19 June 2020, Writing - part xx260 Writing a Novel, Don’t Tell
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.
Don’t tell. Simply don’t tell us. I’d like to write, don’t tell us anything, but until you get your skills on and your craft up, you’ll be telling. The critical point is that you reduce your telling as you learn. Eventually, you will learn the skill of writing fiction and be nearly one hundred percent showing. The big deal is to notice telling in your writing and eliminate it.
Just what is telling? Telling is any description that isn’t what the reader or characters can see, hear, smell, taste, or physically feel on the stage of the novel. Telling is dialog in the perfect past tense or past setting. Telling is action that is in the perfect past tense or past setting. Then about flashbacks.
I’m not opposed entirely to flashbacks. I’ve used flashbacks in my novels, I’m just not hugely in favor of them as a practice. Flashbacks are not telling at all if they are written in the third person, past tense, implied present. That is, the author places the dialog and the action in the past, but writes it as if it is in the present. Simple right?
That’s my problem with flashbacks. They can confuse the reader, hurt the storyline, and promote telling. A flashback should only be used to provide necessary information to the reader that allows the telic flaw resolution. Anything else should not be included in a flashback. Basic information, for example, any of the revelation of the protagonist can be expressed within the confines of dialog or action. For example, you might ask—how can I express complex information about my protagonist without telling? Dialog and communication is the best means. Here is an example from my unpublished novel, Sorcha: Enchantment and the Curse:
The woman brought two teacups to the table. She placed one to the side out of Shiggy’s reach. The other, she placed in front of herself. She went back and brought milk and sugar along with a full teapot. She poured a cup of tea for herself, placed in a cube of sugar, and a dash of milk. With a smug look, she took a generous sip of tea. Very deliberately, she lifted her ash wand up and placed it on the table between the empty cup and Shiggy, “Now, let’s talk.”
Shiggy’s stomach growled.
The woman smiled, “Place your hands on the table where I can see them.”
Shiggy put her hands on the top of the table.
The woman nodded, “Good. No delay that time. First, introductions. My name is really immaterial to you, but I will tell you, it is Sorcha Davis. I go by Claire to my friends and associates—Sorcha to my very intimate friends. You were Shiggaion Tash. Why your British parents gave you such a silly appellation, we will never know, but they did. I will call you Shiggy. You will be known as Shig to others.”
Shiggy looked down, “Why Shig and Shiggy?”
As quick as lightning, Sorcha grabbed the ash wand and slapped it against Shiggy’s knuckles.
Shiggy let out a cry and clasped her hands together off the table.
Sorcha raised the rod, “Shiggy. Immediately place your hands on the top of this table. I did not give you leave to remove them.”
With an involuntary whimper, Shiggy placed her hands on the table again. A red mark lifted along her knuckles.
“Unless I instruct you otherwise, you will always address me as ma’am no matter who is present or where we are. You will begin every sentence with that title.”
Sorcha allowed herself a tight smile that turned grim very quickly. She tapped the wand against the table, “That kind of behavior is why you are here at this moment. Try again—I will not allow the use of stilted English. Judgement is your problem, Shiggy. My job is to teach you good judgement.”
“Now, why Shig and Shiggy. The reason should be obvious even to you. Your entire life, you have insisted on being called Shiggaion. This name is an abomination and hard for most English speakers to say—yet you are English. You have not answered to any nicknames or abbreviations—therefore, I have graced you with a couple of nicknames. I think both of these will be enough out of character for you that no one will ever guess your actual name. You will not use Tash. It is a common enough British name, but not for you anymore. You are not to identify yourself as such in the future. If you do, your value to me will go to zero, and your life will likely end. Do I make myself clear?”
Shiggy replied breathlessly, “Yes, ma’am. What if someone figures out who I am?”
“We can’t do anything about that. Your value to me means your life.”
“But, ma’am how can that be?”
Sorcha squinted at her, pondering if the question was legitimate or impertinent. She decided legitimate, “You are my slave. I bought you, and I own you.”
“But, ma’am. How can that be?”
Sorcha pulled a large folder from the chair on the other side of the table. Crestfallen, Shiggy noted it was her official government training record.
Sorcha grinned, “You recognize this folder.”
Shiggy didn’t look up, “Yes, ma’am.” The folder was at least ten times thicker than any other cadet in government training. The folder itself had been expanded with tape and cardboard at least three times. Shiggy muttered, “Why don’t they just use electronic forms? This is the Twenty-First Century.”
“That was a rhetorical question, but I heard it, and I will answer it. The reason is to keep these records away from our actual and potential enemies. An electronic form is convenient, but too easy to lose, hack, or abscond with. On the other hand, here is your complete record, and it is breathtaking.”
