Showing = Reader’s Experience – Part 1

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It’s my pleasure to introduce editor Vie Herlocker, my guest today while I’m on a writing sabbatical. Please learn more about Vie after her post. Here’s Vie:

Often during an edit, I’ll type the time-worn words, “Show, don’t tell.” But what exactly moves writing from telling to showing? And just how can writers create this thing calling showing?

Janet Burroway, professor at Florida State University, in Edition 9 (Edition 10 released in April 2019) of her book, Writing Fiction, A Guide to Narrative Craft, describes the challenge of showing on the written page:

Fiction tries to reproduce the emotional impact of experience. And this is a more difficult task, because unlike the images of film and drama, which directly strike the eye and ear, words are transmitted first to the mind, where they must be translated into images. (p. 21, Ninth Edition)

Burroway encourages writers to move beyond the words and the thoughts the words produce, focusing instead on the resulting experience the reader feels. She shares five writing tools to create experiences—some of which you may have not considered as a counterpart to showing:

  1. Significant details (specific, definite, concrete, particular) 
    1. A detail is definite and concrete when it appeals to the senses. These bring life to fiction.
    2. Avoid naming (telling) emotions: Mary was embarrassed. Show details: Mary turned her head, but not before the wave of red swept from her neck to her forehead. 
  2. Comparison (some work, some don’t) 
    1. Simile and metaphor are the most used comparison tools. Simile uses like or as in comparison: Her smile was like sunrise to my soul. A metaphor does not: Her smile was sunrise to my soul.
    2. Avoid clichés, far-fetched metaphors, and mixed metaphors
  3. Active Voice
    1. Burroway states that linking verbs (to be) “invite complements that tend to be generalized or judgmental.” Ex: The teen was irritating. 
    2. But active verbs lend themselves to significant details. Ex: The teen’s constant slurping his soda and crunching the ice during the movie irritated me. 
  4. Prose Rhythm
    1. Match the cadence of the sentences with the action of the scene. For example, a series of short, clipped sentences fail to show a raven soaring on gentle summer thermals; likewise, a long, rambling sentence can’t capture the feeling of a tango competition.
    2. Use strong verbs, instead of relying on adverbs, to enhance rhythm.
  5. Mechanics
    1. Punctuation, spelling, grammar, and paragraphing are critical to writing—but they should be invisible.
    2. Poorly done mechanics, Burroway explains, destroy the magic and the “reader’s focus is shifted from the story to its surface.”

Well, that’s a start on a few ways to show instead of tell. Were you surprised to see rhythm and mechanics included? I’ve come to the conclusion that all the components of fiction overlap and depend upon each other. In a follow-up post, I’ll explore more techniques to move from telling to showing.

Vie Herlocker is the associate editor for Surry Living Magazine in Mt. Airy, NC. Her experience includes ten years as executive editor of Sonfire Media/Taberah Press and six years reviewing books for Blue Ink Reviews. 

Vie is a member of the Christian Editor Connection, PEN, ACFW, ACW, and WordWeavers. She received the 2017 Christian Editors Network Excellence in Editing Award for a nonfiction book.  In 2018, a book she edited won the Selah Award for YA fiction at Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. 

Vie was also the editor for Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days.

Characterize Your Character

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Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days is designed to shape a not-yet submitted, rejected, or self-published manuscript with low ratings into a book that shines. The method can also be a guiding resource for writers starting a manuscript. See details below.

A writer builds a protagonist’s character using a character arc. He develops the changes in how the character thinks, chooses, and acts throughout the story. The protagonist is able to do something at the end of the story that he couldn’t do in the beginning. Perhaps forgive someone or feel at home in a place where he felt like an alien. But this is not characterization.

A Definition of Characterize

The New Oxford American Dictionary says characterize means to “describe the distinctive features or nature of.” 

What are these distinctive features that are observable?

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  • Choices: sports car
  • Attitude: uncaring
  • Behaviors: goes to church
  • Career or job: lawyer
  • Dress: muu-muus
  • Dwells: High-rise
  • Education: high school dropout
  • Gestures: snaps his fingers when he makes a point
  • Habits: sucks his teeth
  • Name: Buddy
  • Personality: introverted
  • Physical traits: button nose
  • Quirks: dresses her dog in mini-sized replicas of her own blouses
  • Station in life: middle class
  • Sex: male
  • Speech: enunciates each word
  • Values: the love of money

The writer may tell these features. Or the writer may show them through the protagonist’s actions and dialogue. Or the writer may show them through how other characters react to the protagonist.

Examples of Characterization

Let’s see how we might characterize protagonists with their physical traits, actions, and dialogue.

  • Molly turned down Bruno’s help and loaded her twin headboard and stained armchair into the bed of her 1995 Chevy truck.

What this one sentence may tell us: Molly is independent, strong, and not well off, or doesn’t care about new things. Other sentences will make these assumptions clearer.

  • Trenton pulled on the cuff of his starched sleeve, revealing a diamond-studded cufflink.

What this one sentence may tell us: Trenton is well off and cultured, or wants people to think he is. We’ll be given other clues to help make a clearer picture.

  • Carmine sent her hands flying in all directions as she screamed at Doug for telling Marco about her day in the big city.

What this one sentence may tell us: Carmine is fiery. She lives outside the city, possibly in a rural area or small town.

  • Skylar grinned, showing her two front teeth were missing. She held up the furry feline. “I knew Daddy would let me have ish kitten.”  

What this one sentence may tell us: Skylar is six or seven. Possibly spoiled. She knows how to get what she wants from Daddy.

