The Opening Chapter

We’ve all seen the myriad of posts from bloggers and agents concerning the opening chapter of our manuscripts — cut the first twenty-five pages, start with conflict, no prologues, no tropes, no cliches…

If, like me, you’re ready to tear your hair out, then read on, because I’m about to cut the noise, and break the opening chapter into bite-size pieces…and hopefully shed some light on the ambiguous statements above. No more waffle, let’s just dive right in.

  1. The Opening Line.

If you Google ‘the opening line’, the internet will bring you to a barage of sites touting the ‘best’ book openers in the history of books eveeerrrrr! Some will bring you the infamous ‘Pride and Prejudice’ opener, some ‘The Lord of the Rings’, but no matter how different the examples, or the gaping publishing time-gap between these books, all of them have one thing in common:

They force the reader to have a reaction.

Example 1:

It was just another typical day in Laura’s world. Glancing in the rear-view mirror, she dabbed her freshly glossed lips — cherry number five, Walgreen’s finest — before running brisk fingers through her sun-kissed hair. Little did she know, but her bubble was about to burst.

It’s not a bad opening, but I have little to no reaction. I have no sense of who she is, where we are, or what’s going on. In other words…we didn’t open with conflict.

Let’s talk about conflict for a second. From my musings on social media, I’ve determined that most writers don’t really understand what’s meant when an agent/publishing professional mentions ‘conflict’. They don’t actually mean open your manuscript in the middle of a battle, or start in the middle of your work. What they do mean, is begin with the catalyst. The moment/thing/person that catapults your protagonist on their journey.

Begin where the protagonist has that jolting realization, and the reader will have a reaction.

Example 2:

Whoever just drove that brand new car — what the hell was it anyway? A Rolls? A Bentley? — into the back of Laura’s twenty year old VW bug, was about to lose a limb. Eyes narrowed, she squinted into the rear-view mirror.

“Fucking Bentley,” she murmured, subconsciously running a hand through her sun-kissed hair. A Bentley meant she should probably start massaging her neck, because a Bentley meant money.

Do you see the difference? Not only do we get the sense of who Laura is, but the reader will definitely have a reaction.

2. Character Development

Two rules here. Voice, and Progressive Showing (for more on Progressive Showing, check out my post on Show vs Tell: A Guide To Writing).

Your protagonist’s voice HAS to shine through in the first few paragraphs. If it doesn’t, you’ll get the good old: “I just didn’t connect with the protagonist” rejection.

Notes on voice:

Ask yourself: What would your character say, how would they say it, and did you convey that to the reader?

Incidentally, Progressive Showing is intimately tied to Voice. It is the art of peppering your prose with imperative information without info-dumping.

Notes on Progressive Showing:

Ask yourself: If I were in this situation, would I really begin an inner monologue cataloging everything an 8th Grade bully said to me on the 15th of September of ‘x’ year?

No. You wouldn’t. Nine times out of ten, if you haven’s mastered the art of showing, the answer will be no. And that’s okay.

Example 1:

Laura couldn’t believe this moron had just crashed into her car. How the hell was she going to pay for the repairs? The rent was due on Friday, and Mr. Smith had told her time and again that if she was late, he’d evict her. And here was this smarmy ‘I-drive-a-Bentley’ asshole, looking hotter than an Arizona summer, who probably didn’t have to worry about things like ‘rent’ or ‘food’ or ‘car payments’.

Example 2:

One tailored leg followed the other as the driver unfolded himself from the plush leather depths of the Bentley. Laura’s brow furrowed. The son-of-a-bitch was taking his goddamn time, as if he had nowhere to be. As if Laura had nowhere to be. She’d have to cancel her date with Jon — or Jim…whatever — and volunteer for overtime if she wanted to fix her rust-bucket. A girl had to eat, and Mr. Smith would be banging down the door first thing Friday morning looking for rent. Taking a deep breath, she counted to ten.

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting a real sense of who Laura is in the second example. In fact…I think I like Laura. And I smell a hot, millionaire romcom here…maybe I should develop these examples…hmm…

3. A Page-Turning End.

It was suggested to me, many moons ago, that the opening chapter of a manuscript should end on a high note. In other words, the reader should be left a little breathless, and in want of a second chapter. (Really, all chapters should end like that, but it’s key for an opener.

