Unravelling Writing Advice – Show Don’t Tell!

Another installment from Unravelling Writing Advice series.

Firstly, what is “tell” and what is “show?”

Telling – He was tired. 

Showing – His limbs became heavy, and his eyelids fluttered.

Okay, so that was a quick example. But you get the point. The first example outright tells us how he feels whereas the second describes it, ergo, showing. Showing helps the reader connect with the character’s senses and emotions in a more descriptive way.

Now… there’s a problem here. 

The whole “show, don’t tell,” is bullshit. How can writers show everything without spilling over their word count in the thousands? We’d end up with books the size of suitcases. Look back to the examples. Three words vs eight. If you showed everything, you’d double your narration and then some.

This is where I use the “show vs tell” idea. It implies the exact same thing, that describing senses works better for the reader than showing the senses, but it also accounts for when it’s not necessary. 

One way to avoid this is to be wary of how often you add descriptions. Not every line needs to have this. Sometimes, not even every paragraph needs this, but you should choose those carefully.

The other side of “show, don’t tell” is in scenes. If you want to make backstory or memories more meaningful and avoid info dumps, you can show them in an active scene. But again, it’s adding word count. I try to show what I can in flashbacks, dreams, or a memory without overdoing them to the point they become annoying. Short and sweet and rare are key with these.

Not all backstory needs long explanations or flashbacks, so this is where you can tell the reader in a summary while being careful not to fall into info dump territory. Honestly, I tend to take the whole “This three line paragraph on a key point of history that helps explain how these magical beings came into existence is an info dump,” with a pinch of salt. But what do I know. I only read bestsellers with multiple paragraphs of history lessons that mean nothing to the scene, so surely I can drop three fricking lines. 

So when you’re wondering how to explain through pages and pages of showing, ask yourself if you really have to. Can you show this, or is it better to tell it?

Image by Willgard Krause from Pixabay

Unravelling Writing Advice – How Often To Write!

Introducing my new series Unravelling Writing Advice where I explain how the advice works and adapts for every writer.

Most of the advice I’ve seen talks about weekly goals and daily writing schedules. It helps keep you organised and motivated. Without regular goals, your writing time can get lost in the haze that is the rest if your life. Many writers do it as a second job or as a very serious pastime. Either way, writing is our passion, our drive, our outlet.

I’m lucky in that I don’t work particularly long hours, so I write most days around the same time. That’s because my creativity is at its best during my morning coffee or in the evening after dinner. I live alone, apart from my very adorable cats, and I have little else to do before and after my day job.

Not everyone has this luxury. Whether it’s finding the time or the brain power, you should be realistic about your writing goals. Make them, by all means, but bear in mind that missing goals can feel discouraging. Ask yourself when is the best time to write and how often. There’s no point in planning daily writing sprints or X amount of words if you can’t reach them. 

It didn’t take much trial and error to find the best schedule for me. But there are those difficult times when life gets in the way and the writer’s block hits. It’s okay to pause the goals and let yourself deal with life so you can come back with a fresh mind. It’s also good to take regular breaks from daily writing.

Writing is my passion, one I spend just about every day on. That doesn’t mean I type away in my document for all that time. There are also various things that are part of writing without actually writing. Outlining, brainstorming, research, chatting with other writers. These all add to your writing experience as well as help build a great story.

Make a writing schedule that suits you, adapt when it doesn’t work, but don’t let lapsed goals get you down.

Image by Devanath from Pixabay 

One Thought

Weather, Thunderstorm, Flash, Light, Bolt, Storm, Cloud

Just about every writer gets writer’s block sometimes. This is how my overactive brain overcomes it

One thought, one word, one line.

The letters roll on.

They might as well be nothing.

Blankness.

That damn line is flashing its condescension at me.

It knows.

It sees the chaos in my mind.

I hate the thing, hate what its stillness means, but it rolls on. 

More nothing.

Wild thoughts slap away my reach for solace.

Peace evades my every attack and taunts me.

I’d found peace in so many words, comforting solace that hid reality.

Attacking peace.

I laugh at the notion now.

What was I thinking?

Peace? 

Chaos is what I am, and I will wield it as I see fit.

