13 June 2020, Writing - part xx254 Writing a Novel, Show Don’t Tell about Characters
Announcement: Delay, my new novels can be seen on the internet, but my primary publisher has gone out of business—they couldn’t succeed in the past business and publishing environment. I’ll keep you informed, but I need a new publisher. More information can be found at www.ancientlight.com. Check out my novels—I think you’ll really enjoy them.
Introduction: I wrote the novel Aksinya: Enchantment and the Daemon. This was my 21st novel and through this blog, I gave you the entire novel in installments that included commentary on the writing. In the commentary, in addition to other general information on writing, I explained, how the novel was constructed, the metaphors and symbols in it, the writing techniques and tricks I used, and the way I built the scenes. You can look back through this blog and read the entire novel beginning with http://www.pilotlion.blogspot.com/2010/10/new-novel-part-3-girl-and-demon.html.
I’m using this novel as an example of how I produce, market, and eventually (we hope) get a novel published. I’ll keep you informed along the way.
Today’s Blog: To see the steps in the publication process, visit my writing websites http://www.sisteroflight.com/.
The four plus one basic rules I employ when writing:
1. Don’t confuse your readers.
2. Entertain your readers.
3. Ground your readers in the writing.
4. Don’t show (or tell) everything.
4a. Show what can be seen, heard, felt, smelled, and tasted on the stage of the novel.
5. Immerse yourself in the world of your writing.
These are the steps I use to write a novel including the five discrete parts of a novel:
1. Design the initial scene
2. Develop a theme statement (initial setting, protagonist, protagonist’s helper or antagonist, action statement)
a. Research as required
b. Develop the initial setting
c. Develop the characters
d. Identify the telic flaw (internal and external)
3. Write the initial scene (identify the output: implied setting, implied characters, implied action movement)
4. Write the next scene(s) to the climax (rising action)
5. Write the climax scene
6. Write the falling action scene(s)
7. Write the dénouement scene
I finished writing my 29th novel, working title, Detective, potential title Blue Rose: Enchantment and the Detective. The theme statement is: Lady Azure Rose Wishart, the Chancellor of the Fae, supernatural detective, and all around dangerous girl, finds love, solves cases, breaks heads, and plays golf.
Here is the cover proposal for Blue Rose: Enchantment and the Detective.
The most important scene in any novel is the initial scene, but eventually, you have to move to the rising action. I am continuing to write on my 30th novel, working title Red Sonja. I finished my 29th novel, working title Detective. I’m planning to start on number 31, working title Shifter.
How to begin a novel. Number one thought, we need an entertaining idea. I usually encapsulate such an idea with a theme statement. Since I’m writing a new novel, we need a new theme statement. Here is an initial cut.
For novel 30: Red Sonja, a Soviet spy, infiltrates the X-plane programs at Edwards AFB as a test pilot’s administrative clerk, learns about freedom, and is redeemed.
For novel 31: Deirdre and Sorcha are redirected to French finishing school where they discover difficult mysteries, people, and events.
Here is the scene development outline:
1. Scene input (comes from the previous scene output or is an initial scene)
2. Write the scene setting (place, time, stuff, and characters)
3. Imagine the output, creative elements, plot, telic flaw resolution (climax) and develop the tension and release.
4. Write the scene using the output and creative elements to build the tension.
5. Write the release
6. Write the kicker
Today: Why don’t we go back to the basics and just writing a novel? I can tell you what I do, and show you how I go about putting a novel together. We can start with developing an idea then move into the details of the writing.
To start a novel, I picture an initial scene. I may start from a protagonist or just launch into mental development of an initial scene. I get the idea for an initial scene from all kinds of sources. To help get the creative juices flowing, let’s look at the initial scene.
1. Meeting between the protagonist and the antagonist or the protagonist’s helper
2. Action point in the plot
3. Buildup to an exciting scene
4. Indirect introduction of the protagonist
Ideas. We need ideas. Ideas allow us to figure out the protagonist and the telic flaw. Ideas don’t come fully armed from the mind of Zeus. We need to cultivate ideas.
1. Read novels.
2. Fill your mind with good stuff—basically the stuff you want to write about.
3. Figure out what will build ideas in your mind and what will kill ideas in your mind.
6. Make the catharsis.
The development of ideas is based on study and research, but it is also based on creativity. Creativity is the extrapolation of older ideas to form new ones or to present old ideas in a new form. It is a reflection of something new created with ties to the history, science, and logic (the intellect). Creativity requires consuming, thinking, and producing.
If we have filled our mind with all kinds of information and ideas, we are ready to become creative. Creativity means the extrapolation of older ideas to form new ones or to present old ideas in a new form. Literally, we are seeing the world in a new way, or actually, we are seeing some part of the world in a new way.
I’ve worked through creativity and the protagonist. The ultimate point is that if you properly develop your protagonist, you have created your novel. I should move back to the initial scene, but I’ve been writing about showing and not telling in my short form blog, and I want to expand that out a bit in this blog. Let’s move on to perhaps the most important feature of the novel: showing and not telling.
