Show, not Tell

There are 3 rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.

Sage Advice from Last Week

with one comment

Dive into a great book

Last week I read two great posts. One was from Guide to Literary Agents. Chuck has doing an “Agent Guest Column Month” for November and I found the guest column by James M. Tabor gave me a bit of an ah-ha moment. In it he points out that the best way to get a good start on writing is to go out and live your life.

It might seem like a silly thing, but I know that I have a tendency to delve into what I’m doing and I’ll forget about the outside world. I’ll put off cleaning my room or vacuuming the house to stay in front of the keyboard and hash out whatever I can of the next scene I’ve got. (Homework is my exception.)

I think that this advice is true. It wasn’t until a road trip with Jessie last summer that she and I began writing novels with the purpose of getting them published. Going out and seeing new sights can inspire and get the creativity flowing. At least, that’s the way it is for me.

What do you think? Does getting out of the daily grind inspire or damper your imagination?

Advertisements

Written by Devin Bond

November 29, 2010 at 1:18 pm

Posted in Advice, Writing

Thanksgiving Exercise 5

leave a comment »

Devin and I think writing outside of your story really helps improve your writing. We thought we’d change up the routine this week for Thanksgiving and show our thanks to our readers by offering short exercises to improve your craft.

Thanksgiving Food Coma

Thanksgiving Food Coma

Today’s Thanksgiving Exercise is on description. Easy enough to do, right? Wrong. Description can easily turn into exposition, which is boring and dry. No one wants to read a page of exposition, especially about details in a house or in a forest that don’t even matter.

So, how do you describe without overkill? Pick the best details. This can be hard because when we write, we can sometimes see the whole thing in our heads. It’s hard to know what part of the room is the most important!

Here’s the exercise:

1. Research (yes, again). Read my posts on the science of description and how to set exposition between action. These two posts will help you with this lesson (in theory) and will inform you on what description is the best and most important for your story.

2. Create a scene where your characters are going on a journey. It doesn’t have to be through the forest, but it needs to rely on the actual process of getting from place A to place B. You can create new characters for this task to exercise your imagination or you can use a scene you have not written from your WiP that fills the requirement!

3. Prepare! This involves writing. Yes, before the actual writing. Write out the description of everything in the setting and scene exactly as you see it. Describe the color of the door handles, how dirty the grout between the tiles is, the color of the pine needles and the decaying leaves on the forest floor–every miniscule detail!

Here’s the writing part:

4. Write the scene, plugging in key details that you’ve already written down. Your task is to pick the best details that reveal the most about the scene as a whole (setting, character, tone, etc.). In any chunk of description, there shouldn’t be more than three sentences of pure description. Of course, the best way to introduce detail is to weave it between action. More importantly, description should be a part of the action; none of the describing sentences should have the ‘to be’ verb (was, are, were) in it.

This exercise should help you pick out what parts of the scene are necessary to reveal and when it’s necessary to reveal them. Good luck and feel free to post your exercises on your blogs or in the comments! I’d love to read what you come up with 🙂

Written by Jessica Lei

November 26, 2010 at 4:25 pm

Posted in Exercises

Thanksgiving Exercise 4

leave a comment »

Devin and I think writing outside of your story really helps improve your writing. We thought we’d change up the routine this week for Thanksgiving and show our thanks to our readers by offering short exercises to improve your craft.

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving

Today’s Thanksgiving Exercise is on point of view. A lot of people think the trick to PoV is choosing between three options: first, second, and third. Guess what? Not true! After you pick that, you’ve got to choose between the level of penetration or how much you want readers to be inside your viewpoint character’s head.

So, how can you make the best decision for your PoV? The best example is to think about all of your options. Would your story be better told by this character or this one? Would it be better in first or third? Would your viewpoint character be more sympathetic with an objective or subjective standpoint?

Well, the best way to find out is to learn how to write from all of it.

Here’s the exercise:

1. Research. I know this isn’t school, but the best idea when you don’t know something is to learn about it! You need to know all of your point of view options in order to make the right choice about it for your book. Start with our easy descriptions of omniscient, limited omniscient, subjective, objective, and detached.

