Now that November is over and your NaNo is finished, it’s time to move on to the next step…QUERYING!
Uhh…wait. That’s not right. Once you’ve taken a step back from drafting your NaNo and given yourself a moment to clear your head, it’s time to edit your WIP until it shines.
For this mini blog series, Lauren Spieller, Charlie N. Holmberg, and I have put together a few (hopefully helpful) tips on how to pump up your writing. Our goal is to help you avoid a few simple pitfalls when describing characters who are experiencing pain.
To kick us off on Show vs Tell, a quote from Anton Chekhov: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
The idea behind “show, don’t tell” is the thought that, believe it or not, readers are pretty darn smart. They are very capable of taking cues and figuring things out on their own. As an example: when a character frowns, most everyone will know (or assume) that character is feeling something negative. Our goal is to take out the moments when we write, “Suzie is mad,” and change them to, “Suzie frowned.” Though, of course, this is very simplified.
Often, there are simple clues that hint that you might be telling instead of showing. Scour your writing for the following words. If you find them, there’s about a 90% chance that you are telling something that would be much more powerful if you would show it instead.
Also check for forms of to be (is, are, was, were…), which are clue words that you might be using a passive voice instead of an active voice.
Instead of this these weak words, as writers, we want to choose strong words! Words that have pop, that allow a reader to experience the story along with your characters. This is exactly why Charlie, Lauren, and I created the Pain Lexicon (found in a link at the bottom of this post).
Since this post is supposed to be directed toward PAIN, here’s an example of using “telling” words to describe what a character might feel if they are in pain:
Suzie realized her stomach hurt as pain ran through it.
In the sentence above, we know Suzie’s stomach hurts, so writing the word “pain” becomes redundant. Also, do you see the clue word “realized”? Take it out! If it’s happening to your character, they won’t have to “realize” anything—their response to it will be automatic.
To help make this moment more clear for a reader and show instead of tell, think about what else might be happening to Suzie’s body: is she sweating, or experiencing shortness of breath? Is she bent over and clutching her abdomen? Or perhaps she’s rubbing her skin, trying to make the feeling go away. To fix this sentence, I grabbed a few words off the lexicon: clench, wheeze, and lurch. So, “Suzie’s stomach hurt as pain ran through it,” turns into,
Suzie clenched her fists and wheezed, doubling over as her stomach lurched.
When you show, your reader will be intimately drawn into your character’s experiences, rather than being on the outside. If we look at the science behind storytelling, it seems that with good showing, our brains can’t actually tell the difference between reading about an experience and having it happen first hand.
If you are working on this very thing in your writing, the next time your character has a tummy ache, is shot, or falls and breaks an arm, I challenge you to forbid yourself to write the word pain. Try it! Use the Pain Lexicon to identify words that pop and zing. It might be difficult at first, but the end product will be powerful writing that your reader will be able to experience right along with your character.
What tricks do you use when trying to show rather than tell? I’d love to hear about any struggles you might have, or if you’re especially good at this!
Visit Charlie’s website for her post: The Pain Lexicon: Using Physical and Emotional Descriptors in “Painful” Passages.
Visit Lauren’s website for a post: The Pain Lexicon: Let’s Make It Hurt.
It’s that time of year again! Secret Santa was such fun last year that I’m of the mind that we should do it again
–I have a fun questionnaire of 35 easy questions listed below. Please copy and past the questionnaire into my contact form and email me (you can do this through my “contact” page) with the questions filled out, including your made-up name (see below for details) as well as your real name (just for my benefit).
–This year, I’m going to keep the gift exchange completely anonymous as a way to make the sharing-of-addresses a bit easier/more comfortable. You will have the option of creating a name for yourself, be it “Harry Potter” or “Voldemort” which I will pass along to your Secret Santa person in lieu of your real name. If you don’t care, then feel free to just use your real name. When you send off your gift, you will also have the option of revealing yourself, but this is not a must.
–If you have questions for your Secret Santa, you may email me and I will contact them for you.
–Keep it simple. I will likely not spend over $5. Not having a lot of pocket change seems to come with the territory of being a writer, so please don’t feel like you need to go all out for this
–Sign ups will close Dec. 14th. I will email your Secret Santas that following Monday.
Choose anonymous name:
What’s your real name? (For Juliana’s benefit only):
What’s your physical address?:
- Are you Male or Female?
- Solid colors, florals, or polka dots?
- Sweet or Salty?
- Spicy or Mild?
- Nuts or Fruit?
- Chocolate or Fruit?
- Chocolate or Vanilla?
- Coffee or Tea?
- Caffeine or Caffeine-free?
- Hot chocolate or Cider?
- Cold or Hot?
- Soft or Hard?
- Bath or Shower?
- Happy, Sad, Romantic, Scary, Scientific, or Fantastical? (Pick 2!)
