Show Don’t Tell: A Golden Rule of Writing for Aspiring Authors

Show Don’t Tell: A Golden Rule of Writing for Aspiring Authors

One of the trickier ‘golden rules of great writing’ that can be difficult to understand and execute is the ‘show don’t tell’ rule.

Anton Chekhov wrote, ‘Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.’

What does it mean to show not tell?

It’s the technique of painting a picture for the reader rather than spelling out what a character is sensing or feeling.

When should we use the ‘show don’t tell’ rule?

Generally, when we’re writing about emotions and senses, showing works well. However, we need a balance of showing and telling in a text. Telling is more effective when we’re summarizing backstory or describing action.

Why should we use it?

When we show, we paint an image for the reader (like in movies) so the reader gets to interpret and feel his or her own emotional response. This is how we create rich, vivid text that is open to interpretation. It makes writing inviting, not didactic.

E.g. She was grief struck (telling) versus ‘Something cold flickered inside her, memories of her mother moved like minnows beneath a dark surface.’(showing)

When we ‘show’ we leave spaces for the reader to fill in with his or her imagination.

The movie director, David Mamet talks about ‘telling the story in cuts…through a juxtaposition of images that are basically uninflected…a shot of a teacup. A shot of a spoon. A shot of a fork. A shot of a door. Let the cut tell the story. Because otherwise you have not got dramatic action, you have narration. If you slip into narration, you are saying, ‘you’ll never guess why what I just told you is important to the story.’ It’s unimportant that the audience should guess why it’s important to the story. It’s important simply to tell the story. Let the audience be surprised.’

Telling robs the reader of his or her own emotional take on the situation. It flattens instead of expands the text.

‘She is lonely’ versus ‘She looks for a kind face but never sees one.’

When we ‘show’ we’re letting the reader in, we’re writing for the reader. Showing opens rather than closes the text.

‘He felt hot’ versus ‘Large half moons of sweat grew at his armpits.’

The writer Adam Robinson’s exercise for showing not telling is: drop an adjective into a sentence like this ‘He was so….. that he once.’ Or ‘the day was so cold that…’ Then delete the first half of the sentence.

Have fun experimenting.

Keep writing – the sentences you don’t write keep you where you are. The ones you do, take you places.

PS: Show Don’t Tell is just one key element of writing. For more tips and exercises to strengthen your craft, sign up for my 7 Day Free Writing Challenge.

Join the 7 Day FREE Writing Challenge

 

This writing journey over one week will serve those who are new to writing and don’t know where to begin or what to write about. As well as seasoned writers, we all need to reignite an old flame with words to see if there’s any chemistry.

Join me for my next 7 Day Free Writing Challenge and learn simple but profound writing tricks.

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Nobody Can Do This, But Me

Nobody Can Do This, But Me

When I was younger, I believed I needed rescuing.

One day, sitting at an airport, I realised I didn’t want to be that person. I was homeward bound, after galivanting with no purpose, when I suddenly recognised that I could take responsibility for myself, and that I didn’t need to sit around waiting for someone to do it for me. That was the day I began to grow. I took charge of me. I decided to hold myself accountable for the unfolding of my life.  And since that moment, I have grown and evolved into the person I am today. Once I was a lost, lonely girl waiting to be saved.  But now when I look into my past, and see the me I have become, I am in awe of what I have achieved, especially because back then I didn’t know I could.

I run my own Pilates studio now.  And at the beginning of last year I realized I was at another crossroads. I was tired. Tired of being beholden to ideas and thoughts that were not my own, of trying to make everybody happy, and of not sticking to my boundaries. I took a month sabbatical, and the time away helped me see things from a different vantage point. I became clear on what I liked about my profession (and what I liked about myself), why I wanted to teach, and what my boundaries were. I asked myself, ‘What did I want to impart’, ‘Who was I willing to work with (and who was I not)’, and ‘What was important to me?’ I worked on channelling my energy from ‘have to do’s’ to ‘want to do’s.’ I rediscovered my joy of teaching. I remembered what I wanted people to feel when they were in my communal space, and what I wanted to give back to those who trusted me to move them.

I began to see who I was again. I had never been one to put down roots, for years being a restless wanderer, but over the years this changed. I brought my energy, my trust, my process of belonging in my own body – of falling into my skin – to others who needed a safe place to learn to do the same. My sabbatical happened to coincide with an imminent house and studio move, and I realised I would be able to create a studio space to encompass these insights.

