Between traipsing across the country, working, lack of internet, and then not having my computer because I didn’t want to travel with it, I haven’t been posting, and I miss that. I miss doing the Word of the Day, and the Monthly poem. I just wanted everyone to know this, with any luck, I start that up again very soon.
Adam Hochschild, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, afternoon, Anne Hull, Cynthia, David Halberstam, doctor who, Gay Talese, Gorney, Isabel Wilkerson, Jacqui Banaszynski, Jan Winburn, Jon Franklin, Katherine Boo, Lane Gregory, Louise Kiernan, Mark Kramer, notebooks, research, Roy Peter Clark, S.Mitra Kalita, tea, Ted Conover, telling true stories, Tracy Kidder, Victor Merina, Walt Harrington, writing
Spending my afternoon writing and researching. What is everyone else doing?
As usual I am taking a writing class, and thought I would share some of the journal prompts with you all; use them as you will, in poem writing, fanfiction writing, essay writing, or writing a birthday card to your mama. Use one of them, seven of them, all of them or half of one-It’s all up to you!
1. I saw ________________ in a new way this week.
2. That _______________ reminds me of…….
3. I never knew I was good at……
4. I read or listen to the news because……
5. I would like to a story about……
6. I wish there were more stories covered about___________ , because……
7. The most prevelent themes in my writing are……
8. Each birthday I celebrate by…….
9. Writing has allowed me to better understand my……..
For the past few weeks, or possibly months, writing has been rather difficult. I start something, I stop something, I start something else, I go back to the other thing, and then round’and’round I go. It’s getting to be very annoying, and I’m not sure what the source is. I wrote a novel for the three day novel contest back in September, and now everything has come to some sort of horrid standstill. What do you guys do when you feel this way and can’t get back into it properly?
It is hard to put into words and define the feeling (or any feeling) by using only words. Well, one of the blessings of being a writer is that even though we work in words, those words can be put into action. I’m going to go into the “Show Don’t Tell” rule a bit for people that are unfamiliar with it, and as a refresher for everyone who is. I needed the refresher myself, so I figure someone else will also. Instead of you searching for it in google, I can save you the trouble.
Show Don’t Tell means that
. Use dialogue
This is probably one of the first things I talk to my students about when I have them write personal essays. Dialogue allows the reader to experience a scene as if they were there. Instead of telling the reader your mom was angry, they can hear it for themselves:
“Justin Michael,” mom bellowed, “Get in here this instant!”
Dialogue can give your reader a great deal about character, emotion and mood.
2. Use sensory language
In order for readers to fully experience what you’re writing about, they need to be able to see, hear, taste, smell and touch the world around them. Try to use language that incorporates several senses, not just sight.
3. Be descriptive
I’m sure everyone remembers learning to use adjectives and adverbs in elementary school. When we’re told to be more descriptive, it’s easy to go back to those things that we were taught. But being descriptive is more than just inserting a string of descriptive words. It’s carefully choosing the rightwords and using them sparingly to convey your meaning.
The following example is from a short story I wrote.
Telling: He sits on the couch holding his guitar.
There’s nothing wrong with that sentence. It gives the reader some basic information, but it doesn’t create an image. Compare that sentence with this:
Showing: His eyes are closed, and he’s cradling the guitar in his arms like a lover. It’s as if he’s trying to hold on to something that wants to let go.
The second example takes that basic information and paints a picture with it. It also uses figurative language—in this case, the simile “cradling the guitar in his arms like a lover”—to help create an image.
When using description, it’s important not to overdo it. Otherwise, you can end up with what I call “police blotter” description. For example:
He was tall, with brown hair and blue eyes. He wore a red shirt and jeans, and a brown leather jacket.
4. Be specific, not vague
This is another one I’m constantly reminding my college students about. Frequently, they will turn in essays with vague, fuzzy language. I’m not sure if they think this type of writing sounds more academic, but all it really does is frustrate the reader.
Instead of writing, “I had never felt anything like it before in my entire life,” take the time to try and describe what that feeling was, and then decide how best to convey that feeling to the reader. Your readers will thank you for it
Show, don’t tell is a technique often employed by writers to enable the reader to experience the story through action, words, thoughts, senses, and feelings rather than through the author’s exposition, summarization, and description. The goal is not to drown the reader in heavy-handed adjectives, but rather to allow readers to experience the author’s ideas by interpreting significant, well-chosen textual details. The technique applies equally to fiction and nonfiction.
