Show, Don’t Tell Will Sell Your Stories

The First Commandment of Writing

by Deborah Owen

Show, Don’t Tell is not only the writer’s first commandment, it is the one broken the most. This strange phrase, Show, Don’t Tell, means we must learn to paint pictures of emotions instead of telling them outright; however, some things must be told. Examples of works that tell are:

  • Newspaper articles: The robber was last seen heading south on Main Street.
    • Most magazine articles: Joseph Hanson resigned his position with the GOP on March 26.   
  • Advertisements: When you have a stain, Shout it out!
  • Journals: I had a lousy day today.

You’ll notice one common denominator in the statements above. Every statement is flat and descriptive. That’s what telling is. It’s very shallow writing. Cut and dried. Matter of fact. Dull and boring. A listed description is always telling.

Don’t say, ‟Roberta was jealous,” or “She had coal black hair, dark brown eyes, long lashes, and the cutest rosebud lips you ever saw.” Instead, release descriptions a little at a time, in one or more scenes. For example:

Lisa sighed and pushed her coal black hair out of her eyes.

My boyfriend virtually drowns in her chocolaty eyes. I’ll bet she wears false eyelashes,Roberta said. 

Nah. They’re hers, alright. I have brown eyes. That’s no biggie, but I’d give my arm to have rosebud lips like hers,” Eleanor replied.

The first thing you’ll notice is that telling the facts took only 15 words, but showing them took 52. You may notice that we have two writing laws in conflict. The first says to show all emotions, but the second says to cut down on words. The more important of these two laws is showing, which always takes three to four times more words than telling. Don’t worry about the added verbiage.

Let’s look at more examples:

Instead of writing this flat statement, “He works out at the gym and has a great physique,” we could show his muscular form with dialogue. A girl could see him and text her friend, saying, “Wayne just came out of the gym wearing one of those tight muscle shirts. Wow! What a hunk!”

Another way to show is by using internal dialogue ([thoughts] – although editors don’t like internal dialogue these days). Let’s say you have a scene in the kitchen where a woman is angry. She could throw pots and pans to express her temperament, or she could think, I could literally place my hands around her skinny little neck and slowly squeeze the life out of her. Notice that some types of showing still have a little telling in them. (By the way, internal dialogue is always expressed in italics.)

Or we could view the woman through another character’s eyes, like this:

She stood stock still, right hand on her hip, and one foot patting the floor. Blood engorged the vessels in her neck and temples as a crimson flush crawled from her collar upward. We knew it was time to get out of Dodge.

More ways to learn showing:

  • Read stories printed within the last five years and pick out showing sentences.
  • Review your own work and look for telling sentences.
    • Observe people and make a telling statement about them, then change it to showing.

Learning to show emotions and attitudes is an advanced technique that takes months to learn. Be patient. It will come in time.

For more helpful insights, go to www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com and learn more about our fantastic creative writing courses!

How to Jump Start Story Ideas

Getting Inspired

by Deborah Owen

Ideas are all around you. A car is broken down. A murderer could pick up the stranded passenger and kidnap, rape or kill her. Two girls are ice-skating. One girl drowns and her ghost returns to visit the surviving girl. Readers love the macabre.

Look at an animal, a truck, or an object and think: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? Example – you see a snake statue. Why is it there? Who owned it? What is the significance?

  • Look at pictures and let your imagination run wild.
  • Look at a house and imagine what goes on inside.
  • Sit in a restaurant and eavesdrop. Imagine the rest.
  • Think of a dramatic scene and embellish it.
  • Walk around in a crowd and find a strange face that fills you with emotion. Look within. Make yourself and your experiences into a character.
  • Take known problems from several people’s lives and piece it together for a story.

Stories are everywhere. At the end of this article, you’ll find an address where you can search old newspapers. Read the stories of yesteryear, change the facts, rename the characters, and turn it into your own story.

Don’t forget to stop by www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com to discover more writing tips and learn about our awesome creative writing courses!

