On Friday of last week, I came home to find my manuscript had returned from its assessment by one of the professional readers of the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA). I wanted to wait a while before opening it but my children were having none of that 😉 They waited with bated breath as I tore open the envelope and read the first paragraph of my three page report, summarising the reader’s opinion of ‘From Here to Nashville.’ When I looked up with a big smile on my face, they knew the coast was clear and we all breathed normally again. I read the whole report through then and was very pleased with how positive it was. Of course, there are things I need to work on but they are manageable and mostly, the sort of things I was expecting.
So in my blog post today, I want to pick up on one of these things which is all about ‘showing, not telling’, a phrase I know you will all be familiar with, just like me. The trouble is that a lot of the time, you read about these things that you’re not supposed to do when writing but you do them anyway because you don’t know how to do things differently. I have been reading up about it over the weekend and found that the advice is not so much that we should ‘show, not tell’ as writers but that we should try and achieve a good balance between showing and telling. Sometimes, you will need to tell your readers some information in order to move things along. All writers do it, you’ll see it all the time when you’re reading. The trick is not to do it too much and to get in as much showing as you can without overdoing it. Easy, right?
The best article I read about this topic was on Emma Darwin’s blog ‘This Itch of Writing.’ You can read the article here. She refers to ‘showing’ as ‘evoking’ instead, making the reader feel as though they’re in there with the characters. Instead of ‘telling’, she refers to ‘informing’, when as the narrator, you need to cover some ground. I find this a much clearer way of looking at the whole thing.
1. I feel/I felt
So how do you know when you are ‘telling/informing’ too much? Well, if you’re writing in the first person like I am, you will find the phrases, ‘I feel’ or ‘I felt’ popping up a lot if you are ‘telling’ too much. For example, at the beginning of Chapter 2 of my novel, I’ve written:
‘My mind turned immediately to last night and I felt warm and fuzzy all over when I thought about our fantastic gig and how the crowd had given us such a positive reaction.’
2. Watch out for those adjectives
I must admit to wondering how I could show that she was feeling warm and fuzzy, instead of telling the reader that she is. The advice I was given for this example was to write something like ‘my tummy flipped over when I thought…’ Using a verb allows me to get rid of those adjectives that have crept in there too.
3. Use the senses
Next, I need to ‘show’ what warm and fuzzy looks like so that the character’s emotional experience is conjured up for the reader. One way of doing this is to use the senses to describe her feelings. You don’t need to use every sense, that would be overdoing it but maybe choose one or two and work with that. I decided that I could rewrite this sentence as:
‘My mind turned immediately to last night and my tummy flipped over at the memory of our gig. I could still hear the crowd’s applause, see their smiling faces and soon, my heart was pounding once again as the thrill of it all came back to me.’
This has made me think more carefully about the whole meaning of the phrase to ‘show, not tell’ and I think I’m better equipped now to redistribute the balance between the two in my manuscript. However, it is going to mean another complete read through with this new hat on so I may be some time 🙂 I hope you find this useful and that it helps you when looking at your current work in progress. Thanks for reading as always and have a good writing week. Do let me know in the comments below what you think of my sentence above. I’ll be happy to take on any feedback.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia
I have been reading a number of blog posts recently about how to promote your novel in the most effective way and it has become clear that most people think you need to have a Facebook page. I have put this off for a long time because, to be honest, I don’t really like Facebook. I’ve had a personal profile for some years but haven’t really engaged with it and when I became a teacher, I decided that was definitely for the best and deleted my account.
Fast forward a few years to when I started writing and after reading up a bit, I realised I would have to have at least three ways for people to get to know me. I set up my Twitter account and took to it like the proverbial duck to water. I set up this blog and I absolutely love writing it every week and watching it grow. Then there was Facebook. I reactivated my account and invited a few select family members and friends to join me, which they did without hesitation. But soon though, my timeline was filled with so much stuff that was really of no interest to me that I was left feeling full of regret. I realised once again, that I just don’t like Facebook so what was I to do? At this point, after a lot of moaning about it, my daughter showed me how to set up a page. I then left it unpublished for more than six months, still unsure what to do with it. Until yesterday when I started playing around with it. I still have a long way to go but I’ve looked at the Facebook pages of a number of authors to see what they do and now feel more confident about making this page into something useful in the longer term. So this week, I’ve decided to share what I’ve learnt so far in the hope that it helps any other new writers out there to set up their own page.
