To Show or Tell by Helene Young!

"I used Grammarly to grammar check this post, because even editors can overlook mistakes and typos!"

Multi-award winning author, Helene Young, lives aboard a catamaran moored near the Great Barrier Reef in the Coral Sea. She shares her sailing adventures with her husband and their dog, Zeus. Her work as a senior captain with a major regional airline takes her all over Australia and she draws inspiration for her stories from the communities she visits.

In 2011 and 2012 she won the Romance Writers of Australia (RWA) Romantic Book of the Year Award and her third novel, Burning Lies, is shortlisted for the award in 2013. She was voted most popular romantic suspense author by the Romance Readers of Australia (ARRA) in 2010 and 2011, and shortlisted for the same award in 2012. Burning Lies is also on the short list for the 2013 Daphne du Maurier Award Mystery/Suspense in America.

Helene is the custodian of several thousand bees and, in what spare time she has left, loves to read and travel.
 

 

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Over to Helene now...

To Show Or Tell
 
I remember when I first starting writing I received feedback that I should show and not tell. Huh? Wasn’t I already doing that?

The answer was no. I may have been doing a bit of both, but I had a lot to learn about showing the reader something in a subtle way rather than labouring the point and hitting them over the head with a sledge-hammer.

‘Showing ‘ is giving the reader a mental image which they can interpret in their own context. It gives insights through a few hints, through well chosen phrases, rather than providing a blow by blow description or statement of facts.

A simple example of telling would be - ‘The wind was blowing 25 knots and Ellie felt cold.’ We could show this by writing - ‘Ellie shivered and wrapped her arms around her chest as the wind whipped her hair from its tight plait.’  By adding some description of how the wind is affecting Ellie you instantly create an image in the reader’s mind.

Here’s a paragraph from an early draft of Half Moon Bay. It’s the opening scene where Ellie’s in an aircraft circling over the top of Kandahar airport waiting to land.

‘For over an hour, wedged in her window seat with the passenger beside her snoring, she’d watched the fire fight, glad that she was circling above it all. What was another hour delayed compared with coming under fire from insurgents hell bent on destroying Kandahar?’

It tells the reader that Ellie’s plane has been delayed for an hour and that there’s some sort of gunfight happening on the ground.

This is the finished version after I reworked it:

The snoring passenger beside her woke with a grunt. ‘Still taking pot shots at each other?’ he asked.

‘Yep.’ Ellie pulled her earpiece free, replacing the sexy croon of Missy Higgins with the sounds of a crowded aircraft cabin. She pressed into her backrest to give the American journalist a better view. ‘We’ve been holding overhead for an hour. Don’t know how you sleep so soundly, Don.’

‘Thirty years of practice. You’ll be the same one day. Idiots won’t be happy until they’ve turned the damn place to dust.’

In the second version we learn what’s happening on the ground as well as gaining many more insights into Ellie and her world, including the music she likes and a hint of how long she’s been working as a journalist.

Showing not telling is also about weaving threads through the story that keep reinforcing the characterisation. The next excerpt is from the section where Nick and Ellie are still circling around the truth after a brush with the bad guys. In the first version the reader doesn’t really get any sense of Ellie being a photojournalist.

‘Maybe.’ She was watching him with those crystal clear eyes that seemed to see through his lies.  They were almost at his car and he flicked the remote hoping she’d let the conversation drop.

In the finished version by adding an analogy in dialogue we learn more about Ellie and also the situation.

‘Maybe.’ She was watching him with those crystal-clear eyes that seemed to strip him to his core. He reached forwards and cleared a patch in the condensation on the window, hoping she’d let the conversation drop.

‘That’s exactly what it’s like.’ Ellie nodded at the distorted view of the playing fields through the smeared circle. ‘I know there’s a whole lot more to this, but all I can see is a blurred picture. It’s like having a damaged lens. Only a matter of time until I sharpen the focus and see the truth.’

Showing is also important in adding detail to a scene. It helps to fill in the colours and textures of the setting. Rather than describing the setting it’s better to add descriptions through the paragraph. This next excerpt shows how I fleshed out more detail of Felicity’s house in Half Moon Bay.

This is the first version:

‘Sarah and Mike flung open the door, competing fiercely to be the first to hug Ellie.  As the warm, supple bodies climbed over her, she felt a tug of sadness, a feeling that she was missing something. How wonderful to feel this unconditional love every day. Shadow burrowed his way into the middle, bestowing long sloppy licks on anyone’s nose that came too close. The children shrieked with delight.’

And the finished version:

‘Sarah and Michael flung open the door, competing fiercely to be the first to hug Ellie as she and Alex walked up the paved path to Felicity’s house. As the warm, supple bodies climbed over her, Ellie felt a tug of sadness, a sense that she was missing something. How wonderful to be showered with this unconditional love every day. Shadow finished inspecting the straggling plants in the front garden bed and burrowed his way into the middle, bestowing long sloppy licks on anyone’s nose that came too close. The children shrieked with delight.’

From the second version we now know more about Felicity’s home and by using a phrase like ‘straggling plants’ it hopefully conveys the sense of a busy mum with no time for gardening.