Here’s the link I mentioned earlier: http://www.xooxleanswers.com/free-newspaper-archives/

How to Develop a Story

A Step-by-Step Rundown 

by Deborah Owen

There are many ways to form a story in your mind, but I have developed a unique approach that almost writes the story for you. Keeping in mind that every story must have plot, conflict, and resolution (not necessarily in that order) – I build the conflict first, then the resolution, and then the lead in. Notice I didn’t say the “plot”. The plot will develop by itself with this method.

Step 1

I’ll make up a story right now, as I type, to show you the process. I’m starting in the middle of my story because I’ll get into the action quicker, I’ll be able to identify most of the characters quickly, and the plot will develop more easily. FIRST, I’ll begin with the action scene that comes in the middle. I have no idea what it will be. I’ll think about high drama and tension and start there. (90 seconds of thinking.)

I will make this story about two abused children, a sister about aged 9 and her brother, aged 5. My mind begins with the action scene where an enraged stepfather chases them through a forest. They are hiding in a tiny washout in a bank that is covered by tree roots. They found it when the little boy sat down, leaned against the roots and fell into it.

The stepfather races through the forest, loudly calling their names. Gasping for air, he sits down and leans against the same tree, not three feet from where they are hiding. The children hold their breath in fear, lest he should fall into the hole and discover them.

Step 2

Okay. The anti-climax is done and my mind is thoroughly into the story. Next, I’ll create the ending. (Pause – thinking.) The children will come across a village they didn’t know existed. The people who live there dress in strange clothes, like a throwback in time.  They see a man who is a shoe cobbler, and a woman wearing wooden shoes that clack their way down the street.

The children run to the shoe cobbler and pant out their story to him. The cobbler alerts the townspeople that a huge, fierce man is coming and that he intends to harm the children. The townspeople hold a hurried meeting and decide to lay a trap to snare him.

The man walks into the trap, is caught, and put on trial. The people are merciless. In their eyes, there is no greater crime than abusing children. In such cases, they feel that ridding the earth of such a vile person is commendable – and they are commendable people. They hang him. The children live with the shoe cobbler and his wife, and they spend the rest of their natural lives with the townspeople.

Developing the lead will be easy now. What I want you to see is that jumping into a tragic scene mentally will naturally lead you to the number of characters you must have and who they are.

Step 3

Next, I have to answer some questions for the reader, such as, where is the mother all this time? My easy answer is that she’s dead. I can either state that or show it. Next, I have to tell my reader what happened to the natural father, and how the stepfather came into the picture. Or – I have a new idea. Maybe the real father is chasing them, but not to harm them. He’s trying to rescue them and their mother (who is no longer dead). Let’s suppose the mother married the stepfather because her first husband was supposedly killed in war, but now he’s back, trying to rescue her.

That puts the story into a happier mode, and it makes for a better plot. I’ll go with that. So the father is chasing them all this time, but the children think it is the stepfather, so they’re hiding in their little hole and waiting until he leaves. (Note the irony of having the father so near the children, and neither knows the other is there), and then they run to the village. The village people ensnare their father, thinking he is the stepfather who is trying to harm the children, but just before the hanging, the children see it is their father and he takes them home to their mother and they live happily ever after. Now I have to figure out what happened to the stepfather.

This is a very good way to build a story. I call it the DeBowen Story technique. Start writing in the middle of the climax scene, complete the story, and go back to write the introduction. Answer the questions of who, where, why, what, and how, and join it all together. It’s that simple.

The second ending I thought of at the last minute is better than the first because it has a twist, and because it has irony. Both of these are good writing tools.

There is something noteworthy here, and that is, you must always let the reader feel satisfied at the end of the story. That’s why you see very few stories with a sad ending. If you don’t satisfy your reader, they won’t want to read anything else you write.

This kind of story will run about 2,000 words. It will require two main characters (the real father and the oldest child). It will need at least three minor characters (the mother, little boy, and shoe cobbler). That’s an awful lot to cram into 2,000 words, but it can be done.

This DeBowen writing method will work for you every time. Try it. Let me know if you like the approach. And don’t forget to head over to www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com to find out about our creative writing courses! Don’t forget to “like” and rate us before you go, and thanks for stopping by! Deb

Punctuation Study

Understanding Punctuation

by Deborah Owen

Creative writers rarely study punctuation, but almost everyone needs a brush-up now and then. See if you know all of these variations.