About  Robyn

Robyn Spacey is a born and bred Capetonian. Though she hasn’t travelled extensively,  with a mountain, beach and city on her doorstep, she believes she lives in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Robyn is an avid reader, a movement teacher, andmother to a young girl. In her work, she uses words to impart ideas to clients to visualise the unseen spaces under their skins. This trusting of words to bodies has translated into the belief in the power of her own story, the confidence to pen them onto the page, and a deepening into the process of writing her book. She is, has always been, and will continue to be a writer.

Get more of Robyn at www.movementsanctuary.co.za or www.thebookclubblog.co.za

With physical renovations being necessary, I also decided to rebrand my business. Both processes needed consideration and choices in different aspects. One asked questions of my external vision, and one of my internal. Now, my decision making process can be haphazard, leaning either to a firm no nonsense approach, or the complete opposite where I don’t know ANYTHING. (I blame the effect of the moon for this…) But, I persisted. I answered questions, visualised, stretched, and transformed. Finally, with a little help from a designer who managed to climb into my head, I now have a new logo, a new name, and a new space.

I did it. I made it happen because I am no longer waiting for someone to save me. I realized a dream because I believed in myself, and in taking that next step.

For me, 2018 was the year of change, and so while all of this was happening (renovating takes time), I was also writing the first draft of my book. And I realised writing is a lot like rebranding. It is a vision only I can see. A dream only I can feel.

My book lives only inside of me. Inside my soul. There are characters who slowly reveal themselves to me as I begin to trust my vision, my words. But this book requires tenacity, effort and persistence. Bravery. It requires that I put in the work. It demands belief in myself and what I have to say. It needs rescuing from the very heart of me, by me.

No one else is going to do the work. Only I can let the words out, one after another, to trap them onto the pages of reality, to become tangible. To be a reflection of what I can achieve, of who else I am becoming. It takes time and trust. Belief, even in my darkest moments of doubt. It takes re-writing as many times as I need to. It takes asking the right questions, visualising, stretching the mind, and confidence in the transformation so eventually, with a little help from my mentor, I will manifest my book into reality.

One word at a time.

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Sometimes You Just Need a Little More Time

Sometimes You Just Need a Little More Time

If you ever want to learn how to build a successful business, grow your team, create online programmes, become a publisher and burn yourself out in a few short years, just follow my example.

Since 2014, I’ve been on an exhilarating, heart-opening, community-building trajectory – and it’s felled me. I’m talking marrow-sapping weariness. I knew I was burning out a year ago – the bigger my business grew, the faster the pace of my life became. I slept little. I talked about ‘taking a break’ but I didn’t know how to stop the ride. So mid-December last year, my body stopped it for me.

I don’t mean to ever glamorize suffering – and if I ever do – please just slap me (not physically, I’m anti-violence, but you know, just let me know what utter bullshit that is). But I do know that our worst experiences – while they bully us out of our strengths and break us into itsy bitsy pieces – herald a new era.

And thus begins mine. Which, I’m excited to say, has some benefits for you. Today our new website goes live. You can go to it here, but let me share what we’ve prepared for you.

My team and I have grown so much in the past few years, we’ve learned a hell of a lot from all of you, our beloved community – through the feedback we’ve received, that we’ve rethought, rebranded and reworked our offerings to give you:

  • more time,
  • more options,
  • more free stuff.

 

About Joanne

Joanne Fedler is an internationally bestselling author of 10 books, writing mentor and publisher. In the past seven years, she’s facilitated 12 writing retreats all over the world, mentored hundreds of writers (both face to face and in her online writing courses), set up her own publishing company, Joanne Fedler Media, and published four debut authors (with many lined up to follow). She’s passionate about publishing midlife memoirs and knows how to help people succeed in reaching their goal to become a published author.

Here are the highlights:

1. You can now do the 7 Day Free Writing Challenge – anytime and at your own pace. It’s available all year round. No rush, no stress, just in your own sweet hours (but don’t procrastinate on your writing, please). Feel free to do it again if you’ve done it before, or have a crack at it for the first time now.

7 day FREE writing challege

2. You can choose what kind of help you’re looking for based on what you’re writing and where you’re at in your writing journey (beginning, somewhere in the middle, memoir, self-help…)

3. You can help yourself to a library of free resources we’ve stacked in here for you including our free Author Potential Profile Assessment.

4. At any time, you can reach out to our team for a free one-on-one chat to help you when you’re stuck.

We hope we’ve mapped an experience that guides and supports you like never before. Please let us know what the user-experience is like, we’d love your feedback.

 


the midlife memoir breakthrough

After the success of The Midlife Memoir Breakthrough just a few weeks ago, we’re planning a few live events/retreats in 2020 (when I’ve had a proper Sabbatical and written my new book, which is called…. The Sabbatical). If you want to be the first to know when and where – please reach out to Norie so we have you flagged: [email protected]


We launched Michele Brown‘s book This Kind of Silence in Sydney on 31 March – and what a day that was. You can catch the speeches here and buy a copy of her astonishing memoir here.