Spill the chaos onto the page, swirl it around until it becomes my voice, my art. Creation is all I have.

I mould and build anew what I break down. 

It is my world, and I am its goddess.

Contact me on Discord for info about my writing ranting group for struggling writers. @lovefantasy#0367

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay 

Epilogues Are NOT the Same as a Final Chapter!

I recently did a post on prologues, and a writing friend (check her out here) asked about epilogues. So here are my thoughts…

Epilogues are no different than prologues, just at the end. They need to serve a purpose outside the main story otherwise they might as well be the final chapter. Like my prologues, I don’t write epilogues for the sake of it.

I recently read a super long epilogue that should have been the final chapter. It followed directly on from the previous scene with all the usual characters. So why did the author feel like it needed to be an epilogue? To be fair, there was something new for the MC, but it didn’t mean anything new for the story since the reader already knew of its general existence. 

One of the best reasons for an epilogue is when we see the MC months or years after the main story. They’re settled in a new life, good or bad, and maybe have some thoughts on how they feel about what happened to them. This works best with a few pages, a sneak peek rather than a lengthy chapter.

Flipping to a random POV is also a good one if it’s done well. It gives the reader a new perspective on the MC and what they’ve been through. They might even know a little secret to entertain readers, something the MC couldn’t figure out in the main story. 

I like teaser epilogues in sagas and series. Books in a series still need to be independent stories but leave enough open so the reader wants more. Whatever you tease the reader with, make sure you drop it into early chapters of the next book. 

If the final chapter ends abruptly but isn’t a cliffhanger (I hate cliffhangers), an epilogue might work to show the characters a few days later. This needs to be short and sweet so it doesn’t look more like a final chapter.

Your final chapter should tie up your story in a neat little bow. Your epilogue should either tie it tighter in a standalone or loosen it in a series. 

If you want to rant about writing with others, contact me about my writing group on Discord @LoveFantasy#0367.

Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay 

Don’t Hate on My Prologue Just Because You Hate Prologues!

I’ve read an array of fiction, mostly fantasy or sci-fi, with prologues. I tend not to be impressed by half of them. They feel like info dumps or pointless backstory that could be weaved into early chapters as the reader needs to know them. And it affects my own prologues while questioning other authors’ motives for their prologues.

Firstly, I believe short and sweet works best for a prologue. That’s not to say I shy away from reading a longer one if it feels worthy. And I’ve read both great and disappointing prologues from three pages to seventeen. I’ve even had critiques on my own prologues start with “I hate prologues and this should be chapter 1.” Okay, that’s not my fault you don’t like prologues. And it’s not chapter one for a reason.

I work hard to make my prologues meaningful. I don’t put it as chapter one because it happens in a time long before the main story starts or is a short scene that doesn’t warrant a whole chapter. Yes, you could skip it and not lose the bigger sense of the story. But I put it there to set the tone, background in an active scene, and something I feel needs to be clear before the main story. It’s short and sweet, so suck it up.

If previous authors have failed to let their prologues appeal to readers, that’s not my fault. If they overdid backstory or world building to the point it was more like a history lesson, again, not my fault.

So to writers and readers, please give prologues a chance just as you give chapter one a chance. Some of us writers put it there for genuine reasons. It’s not our fault other authors failed you.
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Writing Outside your Wheelhouse!

Do it. Seriously, put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see how deeply you can dig. It doesn’t have to be a whole novel. It could be a short story or an occasional POV in a bigger story. 

This is NOT about sensitivity or political correctness. This is about tolerance and understanding beyond what we’ve experienced. One of my own CPs mentioned they were worried about how it would look writing a character of colour and dealing with racism in the book. I get it. It’s a sensitive issue. But it’s all a very real issue that needs representing in fiction just like LGBTQ+, mental illness, disabilities… the list goes on. 

Even in fantasy or sci-fi, there are aliens and magical beings that represent the diversity in life and the prejudices that go along with them. It’s probably easier with fantastical characters because the writer gets to create whatever prejudice they want against that character. But let’s face it, we all know it comes from very real issues.