Shiggy looked up, “But…” She caught herself, “But…ma’am, why does that make me your slave?”
“Because dear Shiggy, no one else in the government would have you, and you are under a classified contract with the British Intelligence Service.” Sorcha opened the training folder and turned it around, “That is your signature, isn’t it?”
Shiggy didn’t need to look, “Yes…ma’am.” She continued quickly, “But, ma’am I didn’t imagine they would do this to me.”
“Look at this folder. You have been placed in training in seven branches of British Intelligence and one of the military. That alone gives you eighty years of accumulated service commitment…”
“But, Ma’am, I never graduated from any of them.”
Sorcha stared at Shiggy until she dropped her eyes.
Shiggy mumbled, “What about, Discharge as of Right?”
“DAOR? My dear, Shiggy, you are way past that point. Let’s review your record. Shall we?”
Shiggy didn’t look up.
Sorcha turned to the first section, “You attended some of the best British private schools in the country and matriculated from sixth form at the youthful age of fourteen. You graduated from Oxford with three degrees: chemistry, engineering, and astrophysics. Then went on to study for your master’s degree. You attained two and were on the track for a doctoral degree until the incident…”
“How could I know that producing radioactive substances was not allowed?”
Sorcha picked up her stick, and Shiggy cringed away. Her fingers on the table twitched, “…ma’am.”
Sorcha put down the stick, “I should really beat you for that statement, but I shall not…unless you say something as stupid as that again. How could you not know that making radioactive substances was forbidden—especially in a room full of students…your graduate students.”
Shiggy sniffled, “Ma’am. No one was hurt.”
“No one was immediately killed. The British government and Oxford University are ultimately responsible for your imbecilic behavior. It was radioactive, for goodness sakes.” Sorcha turned the divider to the next section, “Because Oxford and the entire UK university system blacklisted you, you applied to the Military Intelligence structure. That’s when you signed this delicious little contract which gives me ownership over your body and soul.”
Shiggy mumbled, “Ma’am, I never intended to be made a slave.”
“Well let’s see what else you’ve done to deserve my attention. You applied to Sandhurst and were accepted—I assume through affirmative action.”
“Ma’am, that’s not fair. I meet every criteria. I even excelled in the program…”
“You excelled until you shot the kneecap off your pistol training instructor.”
“But, ma’am that was an accident.”
“You are horribly accident prone, aren’t you Shiggy. Listen, from this moment forward, I don’t want to hear a single ‘but’ from you, and the word ‘accident’ drops permanently out of your vocabulary.”
The ash wand rose up and came down with a crack on Shiggy’s knuckles.
Shiggy screamed and pulled her hands back, but not quite off the table.
“Hands on the table Shiggy, or you’ll get another one. What did I just tell you?”
Shiggy sniffled, “Ma’am, I am not to use the word ‘but’ nor the word accident. That hurt.”
“It didn’t hurt nearly as much as losing your kneecap.” Sorcha smiled broadly, “You are supposed to be trainable. We’ll see if this little training sticks.” She turned to the next divider in the folder, “Sandhurst was done with you, so they suggested you move to the scientific laboratories in MI6. Whoever suggested that might just be a traitor. Within your first month in the laboratory, you sent an entire floor to hospital.”
Shiggy just looked at her feet.
“Good. No lip from you—I suspect you’d like to tell me that you didn’t know organophosphorus compounds were nerve gas.”
Shiggy shook her head, “Ma’am, I knew. Who could imagine they had any in the lab…”
“You ditz. I should give you another crack on the knuckles for that.”
“Ma’am, please don’t.”
“Science sent you to Section VIII, Clandestine Communications. Why they thought that would be a good place for you, I have no idea. In Section VIII, you broadcast classified operational codes to over half of our enemies.”
“Ma’am, I just used the wrong mailing folder.”
Sorcha reached for the ash wand, and Shiggy cringed. Sorcha slowly put the wand down. Her voice softened, “Shiggy, don’t you get it…this problem is your problem. No one made you do any of these things. You’ve continued on and on committing disaster after disaster throughout our intelligence structure.”
The wand rose and fell with a snap on Shiggy’s knuckles. Shiggy screamed. She sat staring at her red knuckles. Sorcha laid down the wand with a sigh and turned to the next section, “Communications sent you to Section V to work on counter-espionage reports from our overseas stations. You set up a new organizational database system that completely disorganized all the reports. C tells me they are still trying to rectify and get their reports back out of your system. You set my intelligence work personally back a good piece with that blunder.”
