Tag Archives: showing vs. telling

Dragons of Wellsdeep- pages 22 & 23 edit

Dragons of Wellsdeep_pg22_Dawn Blair

Dragons of Wellsdeep_pg23_Dawn Blair

Dragons of Wellsdeep_pg22_edit_Dawn Blair

Dragons of Wellsdeep_pg23_edit_Dawn Blair

Let’s look at my edit notes for these pages:

Page 22 is run amok with alliterations (words starting with the same letter: i.e. Peter Piper picked a patch of pickled peppers). I mostly wanted to notice it on the page when I come back to it because I kind of like it — all those “s” words give the illusion of spinning. However, I know that “spinning on her slippered foot” is really something I do with Keteria from my Sacred Knight series. I really need to make Sundancer different. Maybe she pirouettes. Okay, I really need to get some dancing terms for her — and that’s something I’m only realizing now as I’m writing this. So, if you notice while editing that something like this stands out, it might be more than just a note on the page. Dig deeper into your reason for why it stopped you.

There’s also a lot of “was” words. I do like the connection to the Norse mythology — it emphases the fact that this is an Earth-based universe versus a non-Earth based universe (blog coming on that later). It also ties it in to The Loki Adventures.

Page 23 – still wanting more information from the characters, how they are feeling, showing versus telling items. Then nearing the end of the page I’m getting into a lot of similar sentence structure: he tore, he couldn’t, she was, he wanted, he curled, he felt, etc. That tells me there is a good opportunity to add setting to their actions, and a lot more action and interactions between the characters. This is a very loose lace where I can embroider in more juicy details. That’s why there is the big MORE! at the end.

Are you getting enough in your writing? Maybe a second glance over it wouldn’t hurt.

Happy writing!

When Your Details Stops the Story

Beginning and novice writers fall prey to this clever little deceiver when they suddenly realize that they hadn’t included any details in a scene. They start popping them in without thinking about their placement or they rush back during a rewrite and drop them in like they are sprinkling in raindrops. These haphazard details smear across the page and take the characters hostage at knife point to completely stop the story. Here’s a scene I see way too often:

Mary jumped out of the car and ran into the house. The little two-story cottage style abode had a white picket fence surrounding it. The lawn had been cut two days ago, and already it showed signs of needing to be watered. Shelby barked at Mary as she unlocked the door with one of the many keys on her key ring. She had about 10 on the loop, but the house key was the only golden one. Inside, the hallway was dark, despite the bright day outside. She flipped on the light and rushed inside. The new carpet squished beneath her feet. The hallway still smelled of fresh paint. A breeze, as if a window had been left open, pressed against her warm skin. She noticed a coffee cup sitting on the low table in the middle of the living room. With a shock, she noticed someone was in there, sitting casually in the recliner. She entered the room. The ornate room had red carpet that hadn’t yet been replaced. As a child, her grandmother had never let her play in the room and had hardly used it herself, so the carpet was hardly worn. All her grandmother’s nick-knacks remained on the fireplace hearth just in front of the mirror in which she could now see the reflection of the man sitting in the room. A lamp was on beside him, shining onto a book he’d pulled from the shelf beside the fireplace. He slammed it shut as Mary entered the room. The sound made her jump.

Okay, well, that’s a start. But there’s a lot that needs work. Let’s start at the top.

Mary first gets out of the car and runs into the house. Then, it’s like she backs up in reverse so we can see not only the house, but the white picket fence, the lawn, the dog, and the keys. Not only has that stopped the reader, but it’s made the reader go backwards too.

Remodeling the house might be important, especially in light of the room that Grandmother left pretty much untouched — it was a show room, one reserved for company and special occasions and otherwise not used. I got that from writing this. Did you get that sense from reading it? Possibly not. So there were thoughts of the author that the reader might not get.

Then, we have the stranger in the room. Did you notice how even after she’d realized that someone was in the house she still reflected on the carpet, the nick-knacks, and the lamp without having a reaction to him. In fact, Mary doesn’t react at all until he slams the book closed. Let me ask you: if you came home to discover a stranger in your house, would you think about these things or would you be dialing 9-1-1 already? Yeah, let’s not make our characters do things we ourselves wouldn’t do (unless there is a very good reason for it, like she knows the cops are right behind her already).

