“Show, don’t tell,” was what I was taught at school.
Showing is usually defined as relating the story through descriptions of the character’s feelings, sensations, perceptions, and thoughts. Telling, on the other hand, is a straight-forward (and usually far more succinct) expression of actions, characteristics, and backstory.
Here’s a simple example of “show, don’t tell”:
Show: The skin resists the blunt knife, dimpling slightly before bursting open in a splatter of red liquid. All over my hands. All over the kitchen counter. What’s inside is worse: a viscous mess of seeds and soggy flesh that oozes across my plate, and turns to a fragrant mush in my mouth. It isn’t the taste, but the texture that makes me long to spit it out. Tell: I hate raw tomatoes.
In my example above, the difference between the two approaches is marked. However, in practice, it isn’t always so easy to distinguish between showing and telling.
In this article, I’d like to explore the techniques used by 3 famous authors to blend showing and telling in order to unfold the plot, the characters, and the world. Read More
Alemmia is the story of the first summer that Lucy and her family spend on an idyllic island. It’s a somewhat old-fashioned tale of childhood adventure, and an easy breezy, low-contrast, low-drama beach read to soothe you into more magical manifestations!
I began writing Alemmia last summer, while I was basking in the simple beauty of life on the Aegean. The island’s name is older. I first came up with it to serve as an example for my worldbuilding course, How to Lose Yourself in a World of Your Own Invention. It’s a combination of the Turkish/Arabic word, “âlem/alem,” meaning “world” or “symbol,” and the English/Greek word, “lemma,” which has a whole heap of significations.
At first, the story grew out of my curiosity to explore a world where everyone knew and practiced the principles of the law of attraction. By law of attraction I simply mean the consciousness that we create our own reality. For a while I thought that I was writing a utopia. I suppose it might seem like that to some readers. But the deeper I imagined the world, and the more familiar I grew with the characters, the more I saw the fictional world in the real. I was the petulant child who wanted everything just so, and my day-to-day settings and dénouements were not one jot less magical than those I was writing about.
I’m certain you’ll find the same!
Anticipation is so full of excitement that we imagine manifestation will be too. But I find that a contented sort of lack of surprise usually accompanies the accomplishment of a desire that we had no doubt would bear fruit.
Of course I received the impulse to write this novel.
Of course I loved writing it.
Of course I love the finished story.
Of course I will enjoy exploring it for years to come.
How could it be otherwise?
To celebrate the publication of Alemmia, I’m offering a bundle of all major ebook formats (PDF, EPUB & MOBI) for $1.11!
Mr. Walker’s job was to rewrite people’s backstories. He had started out forging documents, then moved on to inventing anecdotes for politicians, scripting dates and interviews, that sort of thing. Now every character was clamouring for his services.
‘The whole thing’s a fiction, anyway,’ he said.
We were in his office. It was a dark afternoon, and I was watching the raindrop shadows travelling down his face. I wondered whether he was happy.
How did I know he hadn’t made up his story? That he really was who he said he was?
‘Of course I made it up, kid. You think I waste all the good storylines on strangers? But I like you, so here’s the deal. I’ll give you the gist of it, the bare bones. You find it works, we’ll flesh it out together, and you can pay me what you like. How’s that sound?’
I couldn’t deny that it sounded fair.
‘So, what’s the problem? Nothing criminal, I hope?’
I shook my head. No, no, it wasn’t anything like that. I had always been too good for my own good.
‘Ah, a bit of excitement then? You wanna be someone who’s up for anything, someone who knows how to have a grand old time, an inspiration to others!’
Yes, that was it. A life worth writing about.
Mr. Walker laughed. ‘Anything worth writing about is worth rewriting,’ he said, descending upon his typewriter.
Naming I initially called the backstory-writer, ‘Mr. Walker’, but I changed it to ‘Walker’ during edits. Omitting the title does a few things, in my opinion:
It brings the characters closer together. The form of address sounds more familiar, which opens up the possibility of a friendship between them.
It evens up the social status of the two characters, although Walker still calls the POV character, ‘kid’, indicating that he’s older.
It makes the “applicant” sound less respectful, and therefore less needful of Mr. Walker’s services.
It may also make it less likely that the POV character will be construed as a female, although the film noir setting probably undermines this. What do you think?
Formatting While formatting the page, I thought it would be fun to indicate the aforementioned edits, to tie them in to the story’s subject. Has Mr. Walker been marking this (typewritten) page with red ink?
Dialogue Dialogue takes up a lot of room, so it’s even more difficult to squeeze a dialogue-heavy story onto one page!
