4.00Mostly, it just gets weighed down by all the commentary and repetition. I’d like to see some beautifully written lines. But the POVs do have personality.
Does the writer utilize showing and telling?4.00Mostly so.
Is the author’s voice distinct?4.00Mostly because of the strong personalities of POVs.
Do you get a strong sense of what the story will be about?5.00Yes, and not just because of the summary. I can tell her plans won’t work out the way she’d like, that Blake will butt heads with her but they will fall in love, and that her step-uncle will be hot on her trial and catch up to her and reveal who her father really was and how he was murdered.
Does the author have a command of the elements of grammar, punctuation, and spelling?5.00Yes. There were only like 3 places that needed fixing.
Does the manuscript reflect Christian worldview? Are the story and plot elements compatible with the genre category?5.00Yes, although, so far, it is only Ariel who prays and exudes Christian-like attributes.
Is the dialogue between characters strong, revealing plot and emotion in a way that creates tension? Does it help move the story forward?4.00Yes, but I’d like for Ariel to have someone like her handmaid help her escape just so she has some real dialogue and someone to talk to. I get that she’s on her own, but her scenes feel very isolated.
Are the characters’ voices distinct and appropriate for the setting (time period or scenario?)4.00Mostly so. They each speak in a way and use terms for that time period. There were only a few lines that didn’t seem to fit the way they are worded.
Is the narrative necessary and well-placed with the dialogue?5.00Yes, each POV comes across as well-placed with strong motives and something to add to the story.
Are character motivations powerful enough to create sufficient conflict?4.00Yes, however, I know the most about the antagonist, her step-uncle, in what he wants and why and how he’s going to get it and what stands in his way. I only know that Ariel doesn’t want to marry him but not really what she thinks about marriage or what she wants for herself or even how she plans to clear her father’s name. I know that Blake wants to avenge his fallen comrades and get to what really happened that night, but so far I do not get the sense from what I know from the summary that he’s a rake. I’m not sure what he wants exactly or why he’s a spy.
Is the tension and conflict discernable enough to tell what the story will be about?4.00Yes, although if Ariel, Blake, and Charles’s motives were clearer, we’d have more specific conflicts.
Is the goal and purpose of the main character identifiable? Do you get a sense of what he/she wants?4.00Mostly, see my explanation above about their motives.
Do secondary characters contribute to the story?4.00Yes, they add important dialogue and tension.
Do characters’ emotions seem believable by providing understandable motive?5.00Yes, I get a sense of urgency from Ariel, sadness from Blake, and anger from Charles.
Total Score:87.00 

Hope this helps someone.

-Jan R

Why You Should Enter Writing Contests!!!

Romance, Mystery, Suspense – Read It All

I have to admit I’m a hopeless romantic. I just love stories where boy meets girl, you throw in a little conflict (okay a lot), but everything works out in the end, and of course, they live happily ever after.

There’s nothing wrong with romance and wanting the happily ever after, but if you’re only reading one genre (romance, scifi, mystery, horror) you’re limiting yourself.  I never really thought that much about it, until I read a blog on why I should be reading all genres.

From my perspective, I write romance. I need to know what’s out there and what’s selling. How do other romance authors handle the physical and emotional sides of relationships?

All of these reasons are valid, and I should be reading romance. But you know what? That novel has a lot more than romance in it. At least it had better, if I want to keep my readers’ attention.

I may be great at developing a romantic relationship between my hero and heroine, but I had better be able to create the mystery and suspense necessary to keep my readers’ turning the page.

Maybe you write sci-fi. Odds are there’s a romance between your two main characters, and neither one can explain why the lab assistant is lying on the floor dead, and there’s a hole in the wall leading into the parking lot.

You can’t just read sci-fi and expect to be a well-rounded writer. You might find yourself creating awesome aliens, but lacking when it comes to developing a relationship between the hero and heroine.

Reading different genres will make you a stronger writer. You’ll be introduced to new worlds and situations that you would have never experienced if you limited your reading to one genre.

Reading different genres will open your mind and encourage you to take risks that you may have never considered. If that’s not enough, reading different genres will also allow you to read as a reader. Instead of focusing on the author’s style, you can simply enjoy the experience of reading πŸ™‚

Something to think about!

-Jan R

Romance, Mystery, Suspense – Read It All

Sentences – Short or Long?

Yes, I’m talking about sentences again! They do matter and are an excellent tool to regulate pacing. Do you want to take your reader on a stroll through the park or a heart stopping sprint through the woods?

Have you ever read a sentence and thought that it was way too long? The author lost you two commas ago, and now you have to go back and read the whole thing again to try and figure out what’s going on.

Or maybe you read a short sentence, followed by another short sentence, and another, and you’re thinking whoa, slow down.

There’s not a set rule for short or long. The sentence length you choose depends a lot on what you are trying to accomplish. There are good reasons for those long, lost me a long time ago sentences, and short, what just happened sentences. It’s up to you to decide when to use them, given the context of your writing.

What do short sentences do?

  • Create tension-When an author starts using short sentences, it’s usually a sign that something is about to happen.—-The dog growled. His teeth flashed. Jake turned. It was too late.
  • Call the attention of a reader to a significant detail—She walked past Central Park in Manhattan with her head held high. Gorgeous woman. Long blond hair. Blue eyes. Impeccable taste.
  • Present sudden events-Out-of-the-blue actions that no one was expecting.—-We sat quietly enjoying our meal at the local fast-food restaurant. Boom! “What was that?” I turned to see people rushing toward the gas station up the street.
  • Quicken the pace.
  • Summarize the ideas presented in the long paragraph or sentence.

What do long sentences do?

  • Develop tension-While the short sentence is imminent, culminating with the actual event being acted out, the long sentence adds to the suspense, hinting at a situation in the process of developing.
  • Give vivid description-depicting a setting, love scene, or someone’s appearance.—Autumn came without special invitation coloring the trees in orange, yellow and red, whispering the cold in our ears and hiding the warm sun rays from our eyes.
  • Slow down the pace to give your reader time to catch their breath.
  • Investigates arguments, ideas, or facts thoroughly.

Although long sentences have the smell of the old-fashioned 19th-century romantic prose, the usage of the long sentence in modern creative writing has its place. When it comes to writing artistic literature, fairy tales, ghost stories, or mysteries, don’t underestimate the effects of short sentences.

Hope this didn’t confuse you too much. To sum it up, there’s a time and place for everything πŸ™‚

-Jan R

Sentences – Short or Long?