As a once-aspiring actress, I had to put myself in many characters’ shoes. Their troubles and obstacles boiled down to one thing. How do I overcome them? Each character has their own answer, but if you look hard enough, there is some semblance of reliability.

I do NOT mean to say everyone can fully understand every hardship others go through for whatever reason. 

My point is… why should we be punished for trying? Why is it such a taboo to imagine our skin is another colour, or we have a disability, or our minds are more complex than most? Why are we not allowed to write from a perspective far beyond our own when we’re only trying to bridge the gap?

There is such a thing as a “sensitivity reader” who will offer deeper insight and their reliability to the POV character. These sensitivity readers are there to help writers get their story across while being authentic and mindful that it’s outside our experience.

Write what you know, right? But there’s nothing to say that someone can’t share what they know to help you write what you don’t know. And then you’ll know.  


Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

First Chapters Are the Worst!

Quick announcement: I’ve been on blogging hiatus for a couple of weeks due to losing a close family friend. It’s left us all deeply shocked and upset. I’m not sure if I’ll be back to regular posting just yet, but this particular post if more for a writing buddy of mine. I started it a few weeks ago actually, but after critiquing his new chapter one, I questioned my thinking.

It doesn’t take an experienced writer to know that the first pages or first chapter of a novel needs to make an impact. But they can be hard and frustrating to get the right elements across. You have so much to do in order to make your readers want more. But it’s also highly subjective as to what grabs a reader, especially in fantasy.

As a writer with multiple WIPs, I’ve written many chapter ones and I’ve critiqued too many to count. I scrutinise every line and ask myself multiple questions about their necessity, reader interest, and prose etc. My writing buddies do the same for me. We help each other get our chapter ones good enough for readers to want to continue. When I see bestselling books do the very thing my writing buddies and I try to avoid in our openings, it makes me wonder why we bother. 

So I did a little experiment a couple of weeks ago. 

I bought four bestsellers recently, all on my TBR list for months. I couldn’t choose which one to read first, so I read the first chapter of all of them. A couple included preludes/prologues, so I read those too. I like preludes and prologues if they’re done right, but that’s for another conversation.

Honestly, I was quite surprised at many of the chapter one elements that didn’t work for me. 

Let’s start with book number one. 

  • First line was untagged dialogue. 
  • No visuals until page 3. I don’t need every detail down to the crown moulding, but gimme something.
  • Bland narration. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t a particularly interesting voice. I don’t mean to suggest authors use all fancy words and weird structures. But there’s room for creativity in a simple narration.

Book number two.

  • No MC connection whatsoever. 
  • Instant hatred for something the MC had zero interaction with in the chapter apart from watching. It felt for too unfounded for me to side with her in that.
  • Telling. Lots of telling. I hate them. They’re powerful. Ok. 
  • Info dumps. Soooooo many. The ridiculous thing was that there were opportunities to drop things in gradually when the reader needed to know.
  • Too much world building on things I didn’t need to know. And when I read on, there were places the author could do this in later chapters when I actually needed to know. I’d forgotten it all by the time I needed it. But then the author described it all again. Wasted page time for sure.
  • Word repetition all over the place.

Book number three.

  • Started with a dream. I half let it off since it’s a dream of something that actually happened. But it felt too disjointed for an opening page.
  • Short lines of thoughts and quick action. Not really helpful to start me off.
  • The story felt like it started in the wrong place. It started after a major event that affected the MC’s life. The author could easily have added a short chapter leading up to a really quick moment that would require a third of a page, it’s that quick.
  • Lots of filtering.

Book number four. This was much better. Only a couple of things.

  • The author described action but left out details to help me visualise the action. It was far too vague at times.
  • Describing the fantastical races was a bit telling. But I’m just picking on that because I expected better from the author. But it could havebeen done much better.

But you know what? I still want to read more of these books. And it makes me wonder if I’ve become too analytical over getting all these elements right in chapter one. Can interesting worlds be enough even if the prose is lacking? Can exciting events make up for constant info dumps?

I think it can. So while I will keep trying to make my chapter ones work in as many senses as possible, I’m more aware that writers don’t need to hit all the targets to win over a reader.


Image by Markus Winkler from Pixabay