For this story, I liked the way that reporting the POV character’s speech indirectly not only helps to distinguish the voices, but also feeds in to the question of whether or not this story was written by Mr. Walker. Is he purposely denying the character their own voice? Is this the ‘gist’ of the story, without settled dialogue? If you’re enrolled in How to Be the Heroine of Your Own Story, be sure to check out the Voice Matrix in your textbook for a visual representation of how these choices between direct and indirect speech affect the narrative.
I hope you enjoyed reading this story, and that you consider trying your hand at writing a one page story too!
Character flaws are an interesting topic; far more involved than I had at first realised!
The other day, I was sitting in the Lady Writers League study, drafting a Heroine Frame for myself — a Heroine Frame, in case you don’t know, is our one-page framework for character development — when Sir George appeared at my elbow.
‘What’s that for?’ he asked.
‘I’ve been feeling like a very flaky person lately,’ I said. ‘I wanted to find a story to improve myself.’
‘Why do you feel flaky?’
‘You know very well why.’
‘Yes, but do you?’
I sighed. Sir George’s questions seemed inane sometimes, but they always tended to some higher purpose. ‘I’m feeling like a flake because I’ve been neglecting my correspondence; also, I’ve promised several students worksheets which I haven’t completed yet; and most importantly, I haven’t been working on the draft for the next book.’
‘No thanks to you,’ I added. As my muse, Sir George had to accept part of the blame when I was uninspired.
‘Now, that’s not fair!’ he said, crossing his arms and leaning against the desk. ‘I’ve given you plenty of inspiration. I inspired you to finally try that chai recipe; I inspired you to order a new fountain pen; I inspired you to re-organise your index cards.’
‘That’s not inspiration, that’s procrastination!’
‘All in good time,’ he said, with the smugness of the immortal.
‘Well, I don’t like it. I want to be responsible, and timely. And I thought that while I was studying my own character flaws, I might write up a worksheet on the subject. I’m sure someone asked me for one… a while back.’
‘A character flaw? What’s that?’
‘Good question,’ I said, taking up my (new) pen, drawing a fresh sheet before me, and scribbling a title.
What is a Character Flaw?
After some consideration, I wrote down the following definition:
A character flaw is a habitual way of thinking or behaving that causes problems for the character.
‘That just sounds like life,’ said Sir George, peering at my page.
I chuckled. ‘Yes, it does rather. I suppose a character flaw is more like a pattern, or a refrain that keeps repeating.’
‘More like a Greek chorus, in fact.’
‘Oh, and the idea of the character flaw comes from Greek tragedy, doesn’t it? It was Aristotle who wrote about the hamartia in Poetics.’
‘Yes. That was a different milieu, of course. People were very interested in morality, and a divine idea of right and wrong.’
‘Did you know Aristotle?’ I asked. Sir George loved to boast of the famous writers he had inspired over the ages.
‘Of course I knew him!’ he said at once, a little offended at being asked.
‘What was he like?’
‘A bit vain, perhaps, but brilliant, and fair.’
‘That’s an interesting description,’ I remarked, taking up a fresh sheet to list some example character flaws that occurred to me.
List of Character Flaws
‘You forgot “flakiness”.’
‘And what does one do with a character flaw?’ asked Sir George.
There are so many amazing, insightful, in-depth articles on the art and craft of writing, that… I feel like I’m rehashing a lot of what’s been said. The whole process is beginning to feel a bit mechanical, and a bit cramped.
I’ve been writing longer and longer posts to accompany the worksheets, because:
Many of you write to me asking for further guidance on using them.
After 150+ worksheets, I’ve covered the basics and I’m now delving into more intricate topics.
I’m curious to learn more!
And while I’m very pleased with the articles I’ve written, and I receive lovely messages every day thanking me for them… I’m ready for a change & a challenge!
Alemmia is a Mediterranean island full of roses and promise. It’s also my upcoming law of attraction novel.
On Alemmia you can find the headquarters of the Lady Writers League, where Lady Writer lectures, with the help of Sir George, her muse — though he prefers the term, ‘genius’.
Lady Writer & Sir George have graciously agreed to take over the writing worksheets, while I work on preparing Alemmia for publication, and drafting the next book in the series. As such, I’m proud to present: The Literary Adventures of Lady Writer & Sir George.
☞ The story worksheets have become the story! I hope you will find value in reading the interactions between Lady Writer and her muse. If you have any thoughts or suggestions on the new “format”, I would love to hear them over on Instagram!
And if you’d like to know when Alemmia is ready to read, please leave your email address below. Thank you, as eva, for your support! ♥
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