End it on a question. End it on a mystery. But whatever you do, end it on an intake of  breath.

Example 1:

The hot guy grinned, and Laura’s knees weakened.

“What did you say your name was?” he purred, gaze raking her from head to toe.

“Laura. Laura Kelly.”

“I’ll have my office call you when the insurance company comes through.”

And without a word, hot guy lazily returned to his Bentley, leaving Laura with a bad case of the ‘oh-my’s’, and an addled head. Because, if she had been with it, she would have realized that he hadn’t taken any of her information. Groaning, she banged her head on the steering wheel.

Example 2:

When he smiled, the bustling intersection fell away, emerald eyes crinkling as they lazily raked every inch of her.

She swallowed.

“Laura. Laura Kelly.”

“Laura…Kelly,” he purred, testing her name on his tongue. Reaching into his perfect goddamn breast-pocket, he produced an ivory card, holding it between his fingers like a weathered Virginia Slim. “Here. I’ll have my office contact you when the insurance comes through. You can reach me here.”

She couldn’t help the feeling that she was doing something wrong. That taking that card meant she had somehow sealed a deal with the devil.

But as he disappeared into the confines of that ridiculously expensive car, Laura turned the card over…and her heart dropped in her chest.

No-one was going to believe her. Not her Mom, not her sister, and not her roommate, Kirsty.

“No fucking way,” she murmured.

So? Which is more compelling? (PS…I really am feeling this story LOL) For me, it’s the second. What’s on the card? Is it his name? Does she know him? Know OF him? Or did she really just seal a deal with the devil?

I hope this post cleared up a few of the finer points of the opening chapter. If not, my door is always open on Twitter, where I love receiving post suggestions! You can find me there, and I’ll be happy to answer as many questions as I can!

Until next time!

Keep Writing!

@Maria_Tureaud

 

 

 

 

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Show vs Tell: A Guide To Writing

The phrase is everywhere. A simple Google search of ‘How To Write A Book’ will result in thousands of pages popping up in reference to it.

What is it? The all cryptic, all powerful, Showing vs. Telling.

If you happen to be a budding author, then you’ve most certainly heard the term. Hell, you’ve probably read blog after blog, and article after article, that attempted to explain what it means, what it should look like, and how to execute it.

If you’re like me, then you’ve found nothing but pages upon pages of vague paragraphs eluding to the holy grail of getting published. You sit there, like a World War II enigma engineer desperately trying to crack the code! Trust me, you’re not alone.

So, what’s the magic formula?! There has to be one!

Until very recently, I was right there with you. What changed? A single article that altered my entire perspective…*pause for effect, and then whisper*…of everything.

“Well, that’s a bit dramatic,” you mutter, blithely rolling your eyes as you assume an air of nonchalance. Meanwhile, your knuckles blanch white as you grip that steaming mocha soy latte for all its worth. Determined not to read the screen, you run your fingers through damp, tangled hair, before finally taking a sip of your coffee. Fortified, you fill your lungs and reluctantly find yourself glancing at the computer. Damn it!

You’re a writer, and unless you’ve somehow nabbed a book deal from one of the ‘Big Five’, of course you’re interested.

Little did you know, but the tutorial has already begun.

You have to show, not tell…blah, blah, blah. Same old, same old…or is it? Are you ready to have your mind blown?

I’ve discovered that there are two kinds of ‘showing’…descriptive, and – what I like to call – progressive.

Let’s begin.

Descriptive Showing:

Pick the first page of your manuscript. Now read it out loud.

(Why is she making me talk to myself?)

My next question might seem a bit odd, but it’s very simple: Can you see it?

Huh?

If your manuscript was translated from the page to cinema…could you see it? Of course, you can see it in your head…it’s your manuscript after all!

But what about the audience? Can they see it? And by seeing it…I had a damn revelation here…what’s really meant, is: Can your readers see who your protagonist is, as well as the world around them, and how they interact with it?

Example 1:

Dirk was a good guy. He never did a bad thing in his life, that is, not until ten minutes ago. It was the other guy’s fault, he should have never tried to pick a fight.