Now – it is time for me to switch off. My team is still here, and ready to help at anytime. Meet them all on the new website by clicking here

Come and Join Joanne for the next 7 Day Free Writing Challenge

 

Where do we start when we want to write?
How about right here?

I designed this 7 Day Free Writing Challenge for people just like you who have always wanted to write but don’t know where or how to begin the journey.

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The Write Time

The Write Time

When is the right time to write? Or do anything for that matter?

There are proverbs, quotes, and metaphors galore, to justify time management – be it an excuse to procrastinate, or a drive to be productive.

To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven. – Ecclesiastes 3.1

The trouble is, you think you have time. – Buddha

Almost everything will work again if you unplug for a few minutes. Including you. – Anne Lamott

Let’s start by taking a smallish nap or two. – Winnie the Pooh

Sometimes it’s perfectly okay, and absolutely necessary, to shut down, kick back, and do nothing. – Lori Deschene

(In the interests of complete transparency, I spent three hours procrastinating by searching for quotes on procrastination.)

I used to talk endlessly about exercise. I thought about it often. But my kids were young, I was working, and I had a house to run, so there wasn’t enough time. Consequently, I didn’t have a healthy body or a healthy relationship with the hill outside my house. One morning I put my walking shoes on in the hope I might exercise later that day. While they were on, I figured I’d walk to the letterbox and back – after all, every little bit counts. Once I got to the letterbox, I kept going. I walked for an hour – including up the hill outside my house, and a whole pile of other inclines and declines of various degrees. All it required was the decision to start, and I was rewarded with the smell of the eucalyptus along the cliffs, and the salty wind in my hair and on my cheeks as I walked along the beach.

There’s no right time for most things – there’s only now. It’s easy to find a reason to procrastinate – I can name ten things I’m procrastinating on right now (including getting out of bed and having a shower).

Procrastination means something else has prioritised our time.

We all have the same number of hours in the day, but if writing is important enough, I’ll procrastinate on something else (having a shower) and attack the keyboard instead. If it’s not important enough, I’ll have my shower, drink a cup of tea, walk up the hill, and vacuum the floor. Sure, I’ll have a nice clean floor, but is that all I want to achieve in my day?

.

About Simone

Crazy hair, solitude seeker, at peace in the natural world, Simone Yemm dedicated over three decades as a professional flautist and teacher. In 2008 she completed a Master’s in Journalism, specialising in editing, and continues to hone her skills as a writer. After a series of crises led to an emotional breakdown, Simone developed a passionate interest in mental health and shares her story to educate and support the wider community. With 25 years of marriage under her belt, she successfully raised three and a half young men and a chocolate-brown Burmese cat. A mean feat never to be underestimated.

www.simonelisa.com

Penning words is an incredibly important part of my life. When I write, I feel a sense of purpose and accomplishment, my mind feels clearer and more peaceful, and ironically, I become more productive with other aspects of my life (like showering and walking up hills). When I let the habit slip, my mental health declines, I procrastinate on everything else anyway, and I feel a sense of guilt for not having done the one thing I want to do.

I don’t need to write a book every day – every little bit of writing counts. I just need to make the decision to sit at the keyboard and start.

The right time to write is the same as the right time to do anything important or valuable in life – right now.

Whenever possible. I can’t wait until the perfect allotted time frame arrives – because that never happens. Maybe I only have fifteen minutes. Perhaps there are distractions everywhere. It could be there are twenty things I should be doing, and I have to choose. There is never a perfect time to exercise, eat well, have babies, start a business, or write a book. There is simply a choice about how to use the time we have. If the only available time in the day is early mornings, so be it. Or late at night? Okay.

Exercise was important to me, so I created time and space. For six years I’ve exercised regularly, and my body is grateful. 

Writing is important to me, so I create time and space for it. I sometimes lose the habit, but when I do get my thoughts on paper, my heart, mind and soul are all incredibly grateful.

And the more often I do it, the more writing becomes a part of my daily routine and a true priority.

To quote the wisdom of Gandalf the Grey, “All we have to decide, is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

Come and Join the Midlife Memoir Breakthrough

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Allow Me to Disappoint You

Allow Me to Disappoint You

You wouldn’t believe what an excellent track record I have in not disappointing people.

I like to think it’s because I try hard to be a half-decent person. But what if it’s the consequence of pathology? A damaged neurological wiring that causes me to default into doing anything to avoid the ire or displeasure of others?

I hate to be hated – whether it’s personal (in the way breaking someone’s heart, not being the friend someone wants you to be or holding certain opinions about Trump or Harvey Weinstein is) or impersonal (given inherited and chosen identities – being Jewish, white, privileged, a feminist and the like).