“Show, don’t tell” should not be applied to all incidents in a story. According to James Scott Bell, “Sometimes a writer tells as a shortcut, to move quickly to the meaty part of the story or scene. Showing is essentially about making scenes vivid. If you try to do it constantly, the parts that are supposed to stand out won’t, and your readers will get exhausted.” Showing requires more words; telling may cover a greater span of time more concisely. A novel that contains only showing would be incredibly long; therefore, a narrative can contain some legitimate telling.
Scenes that are important to the story should be dramatized with showing, but sometimes what happens between scenes can be told so the story can make progress. According to Orson Scott Card and others, “showing” is so terribly time consuming that it is to be used only for dramatic scenes. The objective is to find the right balance of telling versus showing, action versus summarization. Factors like rhythm, pace, and tone come into play.
According to novelist Francine Prose:
[The Alice Munro passage] contradicts a form of bad advice often given young writers—namely, that the job of the author is to show, not tell. Needless to say, many great novelists combine “dramatic” showing with long sections of the flat-out authorial narration that is, I guess, what is meant by telling. And the warning against telling leads to a confusion that causes novice writers to think that everything should be acted out … when in fact the responsibility of showing should be assumed by the energetic and specific use of language.”
Nobel Prize winning novelist Ernest Hemingway was a notable proponent of the show, don’t tell style. His famed Iceberg Theory, also known as the “theory of omission”, originates from his bullfighting treatise, Death in the Afternoon:
If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.
While writers such as Prose and Munro may champion “the specific use of language”, and while creative writing experts may seek to debunk misleading myths, it is nonetheless true that most great novels rely heavily upon subtext and the art of what is left unsaid. The “dignity” Hemingway speaks of can be interpreted as a form of respect for the reader, who should be trusted to develop a feeling for the meaning behind the action without having the point painfully laid out for him. It could be argued that showing and not telling is what separates fiction and literature from news-writing or historical narration.
That’s it for today! I’ve been really wanting to properly blog! Between starting a new job, looking for a second job, trying to get my submission into women’s world, working on my own little side projects, the class I am taking, and sleeping, I’ve not been posting as much as I would like. I’m hoping this changes very soon.
Note: Various sources around the internet used for this post!
The first post that will be part of my “Something a Bit More Technical” series!
In a film script, a scene is something that happens, it’s defined by something happening in a specific place with certain things happening, much like a scene in a novel. And in a script it looks a bit like this…
INT. BEDROOM-NIGHT We see ERICA (21), looks like she could be related to one of the Bronte sisters, carefree and fun attitude. Books all around her as she hurriedly types, three cats sleeping on the bed.
Something like that anyways. So, script writers have an easier time conveying what everything is set up to be (I’m keeping in mind that a script isn’t the final product here, there is then cameras and actors and filming to add to it). But I also think they have more of a challenge about how they tell a story, at least on paper. You need it to be dialogue and action driven without having too much exposition. I’ve written a few scripts. They took me forever, was kind of a painful process for me and I wasn’t happy with the end results. I’ll probably try it again in a few years and see what happens, until then I will stick with literary fiction.
As a novel writer, I try to keep that in mind while writing, but I also find I often skim over what the scene actually looks like and feels like. I’m kind of stuck in this middle ground between screenplay and novel, and though that marriage could be perfect, it is not working out for me now.
Here’s some adviceables on how to construct a scene.
1. Include an overabundance of everything that will add to the atmosphere. What do the chocolate chip cookies smell like? Do they smell a bit burnt with the sweet and buttery smell. What do they look like? Are they perfectly round or are they a bit misshapen? What do they remind the character of? What colour plate are they sitting on? How far are they from the character? What does the floor feel like beneath their feet, is it hot in there because the cookies have just come out of the oven and if so what season is it? Is it winter so the windows haven’t been opened and are fogging up, or is there a summer breeze coming in? Have they been sitting there for a while now, left untouched and tempting? Do this with everything, you can always take stuff out later when you’re editing. You may decide you really like the idea of it being winter, but it doesn’t really matter what colour the plate is.