Of course, we can’t fully characterize a protagonist in one or two sentences, but we can learn a few traits quickly.

What features could you add to my list?

Buy Link

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is TYFMI30D-Print-5.75x8.89.jpeg

Zoe McCarthy’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. —Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and multiple award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

If you want to increase your chance of hearing yes instead of sorry or not a fit for our list at this time, this book is for you. If you want to develop stronger story plots with characters that are hard to put down, this book is for you. Through McCarthy’s checklists and helpful exercises and corresponding examples, you will learn how to raise the tension, hone your voice, and polish your manuscript. I need this book for my clients and the many conferees I meet at writer’s conferences around the country. Thank you, Zoe. A huge, #thumbsup, for Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days.  —Diana L. Flegal, literary agent, and freelance editor

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript is a self-editing encyclopedia! Each chapter sets up the targeted technique, examples show what to look for in your manuscript, then proven actions are provided to take your writing to the next level. Whether you are a seasoned writer or a newbie, you need this book! —Sally Shupe, freelance editor, aspiring author

McCarthy crafted an amazing self-help book that will strengthen any writer, whether new or seasoned, with guidance and self-evaluation tools. —Erin Unger, author of Practicing Murder, releasing in 2019

Need to rework your book? Zoe M. McCarthy’s step-by-step reference guide leads you through the process, helping you fight feeling overwhelmed and wrangle your manuscript and into publishable shape in 30 days. Tailor Your Manuscript delivers a clear and comprehensive action plan. —Elizabeth Spann Craig, Twitteriffic owner, bestselling author of the Myrtle Clover Mysteries, the Southern Quilting Mysteries, and the Memphis Barbeque Mysteries http://elizabethspanncraig.com/blog/



Story Unbelievability: “But It Happened to Me!”


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Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days is designed to shape a not-yet submitted, rejected, or self-published manuscript with low ratings into a book that shines. The method can also be a guiding resource for writers starting a manuscript. See details below.


Sometimes an incredible event or intervention happens in a writer’s life, or he’s privy to one. The writer shares the story in a manuscript. Or he includes the event in a novel. Acquisition editors aren’t interested because they think the event is too far-fetched for readers to embrace. The writer says, “But this happened to me!”

Observations

  • Many such stories that are published and/or made into movies are based on true events.
  • Many memoirs or biographies written about people with amazing events in their lives are either ghostwritten or penned in collaboration with an experienced writer of this kind of story.

Some Reasons Why These Stories Don’t Work

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  • Dumped research doesn’t work for most readers.
  • Writing about someone else’s true event may lack the struggles going on inside the person experiencing the event.
  • True events can seem like a miracle thrown in to save the day without requiring the character to overcome anything.
  • These stories may beg for more to keep the reader engaged, such as a touch of romance, a mentor, conflict, peoples’ choices leading up to the event.
  • Something more interesting than ordinary living needs to fill gaps.

True Example

When I was five in Tampa Florida, my mother read a newspaper article to my sister and me. As I remember it, a woman’s son lay under his car, working on a problem. The woman saw the car fall onto her son. She ran outside and lifted the car to save her son, breaking her back. Amazing. However, if I threw this into one of my stories, too many readers wouldn’t buy it. Too many wouldn’t have heard of such true happenings or read the research behind such a feat.

image by RyanMcGuire

Suppose a writer interviewed the woman and wrote her story. Suppose, before and after that day the family’s life was ordinary. Suppose the mother’s operation was like any other back operation and her son, after a brief time of fame at school, was like any other teen. Acquisition editors might think the event made a compelling news article, but needed conflict to make a good book.

Move forward in my life. Twenty years later, I moved back to Tampa and worked two years as a payments social worker for the state of Florida. One of my colleagues worked on the case in which that woman in the news article in the early 1950s was then in her fifties and was applying for disability assistance because of her back.

The connection between my event at age five and the one at twenty-five was amazing to me.

Now, instead of throwing that true event into a story or writing the true story of this family, suppose I write the story from a social worker’s perspective—how, like me, she heard the story long ago from her mother reading the news article. And she, not her colleague, is assigned the case. And she’s not the payment social worker, but the service worker.

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Suppose for technical or other reasons, the woman is not eligible for financial assistance. The social worker, because of her connection at age five, is drawn to the woman. She researches reports and medical documents about such events and gets involved with the woman outside her job. Suppose under warnings from her manager and clashes at home, she struggles to help the woman. This believable story with conflict would be partially based on my true story.

What true amazing event in your life could you use in a believable way?

Buy Link

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is TYFMI30D-Print-5.75x8.89.jpeg

Zoe McCarthy’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. —Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and multiple award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

If you want to increase your chance of hearing yes instead of sorry or not a fit for our list at this time, this book is for you. If you want to develop stronger story plots with characters that are hard to put down, this book is for you. Through McCarthy’s checklists and helpful exercises and corresponding examples, you will learn how to raise the tension, hone your voice, and polish your manuscript. I need this book for my clients and the many conferees I meet at writer’s conferences around the country. Thank you, Zoe. A huge, #thumbsup, for Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days.  —Diana L. Flegal, literary agent, and freelance editor

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript is a self-editing encyclopedia! Each chapter sets up the targeted technique, examples show what to look for in your manuscript, then proven actions are provided to take your writing to the next level. Whether you are a seasoned writer or a newbie, you need this book! —Sally Shupe, freelance editor, aspiring author

McCarthy crafted an amazing self-help book that will strengthen any writer, whether new or seasoned, with guidance and self-evaluation tools. —Erin Unger, author of Practicing Murder, releasing in 2019