Dirk had served three tours in Afghanistan. A genuine, decorated, war hero. Then along comes this guy, talking shit about Dirk’s girl, and suddenly we got a really big problem. An ‘oh-shit-where’s-Dexter-when-you-need-him’ kind of problem.

**End**

I mean, it’s not bad. We get the picture. Dirk’s a vet that just got back from Afghanistan, and has apparently made fist meat out of some guy…on a scale equivalent to everyone’s favorite vigilante, blood splatter analyst/serial killer!

But can you really see it? Can you actually see who he is, and the world around him? Let’s try again.

Example 2:

Dirk was a good guy. Even now, in the ominously dark alley, with nothing but the wheeze of his own ragged breath for company, Dirk was a good guy.

Steam rose from blood-slick hands, yet all he could do was stand there, staring at the still, silent body crumpled at his feet, as a spasm ripped through his overworked  bicep.

“I killed him,” he whispered, as a nearby cab flew over an ill fitting manhole. Whipping around, Dirk dropped to the ground, prepared for the torrent of gunfire that never manifested.

PTSD would do that to you.

**End**

Now, could you see that? Could you see who he was, based solely on his interaction with the world around him? Could you see how upset he was without me ‘telling’ you how upset he was? Could you see all that he had been through without me ‘telling’ you that he was a vet?

If the ‘camera’ can’t see it, then your reader can’t; and the only way to accomplish this with descriptive showing, is to use the five senses. Sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell.

Tell: The sun was shining. It was really bright

Show: The sun’s reflection off the stainless steel teapot horrified Mary. It was too early, and the glare hurt her head like a tequila fueled hangover after a holiday weekend.

Tell: Her skin was so soft.

Show: His calloused hands skimmed the silk-like smoothness of her yielding skin.

Tell: Lisa missed her mom’s cooking. Sometimes, she could close her eyes and taste that chicken pot pie.

Show: In quiet moments, when grief crept up so unexpectedly, Lisa could almost taste the flaky, buttery, crust of her mom’s famous, blue ribbon winning, chicken pot pie.

Progressive Showing:

Chances are, you give a lot of back story. I’m guilty of it too. We want the reader to understand the world that we have created…but we don’t have to make the most fatal of literary mistakes: The Info-Dump.

That term gets tossed around about as much as a Sunday game ball, but it can be applied to more than an incredibly detailed prologue outlining the entire history of your fictitious alien race.

The progression of your story can either be shown, or told. You don’t have to reveal every little detail of the story.

Think of your favorite movie. How are you introduced to the main character, and the plot? Are you told everything there is to know about them? How are you introduced to their quirks?

It could be as simple as having the detective in your manuscript constantly flipping a Zippo lighter. Now, imagine that the camera zooms in on the lighter. What does that tell us? That the lighter is significant.

It could just mean that he smokes…or that he used to smoke.

Zooming in on that lighter has just raised a whole bevvy of questions.

Why did he stop smoking? Health reasons? Maybe he never smoked…maybe the lighter was his dad’s – a cop like him…

Or maybe, his own lit cigarette was the catalyst for the house fire that killed his entire family, and flicking that lighter is the only thing keeping him grounded in the here and now…

My God I’m morbid!

Example 1:

Lori didn’t get along with her mom, but hated her stepfather more. As bad as ‘Mommy’ had been, nothing compared to the outwardly charismatic Ryan Saleno.

He was a ‘pillar’ of the community. The Mayor of the city of Aldridge, and the man that had made her life a living hell through the grace of his fist. Her mother too. He was a monster.

She didn’t know how she was going to get through the Holidays…

**Note: There’s nothing ‘wrong’ with this passage. The voice is fine, we get the idea, and we have been told about Lori’s dysfunctional family. It’s a good passage, but it’s also very run of the mill.

Example 2:

Passing the little coat closet by her front door, Lori paused. It really was amazing. Not the closet itself – in New York City a postage stamp would be bigger than the cubby that she shoved her jacket into.

No. The amazing thing was that still, after all these years, her heart fluttered every damn time she walked passed it. Or any closet for that matter.

“Where did you go, chickadee?”

Lori shuddered, hesitating as her fingers hovered above the bowl that held her keys. Only God knew how much of her youth had been spent in her childhood closet, hiding from his drunken rages.

