When You Should Grace Your Stories with Telling

“A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.”  —William Strunk, Jr.

 

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Show, don’t tell, is pounded into the pores of writers. In last week’s post, we observed how showing instead of telling brings the reader into the story. But we mustn’t overdo the showing.

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  • Telling instead of showing in stories sometimes gets the job done the best way.
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Would you’ve gone to these lengths to SHOW in these situations?

My Rewrite 1: Marla’s gaze trailed his retreat, her face taking on a more and more puzzled look with each of his steps. When he turned the corner and was gone, she rotated her body around toward me. “What’s he up to?”

Actual Excerpt from Word Gets Around by Lisa Wingate:

Marla watched him disappear down the hall, then swiveled toward me. “What’s he up to?”

Comments:

The “pop-action thriller star” has just told his miffed assistant, Marla, to tell his waiting manger to “chill” and then leaves.

Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

My rewrite showing what Marla looks like as she watches the star leave is overdramatic and slows the forward motion of the moment. Wingate’s telling us that Marla watched him is enough.

Wingate’s “disappear down the hall” is good because to me the word disappear is probably what the star wants to do when surrounded by demanding assistants and managers. My mention of his steps in showing Marla’s watching added little.

Wingate’s “swiveled” trumps my showing Marla rotating her body around.

The “What’s he up to?” dialog is enough to show Marla’s curiosity without my repetition of showing her puzzled face.

Wingate “showed” much by choosing her words carefully and using the telling word “watched” to move things along.

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  • Readers expect authors to avoid bogging down stories with too many showing details.
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My Rewrite 2: Watterboy crouched over, extended his weapon before him, sweeping it to the left and to the right, and rushed to the man. He patted the man’s body for weapons while Heath scanned the area around them.

Actual Excerpt from TRINITY: Military War Dog by Ronie Kendig:

Watterboy moved in to search the man while Heath kept watch.

Comments: This is a fast-paced prologue. Kendig keeps her sentences short and peppered with “military” words. If she goes into many showing descriptions, the reader will have too much time to rest. That’s a no-no for an action scene like this one.

by beat0092
by beat0092

Kendig chooses her showing moments carefully. In this case, she chooses to use “military-friendly” telling terminology to keep the action going. Her “moved in” is an understood term used in such a military operation that naturally depicts the careful movement I showed. The same goes for “kept watch.”

Kendig keeps her showing concise and uses it on the more important characters, such as Trinity the war dog and her partner, Staff Sergeant Heath Daniels. The man Watterboy approaches is only one stop in the action and not worth trading off moving the action along for showing.

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  • Often the moment is too insignificant to show, and telling moves the story along.
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For what other reasons, besides moving the story along by avoiding insignificant showing, do you think telling is appropriate?

SHOW Your Readers Your Love—Don’t Just Tell Them

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” —Anton Chekov

 

by MGDboston
by MGDboston

The most caring thing authors can do for their reader is to give them a great story. This means more than a creative, fresh plot. Authors must do the work to bring the reader into the story.

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  • Readers expect an author to give them what they need to live the story.
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  1. Although, scared of what she imagined might happen, she ran into the woods.
  2. Avery disliked Mitch trying to make her admit her feelings for Jackson.

Below are the actual excerpts to the above sentences in which I told what happened. See how each author brings us into the moment of the story.

Excerpt 1: The Silent Governess by Julie Klassen:

by badeendjuh
by badeendjuh

Shivers of fear prickling over her skin, she hurled herself into the outstretched arms of the wood, already dim and shadowy on the chill of autumn evening. Beneath her thin soles, dry leaves crackled. Branches grabbed her like gnarled hands. She stumbled over fallen limbs and underbrush, every snapping twig reminding her that a pursuer might be just behind, just out of sight.

Comment: With the extra work Klassen did in showing me the character’s fear of the scary woods, I don’t have to do any more work than run my gaze over the words. I don’t have to come up with what the character’s fear felt like or what the woods looked like. I’m there with the character, trying to avoid the grabbing branches.