Imperative and declarative sentences

Both imperative and declarative sentences require a normal period.

Imperative commands: Give me a hug. Tell me goodbye when you leave.

Declarative sentences state a fact, such as: She gave him a hug. She told her mother goodbye when she left.

But some declarative sentences contain a question. If the sentence as a whole states the question as a fact, it should end with a period. (Confusing, isn’t it?)

As a question:  Would you like to go to a party?

As a statement: I wonder if you would like to go to the party.

The latter sentence states that I am wondering if you would like to go to the party; therefore, it is not asking a direct question.

Abbreviated words ending in a period

Mr., Dr., Rev., etc., i.e., and Mrs. are examples of abbreviated words that have periods. If your declarative or imperative sentence have an abbreviated word at the end, don’t add an additional period.

(Correct) The movie starts at 8 p.m. (Incorrect) The movie starts at 8 p.m..

Question marks

A question mark is used at the end of a normal question, but it is also used to express doubt or the unknown. When the question mark is used on a gravestone, it is usually placed in parentheses, like this: (1960–?) In such a case, the engraver doesn’t know when the person died.

In the following sentence, the writer is not sure whether the pet mentioned is a cat or some other animal.

In her will, the eccentric woman left her pet cat (?) the entire estate.

(Writer’s hint: If you don’t know what kind of animal the pet is, just say “pet.”)

If there is a series of incomplete questions, place a question mark at the end of each question, as in:

Can you believe the man survived the gunshot? And the fall from the six-story building? And hitting the flagpole? (Neither can I.)

Exclamation marks

Sometimes called an exclamation point, this handy little punctuation is used to indicate surprise or a strong emotion or feeling, as in: Get out of my room!

To make that a much milder statement (command), I could have said, Get out of my room. (Notice that it ended with a period.) When a statement uses an exclamation point, it relates a sense of urgency or possible anger. Note how the exclamation mark changes the related emotion.

Get out. I said, get out. I said, get out!

Exclamation marks are rarely used in formal writing except in quotes or the citing of a title. You may also see them in article “teasers.” In informal writing, you should use an exclamation point at the end of a strong sentence or after relating particularly exciting information.

If the exclamation mark is used to punctuate exciting information within a sentence, it is placed in parentheses, as in: Mike won first place (!) in the spelling bee.

And last but certainly not least, don’t use the exclamation mark more than an average of once per page. You should be showing emotions by painting scenes with imagery, not telling the emotions with punctuation.

Fortunately, you can be somewhat creative in using punctuation! For more great writing tips, go to www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com and sign up for our newsletter!

Getting Started in Writing

Writing… Is it Right for You?

The Beginning of a Life-long Journey

By Deborah Owen

What would you give to be a good writer? Would you be willing to study hard, to start at the bottom, to invest in yourself? That’s what learning the writing trade is all about, and you can learn it in two years or less.

Writing will fulfill you.
Writing will be worth the sacrifice.
Writing will make you more than you are.

Perhaps the following syllabi from Creative Writing Institute will help you judge your present level of writing.

Punctuation Review: Learn basic comma rules, dependent and independent clauses, the use of semicolons, parentheses, dashes, apostrophes, hyphens, question marks, exclamation marks, quotation marks, and slashes. This is an awesome brush-up course for those who are weak in this area.

Mechanics of Writing is another brush-up course that deals with dialogue, comma splices, subject and verb agreement, coordinated vs. subordinated conjunction, double negatives, disruptive and misplaced modifiers, unclear antecedents, overuse of prepositions, fragmented and run-on sentences, prepositional phrases, query letters, and how to coordinate ideas. This is the course where most students should begin because it lays a great foundation.

Short Story Safari is an intermediate course that covers themes, choosing points of view, and targeting the audience. Students will learn to build and properly cast characters, create good dialogue, use word imagery, build conflict, cut verbiage in long sentences like this, and perhaps most importantly, the art of Show, Don’t Tell. Students will complete the course with a finished story.