1. Setting up the Page
First of all, you must have a personal account on Facebook in order to create an author page. At the top of the screen, next to the security lock symbol, there is a down arrow which gives you the option to create a page. Once you have clicked on this, you should choose ‘Artist, Band or Public Figure.’ Then choose ‘Author’ from the drop down menu, type in your name and click on ‘Get Started.’ You will now have a basic author page. The link to this page will show up on your personal ‘Home’ page on the left-hand side. You can move its position by clicking on the cog to the left of it and then dragging it up to greater prominence.
2. Adding a Cover Photo
This is as simple as clicking in the Cover Photo area and uploading a photo. If you’ve done this on Twitter or on your website, the process is much the same. You should add a photo of the cover of your book here of course and although I’m not yet published, I have had a provisional cover since day one so I have uploaded this photo there. In the past, you used to be able to insert a ‘call to action’ here for potential readers but Facebook have recently changed the rules so now you can’t do any overt marketing which begs the question, what is this all for? Aargh! Still, I quite like that. Facebook wants you to keep detail like that in your About/Bio section and perhaps that’s fair enough. If you go to Settings at the top of your page, you can fill in all kinds of details about yourself. Don’t forget to include your website! I have asked people to tell me what they think of my cover and pinned that post to the top of the page to try and draw people’s attention to it.
3. Sharing Posts on Twitter
This one took me quite a while 🙂 If you go here you will be able to link your page to Twitter so that when you publish a post to Facebook, it automatically posts it to Twitter. I have also added the Facebook Like widget to my website (over on the right) so that readers can link straight to it and it shows who has liked my page as well. In addition to this, you have to enable Facebook in your ‘Publicize’ settings when you write your posts. This means that this blog post should now appear on my Facebook page. I hope that this will trigger a tweet as well but only time will tell. If it all works, I’ll let you know next time. If not, I’ll give you an update on what I had to put right!
In the meantime, do have a go at setting up your own page, especially if it’s something you’ve been putting off. It’s not that difficult but I won’t know for a while if it’s useful. Please do let me know if this works for you and tell me of your successes in the comments below. Thank you all for reading. Have a good week 🙂
Once I’d made the decision to devote proper time to my writing on a regular basis, I knew that I would want to learn as much as I could about the craft of writing. I have always written and I have always loved reading since I was first able to do it, and what’s more, I teach all aspects of Literacy in my job, but I knew within a very short time of starting my debut novel that there was a lot I could learn. I researched a few creative writing courses in the UK and was surprised at how expensive most of them were. There are a number of excellent degree courses but I was loathe to start another one and anyway, where would I get the money to pay for that or for any of the other courses on offer? So, I was delighted when I found a free Open University course, run by Future Learn, called Start Writing Fiction that would run for eight weeks and take place online. The course is aimed at beginners, as well as those with some experience so I wasn’t sure how much I would pick up from it but I wanted to try it just in case I might learn something from it. As this week is now the final week of the course, I wanted to report back on what I have achieved.
Keep a Writer’s Journal or Notebook In the first week, we were encouraged to start keeping a writer’s journal or notebook. This may be the most useful piece of advice I received from the course. I blogged about it here and tried to explain just how useful I have found this approach, especially with my advancing years! It’s so easy to forget things and getting into the habit of writing useful ideas or observations down has really worked for me. If you don’t do it yet, I would seriously recommend it. By the time we revisited the idea in the fourth week, I had established it as a habit, writing something in it virtually every day.
Writing Prompts In the second week, amongst other things, we were given a tip about a writing prompt which suggested starting some sentences with ‘Emma said that’ as a way of getting your writing started. For example, I wrote the following sentences using this prompt:
- (Emma said that) one of the servers had seen a famous actor in the Food Hall.
- (Emma said that) it was definitely the one from that detective series on TV.
- (Emma said that) he’s just as good-looking in real life as he is on the screen.
The idea with this prompt is that you use it to get you started it and then remove it later. Once I took away what was in brackets above, I was left with three core sentences that I then used to write a mini-story. In the third week, we received feedback on that piece of writing from our peers and thought about editing.