But despite this, I don’t want to be so likeable as to be universally liked.

Such popular appeal makes us boring. If people can’t see our shadow because we’re hiding it, we’re doling out palatable versions of ourselves in search of likes, follows, retweets and invitations to dinner parties. That’s when we’re exactly the sort of person I don’t want to be.

I’d truly rather be thought of as a harridan than a ‘sweet person,’ have lunch with a lunatic than a ‘good guy,’ hear a sex worker talk than a life coach. I’m well over playing safe, hedging my bets and fence-sitting (sorry about that trio of clichés). I want to be the weather – to affect peoples’ temperature – one way or the other. As writers, artists, creators, lukewarm is as good as no reaction. We have to know how to turn people on, as well as off.

Allow Me to Disappoint You - Joanne Fedler

The fastest way to polarize people is to learn to say NO.

No, I don’t like Jane Austen.
No, I don’t eat animals.
No, I can’t speak at your event.
No, I don’t like your skull tattoo.
Thanks, but no thanks.

 

About Joanne

Joanne Fedler is an internationally bestselling author of 10 books, writing mentor and publisher. In the past seven years, she’s facilitated 12 writing retreats all over the world, mentored hundreds of writers (both face to face and in her online writing courses), set up her own publishing company, Joanne Fedler Media, and published four debut authors (with many lined up to follow). She’s passionate about publishing midlife memoirs and knows how to help people succeed in reaching their goal to become a published author.

I have crazy-high standards of myself. They’ve served me well in the past – they got me a Fulbright scholarship, a Yale law degree, ten published books, an online business, a publishing company …but they are also the source of my suffering. Anything short of excellence, impeccable execution and over-delivery feels like devastating failure to me. When I show up, I do it drag-queen style – all in, hyper-enthusiastic; dazzling. After I’ve done my thing, I want to leave you breathless.

I am not surprised (just annoyed) that my body has conspired to teach me how to let myself and others down. When I prolapsed a disc eight weeks ago, I didn’t realise I’d need months and months to recover. I figured (as I did after giving birth to my daughter by Caesarean and flying to Cape Town 6 weeks later with her at my breast to make a presentation in Parliament), that I’d fix it quickly and get bJoanne Fedlerack to business as soon as possible.

But my body isn’t having any of it. It’s refusing to give me a single clue about when I will be ‘back to myself .’ It’s buggered up all my plans for the year. It’s forced me to let down three writers who wanted Joanne Fedler Media to publish their books – I’ve had to pass them on to other publishers. That has hurt.

It almost made me postpone my long-awaited Midlife Memoir workshop in mid-March. Through tears I wrote – but did not send an email to the ten writers who’d paid, booked tickets and accommodation letting them know I wouldn’t be able to go ahead. It felt like breaking up with someone who has only been good to me (not that I’m even good at breaking up – I’m still in friendly contact with every boyfriend I ever had.)

But once I’d sat down with what it feels like to disappoint others, something weird happened. I suddenly saw how I could do it – just in a different way: without over-delivering; over-preparing or overwhelming everyone. All I needed to do is show up, even if a bit disheveled, hobbling, quietened by infirmity.


As soon as I admitted in writing how frail and capable of incapacity I am,
the illusion I’ve always had about myself (invincible) shattered.

The trance broke.
The spell was undone.
I was porous with relief.

 

 

As soon as I said ‘No, I can’t…’ I worked out a different ‘Yes.’

I said NO to my old way of doing things, and YES to a more vulnerable, imperfect way of showing up. Knowing I may disappoint people has given me the chance to break; the space to heal, and the humility to admit I need to do both.

Now I get to discover who I’ll be now that I am not who I was anymore.

In the meantime, my team and I have been working on a completely revamped website to make navigation, support for your writing and resources to help you easily accessible. We will soon have dates for the next online 7 Day Free Writing Challenge and the Author Awakening Adventure (email [email protected] to register your interest), and more information on the exciting new releases from Joanne Fedler Media for 2019. And if all this sounds like I have not learned my lesson yet – just watch. I’m going to be delegating, taking more downtime to write my new book, and drawing on the incredible team I have to bring you these offerings.

Come and Join the Midlife Memoir Breakthrough

A Five-Day (18-22 March) Live Event in Sydney with Joanne Fedler

In this hands-on, intimate workshop (an eclectic mix of teaching, instruction, writing exercises, meditations, ritual, sharing and other joyful activities), I will teach you how to take the material of your life – the moments that counted, no matter how shattering or modest – and weave them into a memoir that makes sense of it all.

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Wednesday

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