Do you also see how the details of the story are listed like facts? Starting with the keys, in describing that she has 10 of them on her ring, right on the lamp. The story has pretty much stopped in this time, except for her turning and realizing that someone is in the house — that’s the only action. All the rest are details that have stopped the story.

So, now let’s fix this:

Mary pulled the car to the curb outside of her two-story cottage style house. She pushed her way through the gate of the white picket fence, reaching down quickly to pet Shelby as he barked a greeting to her. Mary riffled through the multiple keys on the ring for the golden house key and unlocked the door. Through the darkness of the hallway, the scent of fresh paint greeted her. She flipped the light and as she turned, she noticed a coffee cup sitting on the low table in the living room. A soft breeze drifted across her face as if someone had opened a window. Her heartbeat quickened as she stepped toward the room. The new carpeting squished beneath her shoes, dampening the sound of her movement. As she drew closer, she saw a black hole on the shelf where a book had been removed from the others. She scanned quickly to see if anything else in the room had been disturbed. All of her grandmother’s nick-knacks were lined up perfectly across the fireplace mantle. She looked up into the mirror above the fireplace which reflected the rest of the room and saw him. The stranger’s eyes locked with hers. He sat in the recliner, the book in his hands. He slammed it shut, making Mary jump, as he made to stand.

First we see Mary making her way from the car to the house. We show the reader the house from the vantage point of the car and move her through the fence and into the yard. Gone now is the state of the grass — it’s not important to the scene. The dog stays, because the dog is a state of normalcy — she’s expecting to see the dog and since the dog isn’t freaking out about someone being inside the house, the reader doesn’t expect it and must wonder how someone got passed the dog. This creates suspense.

Also notice in the first example how things are separated from the rest of the story: hallway was dark, carpet squished, fresh paint smelled, etc. All these things are independent sentences on their own. But in the second example, I’ve actually blended these things into the scene. They are no longer facts being told, but have a reason for being in the story: the carpet dampens the sound of her walking, the hallway is dark to bring on a sense of foreboding, the odor of the paint greets her in another warm gesture to make her feel safe in opposition to the dark hallway. Even the items in the room are no longer facts, but clues as she discovers the stranger in her house.

I did take out the whole part about the house being her grandmother’s. It probably is important, but not here. What’s important here is Mary returning home to find a stranger.

Any time you have details in your story that are standing alone like facts being shouted from a textbook, find a way to blend them into your story. If you don’t, they stop the story.

If you’d like another example of this, check out my chapter on narrative in The Write Edit.

Until next time, happy writing.

The Dreaded Word: Was

***Warning: if you really like to read books, don’t read this post. It will forever ruin you. If you want to improve your writing, then read on, but know that you will never be able to look at another published fiction book with the same eyes. You have been warned.***

I so wanted to make this my first post because this is one of my biggest pet peeves. I did refrain, however.

I’m sure I will come back to this again and again, especially once I really get into the heat of editing Dragons of Wellsdeep, but I wanted to give you a new tool to get you started on your own editing now.

My big pet peeve: the overuse of the word “was.”

Please note that I did say “overuse.” There are some people out there that insist that all instances of the word “was” in a manuscript should be eliminated. I can tell you that it is possible to write a whole book without “was.” I made this my challenge when I wrote The Three Books. There is not a single “was” within the narrative (there are a few in the dialogue because I didn’t want to change how the characters spoke) until the very last sentence. That finishing line contains the only narrative “was” in the whole book.

***Disclaimer: This is true for the 1st edition. I can’t swear it is for the second edition when I rewrote a couple scenes. I never checked, but I’m so use to writing around the “was” that I’m fairly certain there are none there.***

I am not a believer that the word should be totally eliminated. It is like any other word and needs to be used correctly.

“Was” is an indicator word. When you see “was” in your manuscript, it is a clue that your story is being told rather than shown. It generally indicates a state of being for something: It was a dark and stormy night; she was beautiful; the car was locked.

Here’s a hard and fast rule I want you to remember: Never use “was” in the first paragraph of your story.

I pick up books and flip to the beginning. If it has a prologue, I look at that the first two paragraphs for the word “was.” If I don’t see it there, I look at the first chapter for the same thing. If I find a “was” I decide if that was really the best course of action or if it could have been written better. If I find that I could have easily rewritten it, I put the book down on the shelf; the author doesn’t know his/her craft. If I deem it as totally necessary (and that is a rare instance), I begin to read. If I quickly start encountering more of the dreaded “was” word, I probably will put the book down unless it has a good hook.