The charismatic Mayor of Aldridge – her stepfather.

“We really don’t have to go, Lor.”

Turning, Lori smiled at Ricky. He was Mayor Ryan Saleno’s exact opposite, and she was grateful for that.

“I have to. For Mom.” Taking a deep breath, and grabbing the keys, Lori placed her hand in Ricky’s safe grasp. It was now or never. “Have I mentioned how much I hate the Holiday’s?”

**Note: Can you see the difference? Instead of telling the story of her dysfunctional family, we have shown the story through visual memory (sight), auditory memory (sound), and we could not only understand Lori’s hesitation, but we could almost empathize with her. The well-timed dialogue only adds to the scene, progressing the story forward, and allows us to fill in some of the gaps.

Instead of telling us the back story, simply elude to it. It adds an air of mystery, and succeeds in propelling the story along…aka, it transforms into a page turner!

It’s tough, and it’s difficult. Let’s be truly honest with ourselves – if it were easy, we would already be published.

I have come to the realization that anyone can be a writer, but not everyone can craft a novel.

Research and practice help, but I’m hoping that my own experience can help others find their way.

Remember, page by page, paragraph by paragraph, and line by line : Can the audience see it?

And until they can, your masterpiece might never see the light of day.

Your story needs to be told, so take a deep breath, and revise.

Come follow me on Twitter! @Maria_Tureaud

The Dreaded Query: Part Three

Resolution. A decision, mental state,  or determination to resolve.

Resolve. To convert or transform by any process, through firmness of intent.

Where is your book going? How does your protagonist develop? How will the conflict be righted?

These are the questions you should ask yourself as you begin to write the third and final part of your query body.

Let’s re-cap the three elements to a successful query.

  1. The Hook – Why should the reader (in this case the agent) read on?
  2. The Conflict – What drama happens in the book?
  3. The Resolution – Where will it all end?

Before looking at your resolution and slap-happily giving everything away, remember: the query is not the synopsis.

We have to whet the reader’s appetite. Why would they want to read on if you’ve already laid everything out on the line?

Once again, I urge you all to approach the resolution like the back jacket of a book…so hop to your bookshelves…

“But beyond the court is a man who dares to challenge the power of her family to offer Mary a life of freedom and passion. If only she has the courage to break away – before the Boleyn enemies turn on the Boleyn girls…” – The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory.

“One Choice can transform you.” – Divergent by Veronica Roth.

“But Mare finds herself on a deadly path, at risk of becoming exactly the kind of monster she is trying to defeat. Will she shatter under the weight of the lives that are the cost of rebellion? Or have treachery and betrayal hardened her forever?” – Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard.

“Sweeping from a land of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, here is a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assasins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens. Amid plots and counterplots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, the fate of the Starks, their allies, and their enemies hangs perilously in the balance, as each endeavors to win that deadliest of conflicts: the Game of Thrones.” – You must be hiding under a rock if you don’t know what this one is.

So…all four are effective resolutions, but they all seem so different. What, exactly, do you put in that final paragraph?

The resolution can be a tough one, but though all four examples above seem very different, they actually do have a few things in common.

  1.  Each paragraph feels like the protagonist(s) come to a crossroads – one path leads to some sort of Hallelujah moment, and the other to their destruction. This can be a mental state or literal destruction. No, not every book has a nuclear bomb about to go off, but every book should have some sort of journey. Personal, literal, it doesn’t matter. Eventually there is always a choice. There will always be a crossroads, and the choice made at said crossroads will always determine the outcome of the book.
  2. The stakes are clearly defined – if x does not happen, y will occur. Well, Divergent doesn’t directly state the stakes, but we get the feeling that a trans-formative choice needs to take place.
  3. All four are moreish. They whet the reader’s appetite, giving a glimpse into what might happen without giving anything away.

Pulling your hair out? I know. Take a deep, cleansing breath. I don’t think I can say it enough: the query is more important than the book. You need to take your time. Research the right agents. Construct your letter effectively.

There are a few excellent resources to help you find the right agent.