The Difference between Story and Plot Another piece of advice I found very helpful in week four, was how to get from an idea to a plot line. E.M. Forster wrote in ‘Aspects of the Novel’ that a story is a narrative of events arranged in their time sequence, whereas plot is a narrative of events with the emphasis on causality. In simpler terms, this means that a story tells you what happened but the plot tells you the reason why things happened and this is what is fascinating for the reader. The reader wants to know what causes your character to do things or to be the way they are and one of the ways that you can develop your character is by asking questions of them – you know the ones. At school, we call them the 5Ws and the How. Why was the man angry? What had happened to him? Where was he going? Who was he? When did this event happen? How did it happen? The important thing to remember is that these aren’t scientific questions, there’s no right or wrong. You answer them using your imagination and this is what gives you your plot. The other question you need to ask is ‘What if?’ Answering this question about your characters adds richness to them and in so doing, further develops your plot. In week five, we developed this by giving our characters flaws which caused conflict or a struggle and so deepened our plot that bit further still.
Planning a Short Story By week six, we had a character that we had been developing for a while and we were given the task of writing a short story of between 750 and 1000 words. We had to write the story from their point of view, using either first or third person. As you know, I have written a lot in first person so I decided to write my story in third person to see what that was like. I found it quite easy to write in third person but the hardest thing was keeping within the word count, whilst still trying to develop a character and a plot. We have been asked to edit rigorously, thinking about setting, point of view, the type of language we’ve used and our sentence structure before submitting the story this week for feedback from our peers. My story is now ready to go and I feel happy with what I’ve written using the things I’ve learnt on the course. I have found the feedback received so far to be very constructive and I hope that this final task will be the same. I plan to post the story for you all to read in due course.
So, in summary, it has been a good experience doing this course and I have picked up a lot of useful pointers. You can always learn something, no matter how old or how experienced you are and I highly recommend this course if you come across it in the future. Thanks for reading and I look forward to receiving any comments below. Have a good writing week 🙂
My good friend from Twitter, Debi Smith, who blogs here, has very kindly nominated me for a Versatile Blogger award. I feel very lucky to have met so many wonderful new people through Twitter and through my own blog here. Debi and I share a love of great music and she still has the best way of saying thank you for retweeting I have come across in the twitter sphere. Check her out on Twitter – @DebiVSmith – and you’ll see what I mean. So a big thank you to Debi for nominating me.
The rules state that I now have to tag/nominate 15 other blogs I follow. I remember doing a similar thing once before and finding it very difficult to list 15 blogs that I would recommend to my readers but the job was much easier this time. So I hereby nominate these wonderful people and their blogs: Marianne Power who blogs over at Help Me! blog about her year long quest to see if self-help really can change your life; Helena Fairfax who blogs about her life as a romance author and insatiable book lover; Cat Lumb who blogs about her struggle to be a writer; John de Gruyther who blogs about his life and work as a freelance writer and poet; Heidi-Jo Swain who blogs about her romance writing and her path to publication; Rachel Stirling who blogs about her life as a writer and illustrator; Bernadette O’Dwyer who blogs about her journey as an aspiring romance author; Joe Johnson who blogs honestly about his love of cycling and his writing life; Elizabeth Ducie who is a full-time writer and blogs about her writing life, including interviews with other writers; Julia Proofreader, who works as a proofreader, as her name suggests and comes highly recommended; Terry Tyler who blogs about her life as a successful independent author and self-publishing in general; Mark Barry who is also a successful independent author and generously interviews other writers on his blog; Ruth Livingstone who blogs about her life as a fiction writer and blogger; JorieLovesaStory who is a book blogger and writer and loves everything to do with books and reading, and Helen Carey who is a successful author, avid reader and also teaches creative writing at University level. I know that you will enjoy reading their blogs as much as I do.
All that remains now is for me to tell you seven things about myself that you don’t already know!
1. Next year, I will be 50 years old! This has crept up on me, as I’m sure many of you reading this will understand and has left me thinking that I need to get on with some things. I don’t really feel like I’m nearly 50 (see point 2 below!), not mentally anyway! Physically though, is quite a different matter.