Some people think it’s easier to write for children than to write for adults. Wrong. The Writing for Children course presents outlining, fleshing out characters, studying market techniques, building points of view, good dialogue, and Show, Don’t Tell. In addition, you will learn how to edit drafts, polish your final draft, and create fantastic queries and cover letters. Students will complete the course with a finished story.

Those who take the Fantasy Writing Class will study the difference between fantasy, horror, and sci-fi writing. The course also covers the history of fantasy writing, finding inspiration, creating fantasy characters, worlds, and battles. Additionally, students will study outlining, creating spells, mixing magic potions, and the necessary elements to transport your readers into a believable atmosphere. Students will complete the course with a finished story.

In Dynamic Nonfiction writers will find ideas for articles, contact editors for guidelines, do research, learn to notate properly, and learn critical thinking vs. argumentation. They will study topics and sub-topics, titles, description, cause and effect, and analogy. They will prepare a query letter and complete the course with a finished article.

Building Blocks of Poetry teaches students about perfect rhyme, near rhyme, lines and stanzas, repetition, consonance, assonance, rhythm, meter, and alliteration. They will also learn enjambment, caesura, scansion, imagery, metaphor, pathos, personification, and other techniques.

There are many more classes, but these represent some of the more popular ones. Two poetry courses are also available, teaching meter, rhyme, free verse, and various types of poetry.

Students who begin above their level are apt to become overwhelmed, discouraged, and disenchanted with learning. If you aren’t sure where you would fit into the learning scale, write to deborahowen@cwinst.com for information on how you can receive a free writing evaluation without obligation.

NOTE: Other schools may have identical class names but might teach different subjects within their courses. Always read the syllabus, and don’t forget to visit www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com for all your writing needs. Take a course and get your own personal tutor. On sale now!

How to Earn a Living by Writing

Secrets of Full-time Writers

by Deborah Owen

Creative writers can make a lot of money writing for newspapers. The writing is easy, you don’t have to worry about “Show, Don’t Tell,” and you can resell the articles all over the country with simultaneous submissions.

Most newspapers need a reporter for PTA meetings and sometimes for sports events. You will make about $15 for each article, and $5 for each picture they use. A normal 35mm camera is usually good enough.

Most average-sized cities have a local newspaper that accepts admissions from amateur writers. This is your market. If you have political views you want to share, the Opinion Editor or Op-Ed section is a good place to start. Write with conviction and zest and the editor will most likely accept your piece. He will, however, edit it for grammar and cut parts he deems unnecessary. If they have a guideline, follow it to the letter.

By most people’s standards, $15 to $20 isn’t much, but if you write an article about an upcoming holiday and resell it all over the nation, you can easily make $200 from it.

Make a file on the newspapers that accept your work. This is your gold mine. These are the people you send Christmas cards to – the people you become personally acquainted with – the people you network with – and the people you become friends with. These people are your livelihood – and this is how writers make a living. Maybe not a plush living, but a modest one. It isn’t easy, but it works.

When you write articles, you have to be fast. You don’t worry a lot about how you phrase things as long as you use (near) proper English. Most of the rules you learned for writing short stories won’t apply. You can use passive sentences. You can “tell” instead of “showing”. You don’t have to use graceful sentences, but used jazzed-up verbs.

Send your submissions directly to the editor. Call the newspaper to learn his or her name, and write it down. Be sure you get the spelling right. Google “U.S. Newspapers” and you can select the papers by state.

So where do you get your articles? What do you write about? Have you ever wondered how something works, or where certain things come from? How about people who have an unusual talent or a special hobby?

The secret to reselling a newspaper article is that it needs to have a broad appeal – such as an article on how Father’s Day began. If you were submitting to a magazine, you would have to submit at least three to four months ahead, but not so with newspapers. Send your article in two weeks in advance.

Still having a hard time thinking of what to write about? Check the latest version of Writer’s Market if you have nothing specific in mind. Browsing the nonfiction section will give you an idea of what kinds of articles are being published.

This is enough to get you off to a good start. Have any questions though? I’d be more than happy to answer them for you in the comments below!

And don’t forget to head over to www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com to sign up for The Writer’s Choice Newsletter or a writing course with a personal tutor.