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My Very Own Kryptonite Part 1 (Showing vs. Telling)

Remember those ridiculous SAT questions that went something like this:

Cat is to mouse as dog is to A. Bone B. Doghouse C. Owner D. Cat

Well, I’ve got a new and improved—and actually useful—one for you. Here it goes:

Superman is to Kryptonite as I am to A. Backstory B. Telling vs. showing C. Adjectives D. Random POV shifts

Uh….what about E. All of the above?

What I’m getting at is we all have things that bring us to our knees and make us ask how we’re ever going to survive? Superman’s in the same boat. Which is why I’m going to share some of my many writing weakness with all of you over the next few weeks (A – D above).

Joy, bliss, and rapture all mixed into one. It’s your lucky day

Today I’m talking about B, telling vs. showing. This (right after backstory) is a new writer’s biggest pitfall. Why? Because it’s easy. Because we don’t know any better. But mostly because someone hasn’t pointed out to us that we’re telling them something instead of showing it to them. Once that someone has hit us upside the head, we promptly smack our foreheads and scream into the night, “Why didn’t I see that?!?!”


All is forgiven. Just try to keep from doing it again.

If, as a new writer, you try to start showing everything straight out of the gate, you’re going to get a headache, declare this whole writing thing is ridiculous and too hard and then give up. The most important thing you can do is WRITE. Get your story down on paper. Then you go back and make it better. Sometimes you’ll naturally show us; you won’t even realizing your doing it. Sometimes you’ll flat out tell us, and sometimes you’ll go halvsies.

Worry not, my friend! We can fix the them all. I’ve found some tips though my writing adventure on how to find out where I can show something and how to show it. I will divulge this knowledge with you free of charge. Come and partake.

Signs you’re telling me something

Adjectives. These buggers are deadly, and a STRONG sign that you’re telling me something. It’s a lazy way of getting a point across. Not only is it lazy, it’s weak. WEAK I tell you! That is why I cringe as I say this next part: sometimes they might be necessary. But only if the world is ending and hell has frozen over. There, I feel better. Chances are, if you’re using one of those pesky little –ly words, you could be saying it better. You could be showing me something.

“I love you,” she said shakily.

Yuck! Blek! Get that sour taste out of my mouth! Try this on instead.

She closed her eyes and took a shaky breath. She could feel her heart rattling inside her chest, begging her not to say it. To never say it. “I love you.” The words rushed out with the exhale of her breath, riding their way between her lips and out of her heart.

We still get that she was nervous and hesitant about saying expressing her feelings. But we get so much more. The reluctance, the fear of saying those three vulnerable words. The courage it took for her to say them. And from there we want to know what happened in her past that made her steal herself against something as grand as love? Who is this person that coaxed her away from her fear, making her feel strong enough to admit her feelings to them and herself, even though it exposed her vulnerability? This character, is a rockin’ character. And all because you showed me she was.

There is no tantalization of the senses going on. Anywhere. What good is love without romance? It’s boring and dull. Both sides are going to wander, and infidelity isn’t welcome anywhere. So why not do everything in your power to keep your reader interested and loyal? Not that Joe-Schmo a little further down the book shelf. That one on the end cap with the glittery cover. Hold me with substance, but catch me with flare. You must court me, show me why I’m with you and not with Glitters.

No holds barred! Read through a scene. Now. Hurry, do you flirt with any of your reader’s senses? Do you? Maybe, maybe not. If you haven’t, fix it. If you have, you can probably make it better, stronger. And there’s no shame in that. Pop quiz from preschool. What are the senses? Sight, sound, taste, smell, touch, and feel (emotional). Now use them unabashedly.

Make me feel how soft the fur is on my skin. The beating down of the dry heat on my skin or the heavy humidity of a room that’s tightly packed with bodies. What is the texture of that strange and exotic fruit in my mouth? Is it so cold outside that the air freezes in my lungs and makes them burn, so much so that I can’t stand to take a full breath? How about the voice of someone that was thought to be lost? Is it like cool water on the throat of a parched man stranded in the middle of an arid desert? Remember the time you saw your supposed best friend kissing the boy you’ve been in love with since the third grade? Remember how it tore and clawed at your heart until there was nothing left inside your chest but shreds of the thing that still beat? Remember how your knees weakened as adrenaline pumped through your body, and how you wanted to run and hide and beat the living hell out of both of them at the same time?