Excerpt 2: Dangerous Passage by Lisa Harris:

Image courtesy of Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Mitch snapped on his seatbelt. “So how is he?”

She pressed her foot against the brake. “How is who?”

“Jackson Bryant. You can stop pretending. I’ve caught that daydreamy look in your eyes whenever the two of you are in the same room. Or on the phone together.”

Avery frowned. “It’s nothing.”

“Nothing?”

After a quick glance in then rearview mirror, she started for the station. She could always opt for leaving him on the street to find his own way back.

Comment: Harris takes the time to show us how detective Avery North learns partner Mitch’s circumstantial evidence for charging her with budding feelings toward Jackson. Detectives detecting on and off the clock. Clever.

Then Harris shows us how Avery feels about Mitch as she considers kicking him out of the car. We’re right inside her disgruntled thoughts. In Harris’s story, the banter continues.

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  • Authors who love their readers show instead of tell what happens in their stories.
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However, sometimes showing is unsuitable. That’s the subject for next week’s post.

Which authors do you think do well at drawing the reader into the story?

Hook Your Reader to Start the Next Chapter NOW!

“That’s what agents and acquisition editors are looking for–something they don’t want to put down.” —Ray Rhamey

 

by phaewilk
by phaewilk

Writers are told to end each chapter with a cliffhanger that keeps the reader from inserting a bookmark and going to sleep.

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  • Would a chapter with these endings make you turn the page?
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      • Tomorrow was another day.
        Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
        Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
      • She smiled. “You’ve made me happy today, Mark.”
      • She huddled down in her hiding place and drifted off to sleep.

I imagine you’d be inserting the bookmark. Why?

      • All provide stopping places. Whether the character’s situation is bad or good, each scene ends with quiet closure.
      • Readers are left with no reason to keep reading.

Here are two chapter endings that contain a hook.

Example 1 from Sweet Mercy by Ann Tatlock:

“Well,” I said, “nice to meet you.”

“Yeah, you too. Oh, and welcome to Ohio, I guess. But listen, just watch out for the red-eyed devil.”

“The what?”

“Marlene!”

“I said I’m coming!” She started to go, and then turned back. “But don’t worry. You’re pretty safe as long as it’s daylight. He mostly comes out at night.”

I wanted to ask her what she was talking about, but before I could say another word she had run off, laughing, to join her family.

 

by clarita
by clarita

Comment: Okay, I want to learn who the red-eyed devil is. I’ll read one more chapter.

Notice how Tatlock winds down the chapter at the end of the day with goodbyes between the main character, Eve, and Marlene. A nice stopping place. EXCEPT Marlene, brings up the danger of a red-eye devil appearing at night—which is fast approaching.

Tatlock didn’t stick the hook in as a gimmick. She ties it to the story and reveals who the red-eyed devil is shortly. These two elements are important.

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  • Your end-of-chapter hook must not be a gimmick but part of the story.
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Example 2 from On the Threshold by Sherrie Ashcraft and Christina Berry Tarabochia:

Her cell phone rang.

Not now. She didn’t feel like talking to anyone except her husband…and maybe not even him. She checked the caller ID.

Beth. Okay, make that anyone except Jake or Beth.

She pulled to the side of the road. “Hi, honey.” Suzanne forced a pleasant tone.

“Mom?” Beth sniffed, voice breaking. “I need you.”

 

by DTL
by DTL

Comment: After an awful day, Suzanne considers what to do about dinner. A nice stopping place. BUT the phone rings, and her daughter’s in trouble. Okay. I want to know what Beth’s problem is. I’ll read on.

Again, the hook is tied to the story, and within a few pages we know Beth’s problem.

Here’s the last of my ho-hum chapter endings above transformed into a hook:

She huddled down in her hiding place. Minutes went by while she listened to the drone of cicadas in the darkness. Her eyelids grew heavy.

A loud huffing sounded.

Her lids shot open, and every muscle tensed. Only an angered bull made that kind of sound. Or a monster.

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How would you change one of the ho-hum endings to make the reader turn the page?