Sorcha glanced at Shiggy, “A sorry now—that’s perhaps a little bit of progress.” She flipped to the next section, “Section V, immediately moved you to Section VII. What kind of trouble could you get into in economic intelligence?”
“Ma’am, I could lose contraband while making a necessary transfer from one classified station to another.”
Sorcha leaned back, “And how exactly did you accomplish that?”
Shiggy twitched her thumbs together, “I took a wrong turn and ended up in the Thames.”
Without another word, Sorcha turned to the next section, “Section VII sent you to Section N where we exploit the contents of foreign diplomatic bags. What did you do there, dear?”
“Ma’am, while in section N, I acc…” Sorcha reached for the wand. “I unintentionally placed incriminating evidence in another government’s diplomatic pouch and compromised the entire operation.”
Sorcha’s voice sounded bland, “I really should strike you for that—you simply used a synonym for accident.”
“Please don’t, ma’am. I shan’t do it again.”
“What did you leave in the diplomatic pouch?”
“My identification badge. Because I lost it, I couldn’t get back out of the building that evening, so I pulled the emergency alarm.”
Sorcha put her face in her hands, “What was the emergency?”
“I couldn’t get out of the building... ma’am.”
“What about the bag?”
“Ma’am, it had gone out with the normal operational mail flow that afternoon.”
“I’m certain they debriefed you. The bag was an emergency, you were not.”
“Ma’am, my ID was in it.”
“You really don’t get it, do you?”
Shiggy stuttered, “I can’t believe I made such a terrible mistake.”
Sorcha clapped the ash stick on the table, “But you did. You did make a terrible mistake. It was all your fault—every bit of it.”
Tears streamed down Shiggy’s cheeks, “Yes ma’am, it was all my fault—every bit of it.”
Sorcha flipped to the next section, “Section N for some reason thought you would be a better fit in Section D. Perhaps, they have a vendetta against Section D. I can see nothing but danger putting a person like you in an organization that conducts political covert actions and paramilitary operations. They obviously didn’t study your dossier.”
“Actually, ma’am, I think they received an expurgated dossier. The one I carried to them was much thinner than this one.”
“You didn’t expurgate it yourself, did you?”
Shiggy’s lips twitched, “Of course not. I’d never do something like that… ma’am.”
Sorcha flicked the very thick folder under Shiggy’s nose. She tapped the tip of Shiggy’s nose a couple of times, “Well luckily we have the whole of it right here, and I wouldn’t miss a single bit of it. What happened in Section D?”
“Well ma’am, you see…you see. I’ve always had a little problem with driving. I was driving an American SUV as part of a combat team and lost control in a turn. The vehicle rolled…”
“Yes, go on…the results.”
Yes, ma’am, the vehicle rolled and that sent five members of the team to hospital.”
“How many members were on the team?”
“Six...ma’am…I had my seatbelt on.”
Sorcha turned to the next folder section, “Section D decided to send you over to hostage recovery operations. I see they continued to allow you to carry firearms and operate machinery.”
“Why don’t you tell me what happened just before you became my trainee?”
“Your trainee, ma’am?”
Sorcha leaned closer and grabbed Siggy’s long very blond hair. She gave Shiggy’s head a shake, “You are my slave, Shiggy and don’t you forget it.”
Sorcha leaned back in her chair, “Tell me. I know anyway, but you might as well get it off your chest.”
“Well, ma’am, I was part of a hostage recovery group training. We assaulted the house where the hostages were being held. I was in the back and put away my weapon to disarm one of the terrorists. When I pulled my pistol back out, it fired and struck one of the hostages.”
Sorcha’s voice sounded droll, “So you shot one of the hostages?”
“It was a laser scored exercise. We didn’t carry live rounds. The laser recorded a hit from my weapon on the hostage. Then one of the instructors shot me in the buttocks with a tranq.” Shiggy looked like she wanted to rub her bottom where she had been shot. “I’m not sure why they did that…”
“They did it for me.”
“For you, ma’am?”
“I’ve been waiting for years to acquire someone just like you.”
“Like me?” Shiggy let out a trace of a smile.
Sorcha stood, “Let’s face it. You are a ditz and a klutz. You can’t be trusted to do anything that requires quick thinking or manual dexterity. You don’t work very well under pressure, and you have never been made to take responsibility for any of your actions.”
“That’s not exactly true or fair, ma’am.”
“What part isn’t true, Shiggy?”
Shiggy didn’t respond.
“Well it so happens, Miss Shiggy, at this instant, you are the most dangerous person to Britain on the face of the globe.”