2. Emotion is something that most of your characters probably have, and if they have alexithymia or are have trouble feeling a particular emotion, there are emotions that would come along with that. So, how is the character (or each individual character) feeling about this particular scene? How do they feel about the way character A is looking at Character B? How do they feel about how Character C keeps glancing over at them in that way?
3. If you are writing a place or a time period that is in this world and either happening now or in the past, dig up all the information you can on it. If you are writing a story about historical figures, see if you can find documents that they wrote so you can get an idea of what their vocabulary was. Find old newspapers and see what the trending thing was or is. You can also use newpapers to find out what was going on in the city or town at that time? You could have it be a topic of conversation for your characters, or just have one of them make a comment about it.
See if you can find different descriptions of the place to help you build a vision of what it looks like, is it busy, are there horse carts or cars?
Again if you are writing about a real-world person, see if they have biographies or memoirs that you can read, see if you can find portraits of them so that you may accurately describe what they look like. If you are creating your own characters, find portraits that are similar to how your character would look, is their chin rounded or square? Do they have small eyelids?
Often I hear the complaint (and I have made it) that something has too much description and drones on and on, which may put us off from doing all of this and really digging into it, but I think the trick is to edit it down. You won’t need all the details in there, but isn’t it better to have tried them out and find that they didn’t work, instead of not trying them at all?
I know this all sounds like a lot of work, really it is a lot of work! But I have seen improvements in my scene building because of it.
I had some help on this post, as sadly I am not yet such a brilliant writer to come up with all this on my own. I’ve elaborated on what Adam Hochschild wrote for the “Telling True Stories” collection of essays put together by the Nieman Foundation.
Look for another “Something a bit More Technical” post next week!
A few weeks ago my computers power cable finally stopped working. I’ve had
my computer for three years this July, and have carried it all across North America with me, it joined me in my three months in Ontario going from city-to-city and house -to- house and has accompanied me on all of my excursions down to America. My battery is also really, well.. I can charge my computer for a time, but when I unplug it instead of having the 7 hours I once had I have about 7 minutes. No cord equals no computer.
Luckily though my mom has a similar computer and we could share her cord, so that’s what we did. Every few hours I could go on, and every few hours I would not be on.
I haven’t shared a cord with my mom since I was in her womb, but it worked out well all the same.
Since I wanted to keep writing most of the time when I wasn’t on the computer, I used a pen and paper to work on first drafts. I haven’t done this much since I was about… 17ish?
It reminded me of a few things.
First drafts suck. Without the ability to backspace and alter things, I noticed just how ickity pickity some things got. But I think that worked out well, its still a first draft, and I already know what I want to change and where the changes need to be made, which isn’t something I usually do with typed works.
Being outside is refreshing. With a computer, especially once that needs to be plugged in all the time, one doesn’t have very much range that they can go from the house. We have a power outlet outside by the house, but the cord only stretches so far.
I love the city and the country, prefer the city but the country does have its perks. The sky here is phenomenal, there are woods that I can go into and sit on a fallen tree to write, I can walk to the edge of our property and sit down to look at the cows, or go out to the old log cabin and lay in the grass. A notebook is much more transportable than a computer, especially if running through the woods. There is also a whole bunch of frogs here (I think they are frogs) and all they do, except for when it is raining for some reason, is chirp and croak. Seriously, they drown out the coyote howls at night. So I had a constant chorus around me, and could see the chickadees!
I love birds, I think they are just the neatest little things, and seeing them tends to make me happy.
It is more than just words. The computer doesn’t get teastained, it doesn’t get mucky, the spine doesn’t break and it is not as personal as a journal is. It’s way faster, of course!
I’ve challenged myself to finish more first drafts by hand.
Do you write fiction in a journal? What kind of journal do you have? Does it have a ribbon? Is it leather, is it hardcard? Is it a moleskin? Spiralbound? Lined or blank? Does it have clasps or a lock, something to keep it shut?
I really enjoyed writing the last post “Something a Bit More Technical” and it’s gotten some good outside-of-wordpress feedback, so I’ve decided to do a “weekly writing from the technical side” which will be similar to the post from a few days ago where I find information from books and make posts connecting to them, what my thoughts are and anything else that goes along with it! I’ll have the first post up tomorrow morning!
The topic for tomorrow is Scene setting!
- Something a Bit More Technical (ericasatramentum.wordpress.com)