Why do I tell you flat out to avoid was, especially when it is so prevalent in literature through the ages and in today’s genre writing? Because it’s generally unnecessary. A bit of clever rewriting will fix the situation. Yes, you are trying to show the hero at home, so shouldn’t that be your state of being for your character at that time? No! You’re trying to hook your reader into your story. Giving them a state of being with a “was” doesn’t show the character in action to make change. You need the flux of the action.

Let’s look at an example:

It was a dark and stormy night. The train was late and the rain about to set in. Frank glanced at his watch. It was only 8:00. He still had time. 

Okay, let’s fix this overabundance of “was.”

From the station platform, Frank looked at the clouds darkening the sky overhead and hoped it wouldn’t rain. He glanced at his watch. He still had time if the weather didn’t delay his train any longer. 

This still isn’t a perfect beginning, but it does clean up the instances of “was.” 

Here’s another:

Where was the book? Kim knew it had to be there somewhere. She’s put it at the bottom of her dresser drawer, right beneath her blue jeans, but it wasn’t there. She frantically jerked ever drawer out and overturned it, throwing them aside in her haste to search. Everything else was there: her diary, her jar of change, and a stray barrette. 

This is actually a modified sample from a real book. I’ve changed things up, but it’s still a good sampling. Let’s fix this.

Kim jerked the drawer from the dresser and dumped the contents onto the floor. She kicked at the clothes that fell out, hoping with each heartbeat that her foot would contact the solid weight of the book she had to find. Disappointed, she pulled out a second draw and overturned it. This time, she did feel something heavy drop. Tossing the emptied drawer onto the bed, she dropped to her knees and frantically searched. Her jar of loose change clattered as it rolled a ways across the carpet. She threw aside a stray barrette as she reached for the larger item hidden in the middle of her pile of blue jeans. Her fingers found the binding of a book’s spine. Momentary relief faded to dread panic as she realized she’d found her diary. 

Same information, but do you see how the action intensified? That’s because the story is more immediate by the action being shown rather than dulled as a state of being. 

Now, I want you to go out and start searching for “was” in your own work and others and I challenge you to make it better. It doesn’t take long to learn how to make it better. Now, when I really get into editing Dragons of Wellsdeep, I’ll have more tricks for you on how to fix “was”, but here you’ve had a sampling. If you accept the challenge and start being a “was” seeker, you’ll probably learn most of them on your own. Take your new tools with you and go write better.

Happy writing.

Dragons of Wellsdeep – Page 2 edit

Dragons of Wellsdeep_pg2_Dawn Blair Dragons of Wellsdeep_pg2_edited_Dawn Blair

The draft on top is the original draft as it has been written. On the bottom is my edit draft with my handwritten comments.

One thing I want you to notice here is the questions: is this how long it will take to defeat them or how long they have to solve the situation? How is the dragon taking this? Is he moving? All those questions are designed to make me think, to push the story harder. I know that when I write down the questions, I’m letting the question into my brain to roll around. I don’t feel pressured to have an answer now. It’s merely a box I’m throwing into the room of my mind and closing the door on. When I come back later for the box, I trust that a lot of things will come out of it. I’ll then have to sort through the good, the bad, and the ugly. (grin!) You’ll be noticing a lot more of these questions in the pages to come.

Again, the page needs more details to help slow down the pace. I’ve become very aware of this as a natural tendency I have in my writing. I jump right into the story, so I’ve very conscious of it when I’m editing that I’m probably moving my story too fast. I see this in a lot of other manuscripts as well. But in writing the draft, I allow myself to write the dialog and action as it’s coming, knowing that I’ll have to slow the pace down later. Again, in writing the manuscript, it’s more important that I get the story out rather than it being perfect. You’ll see my comments of “slower,” “more,” “details,” in the pages coming.

Now, I did say that I would touch on point of view when I got to this page. Look at the 3rd paragraph where I have the comment, “This would be so much better in his pov.” We’re moving into action and there’s a lot of people moving around, namely the priest and this other man. It’s getting confusing as to who exactly is doing the action and how the response is coming. The priest and priestess are protecting the dragon from this man, but why? What’s going on in the man’s head? What’s he planning on doing and why? Do you see how much deeper we can go into the story just from these questions?