2. Pick from one of these two situations. Situation one: Two characters are looking for a turkey for dinner at the store. They both just watched a film on animal cruelty the week before. Situation two: One of your characters leaves the store, arms full of bags for Thanksgiving, and slips on the ice. Your character gets up to look around and notices another one of your characters watching with interest.

Create new characters from any of your other stories or WiPs for this task  to exercise your imagination!

Here’s the writing part:

3. Write the situation you choose while narrating their thoughts and feelings without using dialogue (you can use a maximum of 7 lines of dialogue). You must convey the situation in three different ways. First, write it from single character subjective from the first character’s point of view (in first or third person). Next, write it in single character subjective from the second character’s point of view (in first or third person). Write the last one in objective PoV or omniscient PoV.

Take only half-an-hour to an hour to complete each version. They don’t need to be complete, they don’t need to be fancy; they just need to be there. Compare each version and decide whose point of view tells the story better. This task will show you how many choices you can make for telling your story 🙂

Feel free to post your exercises on your blogs or in the comments! I’d love to read what you come up with 🙂

I'm a freak for using this, but it sparkles! And is therefore awesome!

Written by Jessica Lei

November 25, 2010 at 2:51 pm

Thanksgiving Exercise 3

leave a comment »

Jessie and I think writing outside of your story really helps improve your writing. We thought we’d change up the routine this week for Thanksgiving and show our thanks to our readers by offering short exercises to improve your craft.

Thanksgiving

Today’s Thanksgiving Exercise is on high stakes. We all know what the stakes are by now, and we know how important they are. Easy exercise you say? Not quite. Try getting out your entire story concept out in 600 words. 600 words to get through the beginning, set-up, climax and conclusion. You’ll notice that the best authors are able to set up the stakes of the story–no matter how long–within the first few pages. Setting up the stakes right away attracts interest and sets up the story.

Here’s the exercise:

1. Read this amazing example of what we’re looking for here before you get started. You’ll notice that the author takes no time diving right into the meat of the piece. It catches your attention and makes you wonder what is going on within the first few paragraphs. The end doesn’t leave you hanging; it’s complete–and yes, 600 words.

2. Think of a concept that can be completed in roughly two pages–but exactly 600 words. The stakes must be clear to see, as to keep the readers interest peaked. It can be anything from horror to romance, but there must be stakes!

Here’s the writing part:

3. Your short story must start with the line “It was the worst thing that could have happened.” and end with the line “Nothing was ever the same again after that.” Something I was taught while working with this exercise myself is that you have to have enough action to pay for the last line. It took me a few tries to get it the within the requirements, but trust me! The pay off is worth the effort.

We all know the stakes are important, that much is for sure. But not all of us know how to get them out clearly and concisely. This really helped me and I hope it will help you, too. Give it a try and post it up on your blogs or in the comments. I’d love to see what you create. 🙂

Written by Devin Bond

November 24, 2010 at 5:30 am

Posted in Exercises

Thanksgiving Exercise 2

leave a comment »

Devin and I think writing outside of your story really helps improve your writing. We thought we’d change up the routine this week for Thanksgiving and show our thanks to our readers by offering short exercises to improve your craft.

Thanskgiving

Thanskgiving

Today’s Thanksgiving Exercise is on sentences. It seems like a stupid focus; we all know how to write a sentence. However, in reality, sentences trip up a lot of people. The Query Shark sinks her teeth into a lot of people who pack their sentences full with too much information. The funny thing is this: long, complex sentences tend to be confusing and sloppy.

It’s true. Pick up any of your favorite book and count how many words are in each sentence. The average tends to be anywhere from nine to fifteen. Amateur writers and writers who don’t tend to focus on the craft of writing tend to write long and convoluted sentences. I can quote you some of the sentences I was writing months ago as an example, but that would be really embarrassing…

So, why are sentences important? Sentences are the tools we use as writers to get our story across. We can’t tell a story in a string of unrelated words. We also can’t tell our story in a string of unrelated sentences. Every sentence must flow into the next; every paragraph must flow into what follows.