Shiggy pouted, “That isn’t entirely true either, ma’am.”
Sorcha shook her head and grabbed Shiggy’s cheeks, “Don’t remove your hands from the table.”
Sorcha pinched Shiggy’s cheeks, “You really don’t get it. You have been in the bowels of MI6. You have seen and single-handedly compromised most of the British intelligence structure. What do you think we can do with you now? We don’t kill people anymore for being irresponsible or clumsy. You are both. You’ve sent more than a hundred of our people to hospital and none of the enemy. You do realize the purpose of our intelligence services is to make the bad guys die for their country, not our guys.”
“I didn’t kill anyone.”
“Yet,” Sorcha pinched Shiggy’s cheeks so hard, she couldn’t speak. “I have a job for you that will keep you safely out from underfoot. It will put to use your prodigious intellect, and not put other people at risk. It will help me with my job—plus I now own my own slave. Can you cook?”
Shiggy nodded, yes.
“Can you clean?”
“Can you think?”
Sorcha smiled, “If you please me and do as I ask, the world will be pleasant for you. If you do not, it will be hell. Do I make myself clear?”
Shiggy’s eyes bulged slightly from the pressure on her cheeks. She nodded.
Sorcha released her face, “Good.”
Shiggy fell back slightly. She barely kept her hands on the table.
Sorcha sat back down, “Now, whose fault was the shooting at Sandhurst.” She stared at Shiggy. She tapped her ash wand.
Shiggy couldn’t look her in the eye. She stuttered, “It was my fault, ma’am.”
“Whose, fault the nerve gas problem in science?”
“My fault, ma’am.”
“Who designed an organizational database system that did just the opposite?”
“I made it, ma’am.”
“Who lost contraband in the Thames?”
“I did, ma’am.”
“Who sent codes to our enemies?”
“I did, ma’am.”
“Whose ID found itself in a foreign country’s diplomatic pouch and caused an international incident?”
“Mine did, ma’am.”
“Who wrecked an SUV and sent five of her team members to hospital?”
“I did, ma’am.”
“Finally, who killed a hostage during a hostage recovery exercise?”
“It wasn’t a real kill, ma’am.”
Sorcha shook her head, “If it had been real, you would have killed a person, Shiggy.”
Shiggy sobbed, “I did it, ma’am. I did all of that.”
Sorcha smiled. She stood, grabbed a towel, wet it at the sink, and threw it to Shiggy, “Clean your face, and I’ll take you to your room. You can put on your clothing. For better or worse, you are now a member of Stela in the Organization.”
This is just one means of accomplishing a very complex revelation of information concerning the protagonist. In this case, Shiggy Tash. If you notice, there is no telling in any of this at all—this is all showing. I set up the circumstances to allow this degree of showing about the history of Shiggy Tash, but that’s the point. As an author, our job is to provide these interludes to reveal our protagonist. That is the purpose of a novel—the revelation of the protagonist which eventually leads to the resolution of the telic flaw. You can likely guess the telic flaw following Shiggy around.
The most important point as a fiction author is to show and not tell. An inexperienced author might tell you all about Shiggy Tash. For example:
Shiggy Tash had studied at Oxford and was pursuing a doctorate until she released a radioactive substance into her graduate studies lecture. She then joined government service where she, yada, yada, yada.
That’s telling. I can’t go on—it’s just horrible to contemplate. You tell me, which is more entertaining and fun, my example from the novel or my example of telling? I’ll wait. I don’t have to wait. If you think telling is entertaining or even worth reading, you are not cut out for fiction. In fact, I worry about your experience as a reader. When I read for entertainment, except for reviews, I toss any novel that is not entertaining. I will say, I’ll continue reading an older novel especially a Victorian Era novel just for historical purposes. There’s a lot of telling going on in those older novels—that’s part of their problem.
So, I gave you a good example. I gave you a bad example. I explained about telling—don’t tell. I hope the message gets out. Figure out a way to express the revelation of your protagonist without telling and with inly showing. Show and don’t tell. Also, as an aside, please only one protagonist per novel. If you are multi-published and a regular author (regularly and not self-published) experiment to your heart’s content with multi-protagonists. I recommend not, but knock yourself out. If you aren’t regularly published, don’t even think of having more than one or ambiguous protagonists. This is a newbie’s error of errors. One protagonist. One person whom you follow through the entire novel. One point of view, please. Once you have produced a single showing novel with a single protagonist and had it regularly published (not self-published) you may have as many protagonists as you can stand. I assure you, you won’t sell a normal fiction novel with more than one—unless your name is Martin, and you are already a novel, movie, and television sensation. Just say’n.
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:
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