- Historical or Futuristic?
- Books or Movies?
- Animated or Live Action?
- MG or YA?
- NA or Adult?
- Chapstick or Lip Gloss?
- Dogs or Cats?
- Christmas or Thanksgiving?
- Winter or Summer?
- Inside or Outside?
- Handmade or Store-bought?
- Pillows or Blankets?
- Magic or Mayhem?
- Vacation at the Ocean or in the Mountains?
- Robot or Human?
- Dancing or Singing?
- Plotter or Pantser?
- Handwriting or Laptop?
- Republican or Democrat?
- Sleep in Late or Wake up Early?
- Introvert or Extrovert?
I have heard it said, “I was a writer from the start,” but that was not me. I was not born knowing how to put words to my thoughts or how to take those words from my mouth and place them on the page. I was not born understanding the characters dancing in my head or the worlds that needed building. I was not born knowing how to cultivate a storyteller’s touch or with the drive to wade through the world of publishing.
I was not born with the knowledge of the Hero’s Journey or the necessity of a
I was not born knowing how to bring a character to life, how to give them emotion, how to make a reader feel what my characters experience, or how to make them seem just as three-dimensional as a true-living-breathing person.
I was not born knowing how to understand my five senses and use words to describe them. I was not born knowing the dynamic simple sentence or how to string a complex sentence together. I did not know the difference between the word “red” and “amaranth”, “sad” and “doleful”, “smell” and “reek”, or “hug” and “cradle”. I was not born knowing there are words that carry power, that stick in a reader’s memory like tacky glue or molasses or silly putty or sweat.
I was not born knowing the importance of a comma, the necessity of a period, the gift of quotation marks, or the beauty of an em dash. Punctuation can carry as much power as a word. I was not born knowing that truth.
I was not born knowing that readers need to laugh and cry (often at the same time). Or that readers need to root for their characters. Or that readers need characters with flaws. Need characters full of flaws. Characters that have flaws and yet, they still rise. They rise and conquer. They conquer, despite those flaws. I was not born knowing that characters need to save themselves or save others or are saved because of their flaws.
I was not born knowing how to create rhythm or prose that speaks. I was not born knowing how to draft and edit or knowing the difference between pantsing and plotting. I was not born with thick skin.
I was not born a writer.
But I was born a creature of industry. I was born with the ability to establish habits, particularly the habit of working hard and steadily. I was born with the desire to practice and read, practice and read, practice and read. I was born with an internal need to experience the world fully, to know the stories of fellow men, to understand the lives of the people who have come before me. I was born with the need to interact with others intimately and with the beautiful world around us—to make connections, to research and learn and learn and learn.
I was born with an imagination. I was born with a powerful brain. I was born with a subconscious that works overtime when I sleep and dream.
I was born with each of the tools needed to place the stories I brainstorm on paper.
I was born with the capacity to become.
Four years ago today, I was in a car accident that changed my life and set me on the path to write my first book, which led to the second, the third, the fourth, fifth, sixth and on.
I was not born a writer.
But it is what I am.
Have I told you guys that I went to circus school?
Okay okay, that isn’t entirely true, but how cool would that have been?! My senior year of high school, our teacher assigned us the project of writing an ethnography. My partner and I brainstormed what sort of culture we’d like to study and on a whim, never thinking it’d actually be an option, we searched to find out if there were any circus’ in the area. And…voila, we found Circus Juventas–a circus school for youth, located right in our area!
For the duration of the project, my partner and I completed observation hours, watching as teachers stretched elementary aged students–helping their bodies learn how to fit into contortionists positions, interviewed a boy who much preferred riding around a ten foot tall unicycle to walking, gaped as high schoolers performed aerials and learned acrobatics and practiced trapeze acts…And in all seriousness, holy smokes Batman did it make me want to up and join the circus.
I suppose I still have that paper somewhere, but I wish smart phones had been around back then, so I could have taken pictures and videos of how talented and accomplished these kids were.
Have you ever wanted to join the circus? Seriously! [I'm looking at you, Jessica Byam!]
p.s. Katie Cooper, do you still have that paper we wrote??
PonyFest is one of the things I look most forward to during the year. Rebecca Enzor is putting on her PonyFest for the third year in a row, and interestingly enough…I’m still working on the same MS! (Good thing I love this book so much I’ve already done ponies of my MC, his secondary character, and the deserty-theme of my book, so this year, I’m making a pony of my MS’s villain. Without further ado, let me introduce to you, CAIN-PONY!
Cain-pony lives in the desert. He’s fearsome and relentless and has some very twisted motives. He also wears a necklace made of teeth, hence the skull cutie mark!
See! Isn’t he just adorable. He makes me go awww!
If you’re participating in the fest, link to your blog in the comments, otherwise I can’t wait to check out everyone’s next week!