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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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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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?
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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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One morning, we drove south of Kona to a beach commonly referred to as Two Step because of its easy gradation for swimmers into a popular, vibrant snorkeling destination. After carefully stepping barefoot over mounds of black lava brushed with a dust of golden sand, four of us sat on a mossy ledge at the water’s edge. With sunshine beaming on my shoulders, I put on my fins, mask and snorkel, and joined the gentle surf, returning to the warm, refreshing Pacific Ocean with a glide.

Swimming out, my neck became a swivel of curiosity, marveling right away at the colorful life below. White coral, purple leaves, schools of bright yellow tang, and sharp spines of black sea urchin filled my view. I studied hidden openings to see creatures darting in and out, parrot fish lingering, and a large school of black fish shuffling by.

I ventured out further after noticing where the sharp shelf of reef fell off to introduce a deeper, less color-filled, more barren territory. Drawn to ray beams of light that cut through the empty water to create an angelic-like display, I explored the place of open serenity. This new scene seemed like nothing compared to the brilliance of the reef, until I glanced to my right.

 

About Michele

Michele Susan Brown is the author of This Kind of Silence: How Losing My Hearing Taught Me to Listen. She is a writer and a speaker based in Northern California, where she lives with her husband, two dogs, and the wild birds that visit her backyard feeders. Michele enjoys connecting with others and engaging in deep discussions about the importance of listening to our own intuition, being brave and vulnerable, and the freedom found in authenticity and truth.

You can connect with her at www.wisdomwithinworkbook.com, and/or write to her at [email protected]

A pod of at least sixteen Spinner dolphins were suddenly beside me. Several seemed to greet me with inviting eyes, and I instinctively placed my hands behind my back, clasped them, and gently kicked my fins to increase my pace and join them. With grace, we all swam together. They gradually joined me near the surface where each took their conscious breath.

I stared at their pointy rostrums, their dark-lined flippers, the subtle shade changes on their bodies from belly to pectoral fins. I became one with them for moments that folded into minutes. My heart expanded, my eyes filled, and a surge of awe moved through me at the utter sense of oneness. We were the only beings that existed, and I enjoyed their company for as long as they allowed.

Later, sitting in a beach chair on uneven lava and feeling reflective, I started thinking about being a writer and the importance of being able to create vivid, strong scenes. I realized how my experience in the water could be an effective example and a reminder of how to do that. And I began to ponder deeper into how I might communicate the nuance in every moment, regardless of whether it is common or exceptional.

When I want to write important scenes, it helps me to visualize writing it as if watching a movie.

The “pan out” or larger view set-up, and then the zoom in and focus on specific action and detail. If I can think of myself as a movie director watching a scene unfold, I can ask myself questions like:

  • Where are we in space and time?
  • What’s visible and noticeable that calls to be captured?
  • What sounds do I hear?
  • What sensations are evident?
  • What details beckon to speak?
  • What emotions arise?

If I can linger there, draw out the experience by immersing myself in it with full presence, and capture it with visceral words, then I can link arms with my reader and take them on the journey with me.

Just as the dolphins drew me right into full presence alongside them.


 

Michele has just launched her book, This Kind of Silence, on International Women’s Day.

To learn more about the book and to watch Michele’s interview with Joanne Fedler, please click the button below.

 

 

“A beautifully written book that instills hope in the great mysteries of life and reminds us of the powerful connection between the body, mind, and soul. This story will return you to the deep wisdom of your own knowing. It may even make you believe in miracles.” —Joanne Fedler

 

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Spotlight on Michele Susan Brown

Spotlight on Michele Susan Brown

Happy International Women’s Day.

I hope you’re going to make some time for yourself today – to listen in to your heart, and to reconnect with the life inside you that is only yours. Maybe do something kind for your body. Give it a compliment. A massage. A dunk in the ocean.

I’ve been working on being nicer to myself. We all go through times when we hate our bodies (trust me, I’ve been struggling with this for the past few months after my disc prolapse). We berate their frailty, ‘fight’ our illnesses or infections; and get mad at them when they don’t look the way we’d prefer or display weakness. 