  1. http://www.agentquery.com/
  2. https://www.publishersmarketplace.com/
  3. https://www.amazon.com/Guide-Literary-Agents-2017-Published/dp/144034776X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1496331343&sr=8-1&keywords=guide+to+literary+agents

Number 3 is my personal favorite. Ensure that you purchase the most updated version – a new list is published every year…and DOUBLE CHECK THE LISTED AGENT’S WEBSITE FOR SUBMISSION GUIDELINES! No attachments means no attachments. They want a synopsis, you send a synopsis. First 10 pages, means first 10 pages!

Once you have your agents (which should number above 20), it’s time to construct your letter.

You’ve probably read about personalization in query letters, well so have I. But I’ve also read conflicting instructions when talking about personalization, so – if you feel inclined – follow my how-to below.

How To Personalize your query letter:

These are the ONLY scenarios where personalization is a good idea:

  1. You met the agent at a writer’s conference (sorry, if you happen to be said agent’s barista at Starbuck’s, I wouldn’t mention it).
  2. Another agent recommended that you send your query to said agent. This is called a referral (in this case, DO NOT LIE. Agent’s talk to each other…A LOT. It’s best to supply the recommendation e-mail at the very end of your query…as in, after the sample pages etc. I would mention that you’ve included said e-mail).
  3. A book/author they represent absolutely changed your life (for the better…no mentions of swirling jealousy and a trip to rehab please!)

How NOT to Personalize your query letter:

  1. “I really wanted to submit to you because I thought you might like my work” – Duh. Said agent assumes you’ve already done your research and your homework, so there’s no need to state the obvious. You don’t get extra marks for finding out who they represent etc.
  2. “You like sci-fi, and this is the best sci-fi you’ll ever read” – Nope. See my post on The Author Ego. LEAVE IT AT THE DOOR!
  3. “You’ll want to jump on this, it’s a new best-seller!” – If I were an agent, I’d pass out of spite. Luckily for everyone, I’m not an agent.

So, unless some chance or contrived encounter fell under the HOW TO menu above, forget personalization *hands out tissues to mop up nervous sweat*. Relax. There’s a formula!

Here it is!

  1. Dear (insert agent’s actual name, not Dear Agent…and be professional. Use their last name and SPELL IT CORRECTLY)
  2. Immediately jump into THE HOOK
  3. Continue onto THE CONFLICT
  4. You got it…THE RESOLUTION
  5. New paragraph: *Insert book title in CAPS here*, is a work of *Insert genre here*, complete at *Insert wordcount here*.
  6. Continue with: It is *Insert comp title here* meets *insert another comp title/tv show* (you can flourish a bit here and add on things like: In a style similar to *insert author’s name* with a twist of *some other fanciful thing that sets your book apart), it will appeal to a *insert genre again* audience ages *insert your best guess here*.
  7. Optional paragraph: Biography. Note. ONLY WRITE A BIO IF YOUR BIO IS RELEVANT. Don’t mention that you’re a  dad, or a mom, or that you live wherever. Only mention the following: If your writing has won any awards, if you have ever been paid to write, if you have ever been paid to edit. If money has never been exchanged for your work, then it’s not relevant. The agent wants to see if others found your work pay-worthy. Keep the bio simple. I have a degree in *BA here*, with a passion for *insert genre related passion*.
  8. New Paragraph: Below, please find the *insert what the agent requested in their submission guidelines* pasted below the body of this letter for your perusal.
  9. New paragraph: “I truly hope to hear from you soon, and look forward to potentially working together in the future.”
  10. New Paragraph:

                       Yours Sincerely,

                      *Name*

                      *e-mail address*

                      *phone number

                     *street address*

All that being said, as this is the third and final installment of The Dreaded Query, I decided to bite the bullet and come up with a query of my own to share with you all. A round of applause to all my Twitter followers that were such great sports to participate over the last few months, but it’s time to bare my own manuscript. It’s only fair.

That being said, this series got me thinking about my own, even though I’m months away from being ready for the query stage, and I’ll probably re-work this a thousand times before I am, but here it is. My own Hook, Conflict, and resolution:

When angst-ridden Isa is suddenly freed from her subservient world, her life becomes one worth living. That is, until the Truth is revealed.

Perditio…it comes.

She is the Reaper. Tainted. The unwilling piece to the puzzle of Earth’s survival. But Isa can barely control her own anger, never mind her new found power. It’s going to take a miracle to pull it off, and her reluctant protector agrees.