2. I have 2 daughters, aged 17 and 13. I know, I don’t look old enough 😉 I have to confess a bit of a secret here. The avatar on my Twitter bio was taken when I turned 40! Still, people recognise me when they meet me in real life so it can’t be too out of date, although I do have some grey hairs now 🙂 I suppose you want me to put in a more up-to-date photo now, don’t you? I’ll see if I can find one I like by the time I turn 50!
3. I want to go to Nashville, Tennessee to celebrate my 50th birthday. Look at this wonderful photo advertising Nashville to tourists. Now, the question is, does it remind you of any other photos you might have seen on my site? If you’re interested, I have a whole board on Pinterest dedicated to Nashville and my debut novel. Here’s the link.
4. My favourite meal at the moment is Chicken and Chorizo paella and my husband bought me an enormous paella dish for my birthday this year so we can cook lots of it! We christened the pan with our family just after we got back from New York at Easter this year and it was a truly wonderful occasion.
5. Photography is one of the great pleasures of my life. I was given my first Kodak camera aged 10 and have been steadily taking photos ever since. The only thing getting in my way is point number 6 (see below) but I’m persevering and trying not to let it stop me. Here’s a photo from the colour folio I had to produce when I was working on a Photography diploma a few years ago.
6. I have a lazy right eye and so I wear only the one contact lens in my left eye. I am really vain about wearing glasses but I am fast approaching the time when I will no longer have a choice 🙁 I currently have 2 pairs of glasses and I even have one of those chains for hanging them on (at my own request) but I hate it. It makes me feel so old! Next week, I’m going to try a multi-focal contact lens to see if they’ve improved since the last time I tried them. No photo here for obvious reasons 😉
7. My favourite modern romance story is ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’ by Audrey Niffenegger. My favourite classic play is ‘Romeo and Juliet’. My favourite classic love story is ‘Jane Eyre’ and one of my favourite romantic films is ‘Truly, Madly, Deeply.’ As you can probably guess, I like love stories that make me cry 🙂
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Last week, I finally managed to send off ‘From Here to Nashville’ for its manuscript assessment by the RNA (Romantic Novelists’ Association). It felt like a great weight had been lifted from my shoulders as I left the Post Office and even though I know there will be lots of work to do on it when it comes back, it feels good to have reached this point with my debut novel. I have taken a few days off and had a good rest in the hope that this would leave me feeling refreshed and ready to go today.
The task I have set myself during the eight weeks that I expect my manuscript assessment to be taking place, is to go back to my second novel and straighten it out before I carry on with it and finish the first draft. This novel, called ‘Seeking Approval’, you may remember, is the one I began in NaNoWriMo last November, writing 50,000 words of the story that month. I carried on with it in April at Camp NaNoWriMo and as a result, I now have just over 75,000 words. However, despite writing an outline before I started this second novel, the story veered off quite considerably and I know I have lots of plot-holes already. I stuck to the NaNoWriMo idea of just writing and not editing though and carried on regardless. I have realised though that I can’t continue like that. It’s driving me insane! I have therefore made up my mind not to do the July Camp this year, unless by some miracle, I have sorted the outline and the story so that they are one and the same and I am absolutely confident of where I want the rest of the story to go.
And so begins the long task of writing scene synopses for every chapter so I can see what I’ve actually written and then comparing that to the outline. When I’ve done that, I think I will write a synopsis again, as I did for From Here to Nashville so that I can see where the plot is going wrong. Then I will have to correct what’s wrong before continuing. I am so fed up with myself for having done this again and it’s making me wonder whether NaNoWriMo works for me. I love doing it but unless I can write a decent outline before November, I don’t want to approach my third novel in this ramshackle way. At the moment, I am left feeling like I haven’t really made any progress on the planning front and I now have another novel to try and sort out. Naturally, I have saved lots of articles about it into my Evernote notebook on Outlining and I have already read a few of these, as well as downloading K. M. Weiland’s ‘Outlining Your Novel:Map Your Way to Success’ which comes highly recommended. The only trouble is that I was supposed to read all of these before I started! I have plenty of time though and perhaps I just need to take it one step at a time and not get too hung up about the mess I’m in. I’m still learning, I guess, and I just have to accept that and get started. Wish me luck!
Thanks for reading and any tips you could offer will be gratefully received, as always 🙂 Have a good week y’all.