I try and ensure I’m showing as much as I can when I write the first draft, but I don’t quite succeed there’s plenty of time in the editing process to improve it!!

What process do you use to ensure you’re showing not telling? Have you been given a great piece of advice you’d like to share? I’d love to hear how other writers go about their craft.
 
Half Moon Bay

Ellie Wilding has been running from her past, but when the residents of Half Moon Bay call for help she knows it's finally time to return home.  As an international photojournalist, she's used to violence in war zones, but she's shocked when it erupts in the sleepy hamlet on the north coast of New South Wales, threatening all she holds dear.



Battle-weary Nicholas Lawson walked away from his military career leaving unfinished business. In a coastal backwater, that decision returns to haunt him. He remembers all too vividly his last lethal assignment in Afghanistan when Ellie's sister, Nina, was shot and killed. Ellie's been in his dreams ever since, even if she doesn't remember him…


As a storm rages and floodwaters rise, Ellie struggles to save her community. But who can she trust? Nick Lawson, the dangerously attractive stranger with secrets, or an old friend who's never let her down?
 

34 comments:

  1. The advice to show is good, but I'd like you to tell me something - how do you keep a dog and bees on a boat?

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  2. Lol, Zeus, the dog, is very happy, Patsy, and the bees are residing with friends now :-)

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    1. That's good. I was imagining them snorkelling in the hope of finding seaweed in bloom.

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  3. Loved your examples here--very helpful and clear! And also, thanks to Patsy for asking the very question I was wondering about! :)

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  4. Thanks for dropping by Meradeth :) I was very sad to be leaving the bees behind, but they are in good hands. It will be the first time in 40 years I haven't had the pleasure of looking after them...

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  5. Hello, Helene and hello, Nas! Thank you for stopping by my blog today.

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  6. Great examples of showing vs. telling!

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  7. Thanks, Armchair Squid - most appropriate name for a visitor to a blog by a sailor :-)

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  8. Thanks for stopping by, Kelly :-)

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  9. It seems as though it should be easy yet is difficult to do well. Great examples, Helene. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. My pleasure, Susanne, I think it's the aspect I have to work hardest at and I spend more time mulling it over than any other area of writing. Thanks for visiting!!

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  10. And thanks for stopping by, Susanne :-) I try and do it more while I'm writing the first draft but inevitably it needs more during the editing process...

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  11. Great advice. I think everyone falls into it occasionally - catching it before you submit it is the key :-)

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  12. The examples are interesting and illuminate the merits of show vs. tell.

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    1. Thanks, Manzanita, glad you enjoyed them. I always think examples are easier to understand than a straight explanation.

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  13. I recently read a helpful booklet called 'Rivet Your Reader with Deep Point of View' by Jill Elizabeth Nelson. One of the most helpful tips I learnt was to avoid using words that create narrative distance, e.g. thought, felt, knew, wondered, realised, speculated, decided, wished. Instead, just show what's happening!

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    1. That's great advice, Sandra. I'll have to check out Jill's book. I haven't heard of it before! Thanks for dropping by:)

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  14. Zeus is an awesome name for a dog. Congratulations on Half Moon Bay!

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    1. Thanks, Suze, Zeus is an awesome dog!!!

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  15. Great examples, Helene.
    And, oh! I'm jealous of where you live :-)

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    1. Thanks, Deniz, I'm very lucky to have a portable home that has amazing views!! Glad you enjoyed the post.

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  16. The cover of Half Moon Bay is beautiful!

    I loved this post because the examples were so clear and easy to follow. This is something that I am still working on in my writing- but I have been working hard to show not tell and going back and editing I pick up areas that need to be shown instead. :)

    Helene- your life sounds dreamy. :) Best of luck!

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    1. Thanks, Stephanie, I was delighted when I saw the finished cover - looking forward to the one for next year's book now :-) Sounds like you're already aware of what you need to do. All the very best with your writing!

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  17. great post! Love all the tips. And that book cover is just so intriguing!
    Nutschell
    www.thewritingnut.com

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    1. Thanks, Nutschell :) The cover really does convey so much of the book - very happy with it. Hope the tips help and thanks for stopping by!

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  18. I love this post because you show HOW to show with the great examples.

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    1. Thanks, Stina, hopefully it will be helpful - it's easy to forget some of the basics when we're head down, fingers to the keys! Thanks for visiting :-)

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  19. Wonderful tips and examples of show vs tell!

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    1. Thanks, Cherie, glad you enjoyed them! Thanks for dropping by :)

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  20. Hi Helene,

    I remember reading a work by a best selling author years ago and feeliing extremely irritated at practically being told what to think. She told us what the main character was doing and why they were doing it. Really, less is more when you think about it.

    Thank you Nas for hosting Helene.

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    1. Hi Maria, that's something that jars with me as well. Less is definitely better as the reader's imagination will fill in the gaps which then makes it even more personal for them. It's all about creating empathy with our characters and every reader is different. Thanks for joining in the discussion :-)

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  22. Hi Helene,

    Thanks for sharing this. Very informative.

    Congratulations on the release of Half Moon Bay!

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Join the discussion. What do you think?