Brandt doesn’t believe Earth can be saved. He’s just along for the ride, honor bound to keep Isa alive though his life is already over.

So when the past has destroyed the present, and the future remains unknown, betrayal rises from the depths of Perditio, extinguishing the flame of hope that has been kindling in the hearts of those already enlightened with the Truth.

Will Isa cave beneath the pressure? Or will the strong, powerful Reaper that she has to become rise from the ashes of the girl she once was?

Until next time, I can always be found on the Twittersphere! @Maria_Tureaud

Thanks for tuning in!

-Maria

Show vs Tell: A Guide To Writing

The phrase is everywhere. A simple Google search of ‘How To Write A Book’ will result in thousands of pages popping up in reference to it.

What is it? The all cryptic, all powerful, Showing vs. Telling.

If you happen to be a budding author, then you’ve most certainly heard the term. Hell, you’ve probably read blog after blog, and article after article, that attempted to explain what it means, what it should look like, and how to execute it.

If you’re like me, then you’ve found nothing but pages upon pages of vague paragraphs eluding to the holy grail of getting published. You sit there, like a World War II enigma engineer desperately trying to crack the code! Trust me, you’re not alone.

So, what’s the magic formula?! There has to be one!

Until very recently, I was right there with you. What changed? A single article that altered my entire perspective…*pause for effect, and then whisper*…of everything.

“Well, that’s a bit dramatic,” you mutter, blithely rolling your eyes as you assume an air of nonchalance. Meanwhile, your knuckles blanch white as you grip that steaming mocha soy latte for all its worth. Determined not to read the screen, you run your fingers through damp, tangled hair, before finally taking a sip of your coffee. Fortified, you fill your lungs and reluctantly find yourself glancing at the computer. Damn it!

You’re a writer, and unless you’ve somehow nabbed a book deal from one of the ‘Big Six’, of course you’re interested.

Little did you know, but the tutorial has already begun.

You have to show, not tell…blah, blah, blah. Same old, same old…or is it? Are you ready to have your mind blown?

I’ve discovered that there are two kinds of ‘showing’…descriptive, and – what I like to call – progressive.

Let’s begin.

Descriptive Showing:

Pick the first page of your manuscript. Now read it out loud.

(Why is she making me talk to myself?)

My next question might seem a bit odd, but it’s very simple: Can you see it?

Huh?

If your manuscript was translated from the page to cinema…could you see it? Of course, you can see it in your head…it’s your manuscript after all!

But what about the audience? Can they see it? And by seeing it…I had a damn revelation here…what’s really meant, is: Can your readers see who your protagonist is, as well as the world around them, and how they interact with it?

Example 1:

Dirk was a good guy. He never did a bad thing in his life, that is, not until ten minutes ago. It was the other guys fault, he should have never tried to pick a fight.

Dirk had served three tours in Afghanistan. A genuine, decorated, war hero. Then along comes this guy, talking shit about Dirk’s girl, and suddenly we got a really big problem. An ‘oh-shit-where’s-Dexter-when-you-need-him’ kind of problem.

**End**

I mean, it’s not bad. We get the picture. Dirk’s a vet that just got back from Afghanistan, and has apparently made fist meat out of some guy…on a scale equivalent to everyone’s favorite vigilante, blood splatter analyst/serial killer!

But can you really see it? Can you actually see who he is, and the world around him? Let’s try again.

Example 2:

Dirk was a good guy. Even now, in the ominously dark alley, with nothing but the wheeze of his own ragged breath for company, Dirk was a good guy.

Steam rose from his blood slick hands, and yet all he could do was stand there; staring at the still, silent body crumpled at his feet, as a spasm ripped through his overworked  bicep.

“I killed him,” he whispered, as a nearby cab flew over an ill fitting manhole. Whipping around, Dirk dropped to the ground, prepared for the torrent of gunfire that never manifested.

PTSD would do that to you.

**End**

Now, could you see that? Could you see who he was, based solely on his interaction with the world around him? Could you see how upset he was without me ‘telling’ you how upset he was? Could you see all that he had been through without me ‘telling’ you that he was a vet?

If the ‘camera’ can’t see it, then your reader can’t; and the only way to accomplish this with descriptive showing, is to use the five senses. Sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell.