But what if our bodies are actually on our side? What if pain, illness or infirmity was not an obstacle, but a call to heal – not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually? 

It’s an edgy question – most of us outsource our power to trusted doctors with medical degrees and medication you can only purchase behind the counter. But what happens when doctors tell you they can’t help you? Would you be called to a deeper internal inquiry?

She came all the way from California to join me on a writing retreat in Fiji in 2014 even though her husband tried to talk her out of it – surely, there were other writing retreats and mentors a little closer to home? For some reason, Michele knew she wanted to travel half way around the world to meet me. And both our lives changed when she did.

When I first heard Michele’s story, I got that weird, warm feeling when you sense the mystery that surrounds our lives beyond rational explanations, right in front of you. Here was Michele, a living example of everything I try so hard to believe about how healing happens.

Michele wasn’t sure she had a ‘story’ or could write a book about it – but I knew if she did, it would console, comfort and change readers’ lives. Because it’s remarkable, a little miraculous and simply true. It had the same ring to it as one of my favourite books – Tim Parkes’ Teach Us to Sit Still (which if you haven’t yet read, you really should).

After five committed years of writing, rewriting, editing and re-editing, Michele’s debut memoir, This Kind of Silence comes into the world (well, Australia, officially) and your hands. My team and I could not be more proud that Joanne Fedler Media is its first publisher. 

I’ve always believed in this book – but just this past week, we’ve secured an international rights agent to represent it worldwide. It’s big – huge, actually – for both Michele as an author and Joanne Fedler Media as a new publisher (it’s always so gratifying to get the recognition from impartial, quality-conscious agents).

Trust me when I tell you, you really do want to read this book.

About THIS KIND OF SILENCE: How Losing My Hearing Taught Me to Listen

Michele was a successful thirty-two-year-old school principal and married mother of two, when she woke up one morning and could no longer hear.

Doctors could offer no explanation. She spent three frustrating and desperate years searching to make sense of the medical mystery, but doctors told her there was little chance she would ever hear again. Even as she came to accept this bleak diagnosis, she never stopped looking for answers. Why would this suddenly happen to a fit young woman in her prime?

Then one day, a colleague asked, “What is it, perhaps, that you don’t want to hear?”

Michele was intrigued by this question. From that moment, she opened herself with curiosity to a path of self-discovery which led her back to the many silences of her childhood in which she had left parts of herself behind. As she began to tune in to her inner voice, her well being flourished. She began expressing herself in new ways and speaking up. But her twelve-year marriage began to unravel.

What began as a mission to regain her hearing became a journey of facing unspoken truths and breaking the silences that keep us trapped in the past.

This Kind of Silence is an inspirational story about gratitude for the small blessings in life, learning to listen again, and the quiet joys of stillness amidst the noise.

 

“A beautifully written book that instills hope in the great mysteries of life and reminds us of the powerful connection between the body, mind, and soul. This story will return you to the deep wisdom of your own knowing. It may even make you believe in miracles.” —Joanne Fedler

 

About MICHELE SUSAN BROWN

Michele Susan Brown is a writer, author, and speaker based in Northern California, where she lives with her husband, two dogs, cat, and the wild birds that visit her backyard feeders.

A former elementary school teacher, principal, and district-level administrator for eighteen years, Michele now spends time following her passions: writing, meditation, exercise, time in nature, swimming with wild dolphins in the Bahamas, and traveling on unique adventures all over the world with her husband, Gordon.

Michele enjoys connecting with others and engaging in deep discussions about the importance of listening to our own intuition, being brave and vulnerable, and the freedom found in authenticity and truth.

Michele has created a companion to This Kind of Silence – a workbook called Wisdom Within – to guide seekers through reflection, help with self-care, and focus more on listening to our inner voice of truth. She is also facilitating an interactive Book Club experience on Facebook for readers.

 
If you want to learn more about Michele, you can visit her website at www.wisdomwithinworkbook.com or check out her Facebook page.
 
book, tablet, wisdom within by michele susan brown

 

It’s always wonderful to hear author’s speak about their writing journey,
so here’s my People with Passion interview with Michele.

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