Okay, so if we stayed in the omnipotent point of view, we could go into all the character’s heads, but the reader will quickly get overwhelmed. Let me illustrate:

The priestess jumped to her feet and blocked the man entering the cave. She couldn’t let him near the dragon. She knew he would do whatever it took to insure the safety of the dragonborn, even if it meant harming the dragon. It went against her oaths as a priestess. “You can’t. She’s a Ch’bauldi and you are charged with protecting her.”

The priest moved up behind the priestess, standing as second ready to defend her if this gruff looking man dared to battle a woman. He didn’t want to do it, didn’t figure the man would strike a woman, but these days one could never be too certain. He just wasn’t sure that he wanted to stand against this dragonborn either. He had no weapon in which to defend himself, or the priestess if it came to blows.

The man looked them over, grimacing as he gave a little shake of his head. Who did they think they were to stand between him and the dragon mother? They could offer her no protection which her own tail, which she could easily swat him with if she really didn’t want him getting close, not to mention her claws and teeth. A dragon or a dragon weapon were the only things that could hurt him and the priest and priestess knew this. He was indestructible compared to them. “You have 30 seconds to help the dragon and her dragonborn or I will take care of the situation.”

Neither the priest or priestess moved, both frozen in fear. The man assessed them again. They carried no weapons. How would they be able to help? They all knew the priest and priestess couldn’t do a damn thing. It would have to be his knife to do the job.

So that might be a little extreme, but we’ve all seen passages just like that in today’s books. I’ve made it easy here where every paragraph is a jump to a new head: first the priestess, then the priest, then the man, then all of the above.

Putting the scene in one person’s point of view keeps the scene from getting confusing. The reader doesn’t have to work hard to remember whose head to be in. It also reads smoothly, allowing for action/reaction flows. I will discuss this in more depth later because it will need more time that I have here. But what I will do is a quick rewrite of the scene just in the man’s point of view. Oh, by the way, I didn’t know it when I was writing this scene originally, but the man’s name is Balthier, so I’m changing it because unless he has amnesia, he will know his own name.

The priestess jumped to her feet and tried to block Balthier from entering the cave. “You can’t. She’s a Ch’bauldi and you are charged with protecting her.”

The priest moved behind the priestess, standing as second ready to defend her. Balthier looked the scrawny man over. The priest had no weapon in which to defend himself, or the priestess if it came to blows, and Balthier suspected it would. They posed no real threat, especially to a dragonborn. “You have 30 seconds to help the dragon and her dragonborn or I will take care of the situation.”

Neither the priest or priestess moved. Balthier’s dagger would have to do the job.

Overall, it’s shorter and more concise, though not perfect. I wanted to add in what Balthier knew about the priest’s and priestess’ vows to protect the dragon, but it felt like I needed more of a build earlier for that, so I left it out.

I harp on point of view so I’m sure I’ll discuss it more often. To want to be in every character’s head all at once so that the writer can tell the reader what they are all thinking is lazy writing. There’s body language, there’s dialog, there’s narration — all those are better clues to how a character is. So, in the first example, you know what a wimp the priest is by his own thoughts, whereas in the second example it’s being filtered through Balthier’s perspective of “standing as a second ready to defend” and “suspected it would” (come to blows) that make the priest and priestess more of a threat to him. Because of this, there’s more tension in the second one. The priestess “tries” to block Balthier’s path; he knows she’s no match for him, but we see her ready to defend and that makes her a stronger character too.  The first example is full of “telling a story” with “It went against her oaths as a priestess” and “He didn’t want to do it, didn’t figure the man would strike a woman, but these days one could never be too certain. He just wasn’t sure that he wanted to stand against this dragonborn either.” The second example has some “telling” still, but does “show” the story more because we have Balthier’s perception of what they are doing, whether they are really feeling the bravo they are showing or not. There’s also more going on between these characters than is being put on the page — they each seem to know something that the reader doesn’t, not yet at least. This is a good way to hook the reader into reading more because they want to know. However, be very careful about doing this technique when you’re writing in 1st person — more on that later.

I also want to point out my note on the left hand side: “Smells.” The sense of smell is one that is often overlooked, unless it’s blood and how many times have you seen blood described as: “the coppery scent of blood filled the air.” Even I’m guilty of this one. It’s always good to have a reminder about smell.

Go back through the page and read the proposed changes. How would you incorporate changes? What would you do? Do you see something I missed. Comment below. Then we can have fun and see how the page develops into the second draft together.