I think you get the idea of where I’m going with this. But be careful. Once you get started appealing to the senses, it’s easy to do. Which is good. What’s not good is the ease in which you slip into just appealing to one of the six senses. Make sure to keep it even and natural. And remember, we don’t need to feel the minute things that a normal human wouldn’t even notice in a typical situation.

Statements of Fact (SOFs) They’re a good strong clue that you could probably expand on what you’re saying and make it more flavorful. But don’t do away with all your SOFs. If you do, your writing will be overkill. Sometimes you need the ever so simple, “Tony ran.” But, if too much of your writing reads like a newspaper article, you’re might be in trouble. Stop narrating and let your characters take charge. After all, that’s what they’re there for, isn’t it?

Suzy isn’t pissed. She’s beyond pissed.

Her spindly arms are folded tightly across her chest—not even a dust mote could get through there. Her molars are grinding down on each other as she holds back all the things she wants to say. It’s looking like she’s forgetting to breathe, her face is so red. And don’t forget the eyes. They tell a person everything. Her pupils are dilated so far, it looks like black pools of obsidian. Obsidian that’s so hard, it could slice through your heart. And they just might. Especially now that you’ve told her how you’ve kissed Jesse. Her boyfriend.

How to show me

Look at the scene/setting. I do this a lot and it’s an easy way to make your reader feel like they’re standing where ever it is you put them. Grab a picture (in a book, one of your own, or pulled from the Internet) that’s similar to what you’re trying to describe. Then, describe it. In as much detail as you can.

For example. In one of my books, there’s an intense yacht race (and no, that’s not an oxymoron). Problem was, I knew nothing about yachts or racing. Not what the boats looked like and not what a yacht race looked like. But let me tell you, after I finished my research, I wanted to start. The first thing I did was hop onto the Internet and Google yachts, and yacht racing. I found the most typically raced yacht (pictures, descriptions, pricing, layout, how it worked, how many sales it had, which sales did what when, etc, what kinds of flags they flew, etc). Great! Now I could physically describe the yacht and when Owen fishes out some gear from Sedra, it’s completely feasible that he had it stored in the ________.

Next, I had to research the races. What happened in them? What did the courses look like? How many men were on the crew? YouTube was a godsend for this (and when I was looking for a good fight scene for another book). I even ended up downloading the song that played in a particular video so that every time I listened to it, I would relive the yacht race, able to recreate the scene in a believable and intense manner.

Bottom line is, no matter what someone tells you, recreating a real life, already existing picture, location, scene, etc is not cheating. Make it your own. Take what you like, toss what you don’t. Add a few different pictures of girls you like to make a montage of your perfect MC. It’s a great exercise.

Put yourself in the middle of the party. Reflect back on a high school party, or the other night when you were out at the bar with friends or the last time you were in a busy place. Now, describe to me what’s going on. This will put me in the scene with you and make it more real. And don’t forget to…

Appeal to all of my senses See above. Practice going somewhere (a busy coffee shop is always good) and just sitting and soaking it all in. Then write. What did you first notice? What stands out now that you’ve been there a while? What’s become white noise? What kind of people are there? What does it sound like? Smell like? Feel like? Is it natural, sterile, comfortable, out of place? How does it make you feel?

Characters Not only show me what they look like physically but what they look like as a person. On the inside. Don’t tell me that Seth is loyal to his sister to the end. Show me with his actions throughout the book or in a really strong scene that he would die for her. Don’t tell me that Lexi’s past is filled with a father’s abandonment that has left her bitter and with little trust or warmth. Show me the same thing. Put her in a situation that makes her face what she fears most. Showing with characters is more important than showing a scene or a setting. Showing me your characters lets me relate and connect to them. It makes me realize that they’re real people.

How about some fun? I’m a little nervous, not sure who will play along, but…..I have an extra copy of Veronica Roth’s debut (awesome) novel, Divergant (Don’t judge. When you have 190 unread books, it’s easy to buy multiple copies of the same on and not remember doing it). Put me in this below picture using all 6 senses and do it in 100 words of less in the comments section. The winner will get Divergant!! So show me something good! (OOH I’m so excited I could just SQUEEL!)


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