After sending the draft to my agent last week, he called the next day and gave me the 'speed things up at the beginning news.' I knew it was dialogue-heavy, so I was expecting that, and I'd been making notes to myself about how to do that for weeks. But that didn't change the fact that now I had to massively reconstruct the first few chapters because I'd lapsed into what I'd like to call sequel syndrome. I recapped way too much of Book One, in the beginning of Book Two. Ugh.
Fixing the problem involved writing four new scenes and deleting enough word count from the others to make it come out a wash. That gave me a chance to think about the real meaning of the advice we writers hear so often, 'show don't tell.'
And I had an epiphany. Total V-8 moment!
Show over tell begins at the scene level--not at the sentence or paragraph level.
To show a piece of information to our readers, we need to:
- Choose the action that would best demonstrate the information. I have ghost-hunters trespassing on the plantation. Now, I can have someone tell my main character they are there and why it's a problem. My character can be surprised and irate--and all of that can happen in dialogue and make readers yawn. On the other hand, if I let my character see the ghost-hunters, she can react to them more organically. But that means that I have to build a scene that puts her in a position to see them, at the time in the story when it will most matter to her.
- Make the action result in change. Seeing the ghost-hunters can leave my main character mad, but it must also create an effect. If she sees the ghost hunters, but also sees the hand-lettered sign on yellow legal paper that says the plantation is closed to the public until further notice, seeing the ghost-hunters matters more to her and to the reader.
- Make the information matter. Saying the information matters doesn't make it matter, not to the character or the reader. Why does it matter? Having the plantation closed to the public matters because it interferes with my characters goals. It prevents her her from accomplishing what she needs to accomplish, and so now she isn't reacting just to the information, but to something deeper and more meaningful. The more meaningful I can make that, the more I can demonstrate a connection between the character and the information, the more the reader will care.
- Make the character interact with the information to generate emotion. That's key to storytelling--every action needs a reaction. But the reaction should be direct. If the character is troubled by what appears to be a ghost-hunter, she can snap at the person delivering the news, and that can be interesting. But what if she confronts the supposed ghost-hunter instead? Or goes out of her way to avoid him? Or does something to get rid of him? The possibilities are endless, but each of those reaction says something different about who my character is and how she feels. Whatever her reaction, even if it's a small part of the story, I want to choose the scenario that most vividly displays my character's feelings.
- Make it visual. If the character has a headache, I can have her rub her head and fumble for aspirin.
- Check the timing. If the character realizes something, I can have her act on that information at the most inconvenient time possible.
- Tell it in the most interesting way. I can reveal character emotion and generate reader response by using deep point of view to put the reader inside the character's head, describing what they hear, see, smell, touch in a way that makes the reaction visible and visceral.
It's easy to mistake dialogue for showing, simply because we can visualize the people talking. But visualizing and experiencing are two different things.
We experience an activity. We witness a dialogue.
My aha! moment yesterday was the idea that for every piece of information I need to reveal, I need to create the most meaningful way and time and place to show it.
Between now and when I get my manuscript back from my editor, I plan to think about how I can dig show my book unfolding at an even deeper level.
What about you? Can you think of a scene you've read or written that revealed something in a truly memorable way?
THIS WEEK'S GIVEAWAY
Before I Fall
For popular high school senior Samantha Kingston, February 12—"Cupid Day"—should be one big party, a day of valentines and roses and the privileges that come with being at the top of the social pyramid. And it is…until she dies in a terrible accident that night.
However, she still wakes up the next morning. In fact, Sam lives the last day of her life seven times, until she realizes that by making even the slightest changes, she may hold more power than she ever imagined.
PREVIOUS YA GIVEAWAY WINNERWinner C. Condomaros
If I Stay
by Gayle Forman
Speak; Reprint edition
The critically acclaimed, bestselling novel from Gayle Forman, author of Where She Went, Just One Day, and the forthcoming Just One Year.
On a day that started like any other,
Mia had everything: a loving family, a gorgeous, admiring boyfriend, and a bright future full of music and full of choices. In an instant, almost all of that is taken from her. Caught between life and death, between a happy past and an unknowable future, Mia spends one critical day contemplating the only decision she has left. It is the most important decision she'll ever make.
Simultaneously tragic and hopeful, this is a romantic, riveting, and ultimately uplifting story about memory, music, living, dying, loving.
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* * * *
Where She Went
by Gayle Forman
Speak; Reprint edition
It's been three years since the devastating accident . . . three years since Mia walked out of Adam's life forever.
Now living on opposite coasts, Mia is Juilliard's rising star and Adam is LA tabloid fodder, thanks to his new rock star status and celebrity girlfriend. When Adam gets stuck in New York by himself, chance brings the couple together again, for one last night. As they explore the city that has become Mia's home, Adam and Mia revisit the past and open their hearts to the future - and each other.
Told from Adam's point of view in the spare, lyrical prose that defined If I Stay, Where She Went explores the devastation of grief, the promise of new hope, and the flame of rekindled romance.
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View Where She Went on Goodreads
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