Novelists are not storytellers. Novelists are story-showers. I hope you have heard the fiction writer’s adage: show and don’t tell. This is the most important aspect of the internal construction of the novel.
I will reveal that in reviewing a recent self-published author’s book, I was compelled by the wholesale telling in the book, I can’t call it a novel, that I had to address each area where the author failed to show. That’s where I came up with the following list:
Show and don’t tell.
Omniscient voice is poop.
Only write what the characters saw, tasted, felt, smelled, heard, said, or any action.
Identity is a problem.
It’s all about dialog.
Perfect tense can be a problem.
It’s all about the senses.
Don’t be boring.
Eating is living and dialog.
Creativity and senses.
Start with scene setting.
Make it sense setting.
So just what does it mean to show and not tell? This seems to be a very difficult question for new writers as well as a source of contention for experienced writers. It seems that many writers can’t agree or even concede on what showing vs. telling really means. Not to worry—I have the answer.
We are looking at the stage of the novel. We described the setting in the sense of time and place. We showed only what you can see, hear, smell, taste, and physically feel on that stage. Now we are setting the characters.
Characters need to be shown. In fact, let me remind you that most inexperienced authors and many bestselling authors don’t give enough description especially of characters, but many times of place and time. This is why I make it an emphasis in my scene development. Back to characters. One of the most egregious acts by the author is to not provide us enough or in some cases any worthwhile description of the characters. Arlo Guthrie, Jr. in his famous Field Guild to Fiction Writing, tells us we should use at least 300 words to describe major characters and places—that is setting and characters. Most of the time, we get zero, and then we get telling, but we’ll get to that.
What is the proper description of a character? Describe what the character looks like. Start with the top of the head and move down in a detailed description of what we can see about the character. The hair, the face, the nose, the mouth, the eyes, the lips, the chin, the neck, and so one. All this is worth describing and all this is important to showing the character?
Then we need a description of the character’s clothing: hat, scarf, shirt, coat, dress, pants, blouse, belt, shoes, socks, and all. In most novels, you’re lucky to get a description of what kinds of robes the Harry Potty wizards are wearing that year. I’ve read lots and lots of very poorly written novels where you had no idea what the protagonist looked like and barely any idea what they were clothed like. And there is more.
What do the sound like? Not just their dialog, although we will get to that. What does their voice sound like? High, low, pitchy, odd, strong, deep, screechy, or whatever—what do they sound like? What do they smell like? You can stop there, taste and physical feeling are most of the time right out, but they might apply in some cases. Usually, in the inexperienced writer, I don’t get even the semblance of any of this—there isn’t even a question of taste and physical feel, there isn’t any clothing, details, or facial characteristics. There is usually a dearth of real description of any type. What we usually get is telling. Just what is telling?
We learn by telling and telling only that the character is a nice girl who wants to go to a finishing school. Or we learn the man is a hard worker who went to college and is working at a newspaper. Or we are told that the lady has a degree from Harvard in astrophysics and that she is working on a project at a secret laboratory. Or the omniscient voice from the not so hidden author tells us what he likes and she does and they want and everybody is done. The story is done. The revelation is done. The novel is done. Why even move further ahead when you already know everything. This is all telling. The reader can’t see, hear, taste, smell, or physically feel a person’s work, degrees, wants, desires, likes, attributes, and all. I’ll give you some latitude, the same latitude authors are wont to take. For example, if you want to give me a mixed metaphor in a positive way. Tell me Jake wore aviator glasses, the kind pilots liked to wear, but nobody else did. It showed off he had bad taste in glasses, but that he was a pilot. This is the usual means of turning description into safe telling—it’s still telling.
If you can’t see it, hear it, smell it, taste it, or physically feel it on the stage of the novel, you should leave it out. In fact, why tell us a person is a pilot when you can show us the person is a pilot. An entire scene could give us the build up to the person exercising their skills. You can also use point of view from the protagonist to show information that might be known about a character. I much prefer showing this information in conversation or through document review. What does this mean?
If I need to reveal some detailed information about the background of a character, like education and experience, the best way is in dialog. An interview or introduction by that character is the best. You can also do a document review. Have a character review an application, story, resume, or other document of the character in question. The least preferable, but acceptable method is a description from the point of view (PoV) of the protagonist or other character concerning information they have reviewed. As I wrote, this is better handled in dialog—if it is important in the novel.
Let’s put it this way. If it is important enough to reveal in your novel, it is important enough to show in your novel. Telling detracts from any fiction writing. Don’t do it. Character description is all about description of what we can see, hear, smell, taste, and physically feel—nothing else.
The beginning of creativity is study and effort. We can use this to extrapolate to creativity. In addition, we need to look at recording ideas and working with ideas.
For more information, you can visit my author site http://www.ldalford.com/, and my individual novel websites:
fiction, theme, plot, story, storyline, character development, scene, setting, conversation, novel, book, writing, information, study, marketing, tension, release, creative, idea, logic