Tell: The sun was shining. It was really bright

Show: The sun’s reflection off the stainless steel teapot horrified Mary. It was too early, and the glare hurt her head like a tequila fueled hangover after a holiday weekend.

Tell: Her skin was so soft.

Show: His calloused hands skimmed the silk-like smoothness of her yielding skin.

Tell: Lisa missed her mom’s cooking. Sometimes, she could close her eyes and taste that chicken pot pie.

Show: In quiet moments, when grief crept up so unexpectedly, Lisa could almost taste the flaky, buttery, crust of her mom’s famous, blue ribbon winning, chicken pot pie.

Progressive Showing:

Chances are, you give a lot of back story. I’m guilty of it too. We want the reader to understand the world that we have created…but we don’t have to make the most fatal of literary mistakes: The Info-Dump.

That term gets tossed around about as much as a Sunday game ball, but it can be applied to more than an incredibly detailed prologue outlining the entire history of your fictitious alien race.

The progression of your story can either be shown, or told. You don’t have to reveal every little detail of the story.

Think of your favorite movie. How are you introduced to the main character, and the plot? Are you told everything there is to know about them? How are you introduced to their quirks?

It could be as simple as having the detective in your manuscript constantly flipping a Zippo lighter. Now, imagine that the camera zooms in on the lighter. What does that tell us? That the lighter is significant.

It could just mean that he smokes…or that he used to smoke.

Zooming in on that lighter has just raised a whole bevvy of questions.

Why did he stop smoking? Health reasons? Maybe he never smoked…maybe the lighter was his dad’s – a cop like him…

Or maybe, his own lit cigarette was the catalyst for the house fire that killed his entire family, and flicking that lighter is the only thing keeping him grounded in the here and now…

My God I’m morbid!

Example 1:

Lori didn’t get along with her mom, but hated her stepfather more. As bad as ‘Mommy’ had been, nothing compared to the outwardly charismatic Ryan Saleno.

He was a ‘pillar’ of the community. The Mayor of the city of Aldridge, and the man that had made her life a living hell through the grace of his fist. Her mother too. He was a monster.

She didn’t know how she was going to get through the Holidays…

**Note: There’s nothing ‘wrong’ with this passage. The voice is fine, we get the idea, and we have been told about Lori’s dysfunctional family. It’s a good passage, but it’s also very run of the mill.

Example 2:

Passing the little coat closet by her front door, Lori paused. It really was amazing. Not the closet itself – in New York City a postage stamp would be bigger than the cubby that she shoved her jacket into.

No. The amazing thing was that still, after all these years, her heart fluttered every damn time she walked passed it. Or any closet for that matter.

“Where did you go, chickadee?”

Lori shuddered, hesitating as her fingers hovered above the bowl that held her keys. Only God knew how much of her youth had been spent in her childhood closet, hiding from his drunken rages.

The charismatic Mayor of Aldridge – her stepfather.

“We really don’t have to go, Lor.”

Turning, Lori smiled at Ricky. He was Mayor Ryan Saleno’s exact opposite, and she was grateful for that.

“I have to. For Mom.” Taking a deep breath, and grabbing the keys, Lori placed her hand in Ricky’s safe grasp. It was now or never. “Have I mentioned how much I hate the Holiday’s?”

**Note: Can you see the difference? Instead of telling the story of her dysfunctional family, we have shown the story through visual memory (sight), auditory memory (sound), and we could not only understand Lori’s hesitation, but we could almost empathize with her. The well-timed dialogue only adds to the scene, progressing the story forward, and allows us to fill in some of the gaps.

Instead of telling us the back story, simply elude to it. It adds an air of mystery, and succeeds in propelling the story along…aka, it transforms into a page turner!

It’s tough, and it’s difficult. Let’s be truly honest with ourselves – if it were easy, we would already be published.

I have come to the realization that anyone can be a writer, but not everyone can craft a novel.

Research and practice help, but I’m hoping that my own experience can help others find their way.

Remember, page by page, paragraph by paragraph, and line by line : Can the audience see it?

And until they can, your masterpiece might never see the light of day.

Your story needs to be told, so take a deep breath, and revise.

Come follow me on Twitter! @Maria_Tureaud