Here’s the exercise:

1. Read the first few pages of Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. In the first 895 words of his novel, the average sentence length is 9.3 words. I’m not even kidding! How does he do this? Complete control. This is the goal of this exercise: to gain control of your craft.

2. You must have all of the following things: high stakes, intriguing events, sympathetic characters, stable point of view, reasonable exposition at reasonable times. Come up with a scene in a story with two or more people with those things in mind. The scene must have a believable action or sequence of actions that will put your readers in the story. These characters must have some sort of relationship. Brainstorm what you want to happen. (Don’t use characters and a situation from stories you’ve already developed. Create something new!)

If you’re having a difficult time coming up with a situation, why not use Thanksgiving? Put some characters in the kitchen together making food for dinner or put them at the dinner table.

Here’s the writing part:

3. Write your story using at most nine words per sentence. This restriction includes dialogue. Writing short sentences can be choppy, yes, but the limit should help you gain control over your sentences. It’ll teach you exactly what you need to say to get your point across without being confusing.

Adding extraneous words is often what gets us writers in trouble, so learn to work without them before introducing them in again 🙂 Feel free to post up your complete piece on your blog or in the comments. I’d love to see what you write!

Written by Jessica Lei

November 23, 2010 at 6:00 am

Posted in Exercises

Thanksgiving Exercise 1

leave a comment »

Devin and I think writing outside of your story really helps improve your writing. We thought we’d change up the routine this week for Thanksgiving and show our thanks to our readers by offering short exercises to improve your craft.

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving

Today’s Thanksgiving Exercise is on dialogue. A lot of people think they do it well, a lot of people think they can’t do it at all. There’s tons of information out there that outlines what dialogue is supposed to do, which always comes down to one fact: dialogue must do more than one thing.

So, how do you practice dialogue besides just writing? A lot of people will tell you to listen, but real-life dialogue doesn’t hold a candle to written dialogue. Written dialogue is the epitome of what we want to say, not what we actually say.

Here’s the exercise:

1. Read the excerpts up on Gregory Mcdonald’s website. He’s an amazing mystery author who knows how to write good dialogue that reveals more than it says. Notice what you know about the situation his characters are in and what kind of people his characters are–without ever being told. This will inform how you write the dialogue of this exercise.

2. Come up with a scene in a story with two or more people. One person must be engaged in some sort of action that is interesting or engaging;  the scene must have a believable action or sequence of actions that will put your readers in the story. These characters must have some sort of relationship. Brainstorm what you want to happen. (Don’t use characters and a situation from stories you’ve already developed. Create something new!)

If you’re having a difficult time coming up with a situation, why not use Thanksgiving? Put some characters in the kitchen together making food for dinner or put them at the dinner table.

Here’s the writing part:

3. Write only the dialogue of the conversation. The only thing outside of the dialogue you may include are dialogue tags. And even then, you can only use “said” or “asked.”

The challenge of only writing dialogue is that you’re going to be tempted to do a lot of unneeded exposition. Something like this:

“Dan, we’re here at the laundromat. It’s so loud!”

“I know, Jane. Everyone has their clothes going. There’s only one left! We will have to share.”

“That’s okay with me,” said Dan. “I’m going to put my clothes in. Put yours in now, too.”

“I’m putting mine in now,” said Jane. “You put in the soap. I’ll press start.”

This is all exposition. In reality, Jane knows they’re in a laundromat and that it’s loud. Dan would be able to see there’s only one left. This is unauthentic and readers will know that the dialogue is off. Dialogue is not sportscasting. Dialogue is a way to show characterization, situation, and ideas.

Feel free to post your exercises on your blogs or in the comments! I’d love to read what you come up with 🙂

Written by Jessica Lei

November 22, 2010 at 6:00 am

Posted in Dialogue, Exercises

Inspiration: Time

leave a comment »

All around us, controlling us with it’s simple majesty, is time. Time is invisible and yet visible at the same time. It affects us and changes us without even doing a thing. Time is mysterious and ultimately, inspiring.

(Happy Harry Potter premiere day everyone! If you are seeing it and haven’t seen it yet, it’s amazing!)

Written by Devin Bond

November 19, 2010 at 5:30 am

Posted in Inspiration