Archive for February, 2011

Don’t Preach!

You’ve heard that little ditty a zillion times if you’ve gone to your share of writers conferences.

Don’t preach!

Okay, what does that mean? Don’t preach!

As writers with opinions, and I’ve never met a writer who didn’t have one, we all have “messages” we’d like to share with our readers. But how does a skillful writer  share his message, his beliefs, his ideals, with the reader without offending him or turning him off on page one? How do you impart your underlying theme in the story without coming right out and saying something like, “God is love”?

Is it wrong to try to win your reader over to your side by sharing your beliefs? Absolutely not. That very goal is the reason most people write. They want to share something they feel is vitally important to the survival of the human race. Wars have been won, and lost, by the printed page.

So how does a writer share his beliefs without preaching? A skillful writer weaves the message into the story so that the characters portray the ideals, or lack of them. The reader, watching the action of the main character, then observes the author’s beliefs in action as the character either exemplifies or struggles with the underlying theme.

Let’s look at some examples of “preaching” versus clever weaving of the message into the context of the story. The first examples of preaching are lousy writing on my part. The second examples are taken from some of my published work:


  “Children need to work around the house, not only because their parents need the help, but also because when the children are older, they’ll know how to take care of their own homes,” Bimbo told Heathcliff.

Weaving the Message into the Story:

“Chores, including the house and the barn – washing clothes … mucking stalls are important. But you’re not a lonely island out there by yourself,” Mr. Chambers reminded Skye. “It takes all of us to run this place. It’s just part of maintaining a home. You’ll be glad when you’re older that you learned how to do these things.”

  Yeah. I’m the luckiest girl in the world! Skye stewed inside.

                            (from A HORSE TO LOVE, KEYSTONE STABLES BOOK ONE)
“God is love, and He is ready to forgive anyone who will believe in Him, no matter how bad they’ve been,” Bimbo told Heathcliff.
Weaving the Message into the Story:
Skye turned back to the altar, and her eyes focused on the cross, the symbol of God’s love that meant absolutely nothing to her. This God, whom she didn’t even know existed, loved her? As rotten as she was?
She stumbled to the altar and knelt at the cross, sobbing out her pain and despair.
                                                      (From A HORSE TO LOVE)
So there you have two simple examples of how to rid your writing style of that pesky preaching. Weave the message into your story; have your characters experience the thrill, or the pain, of living with your ideals or beliefs. The reader will observe the action and reaction of your characters, and from your book, he just might decide to embrace the ideals you hold so dear.  You don’t need to “preach” to get your message into your reader’s heart and mind. Just write from your heart  in a clever way, and your message will come through loud and clear.
Next time, we’ll discuss writing plots that are “outside the box.”

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Write Narration That Shows and Doesn’t Tell

 If you’ve attended writers’ conferences for any length of time, you’ve heard this statement again and again: “Show, don’t tell.”

 Well, what in the world does that mean anyway? Show, don’t tell. Sometimes, a writer must “tell” details of his story to add depth and mood to the story. So, as a writer studies other works and works on his own studies, he should become skilled enough to learn how to “show” and not “tell” in his narration. The best way to learn this technique is to read published authors. Study their use of words, their descriptions, their mood. Then apply their techniques to your own writing, and you’ll see a vast improvement in your style.
Let’s look at a few examples of “telling” vs. “showing.” You determine which samples would hold the reader’s interest by drawing him into the description or action.

Sample One

 Sample of Telling – this is a scene description from one of my Keystone Stables books, SUMMER CAMP ADVENTURE that I rewrote in a lousy “telling” mode. The main character, Skye Nicholson, is on a trail ride with some campers:

          The riders lined up their horses and looked at the waterfalls about 50 yards away. Above their heads was water over some rocks. It tumbled on more rocks that were even with the riders. The water made big white splashes and then was smooth. The waterfall droplets and sunlight made a rainbow, and off to one side a little stream flowed away from the waterfall and down the mountain. A breeze made the waterfall mist fly everywhere in the air, hitting the riders in the face. Skye was amazed.

 Sample of Showing – the actual scene description in my book

       Lining up their horses, the riders sat gawking at nature’s water show half a football field away. Far above their heads, the falls flooded over a table of rocks arrayed on both sides by the greenest trees Skye had ever seen.

       The water thundered as it crashed down over more layers of rocks, tumbling, tumbling, until it splashed onto large boulders level with the riders. There, billows of white foam faded into ripples that quickly smoothed into a serene pool as clear as glass.

      A rainbow arched in a stream of sunlight. Off to one side the pool overflowed,  forming the gushing stream that had found its way down the mountain to form Lackawanna Lake. Fed by the falls, a steady breeze and fine mist saturated the cool air around the riders, welcoming them to the secret and special place.

                                 From SUMMER CAMP ADVENTURE, Zonderkidz, 2009

                                                    (Keystone Stables Series Book 4)

 Sample Two

 Sample of Telling – another scene below from one of my books. I’ve rewritten the published paragraph here poorly in the “telling” mode. From THE SECRET OF WOLF CANYON, the paragraph describes the scene from Woody’s, the main character’s, viewpoint when she arrives at the summer sleuth camp, pulls into the mock “canteen” in the western town in a van with five other kids, and meets some of the other campers unexpectedly:

            Woody looked at the canteen when the door flew open. It hit the building hard. A small group of boys came running out who were very excited. They ran across the porch and down the steps. Mixed in with the boys were three men who were yelling for the boys to stop. The tallest man held on to his hat because he was afraid it was going to topple off his head.

 Sample of Showing -this same scene written in its published form:

         The canteen door flew open with hurricane force and smacked against the building. Out barreled a small group of boys bubbling with unbridled excitement. With no immediate plan to stop, they rushed across the porch and stampeded down the steps. Caught in the whirlwind were three helpless men spinning like tops and yelling for the boys to stop. The tallest man was trying desperately to keep his bobbling black Stetson in place.

                                    From THE SECRET OF WOLF CANYON, Sonfire Media, 2010

 * Note how I included descriptive words and phrases that set the tone or mood of a “western” scene.

So, there we have two samples of “telling” versus “showing.”

 Take a good look at your narration when you use no dialogue. What can you do to draw your reader right into the scene? Details, details, details. Clever wording of the action. And how about a little humor once in a while?

 Next time, we’ll discuss another phrase you’ve probably heard so many times you just tune it out whenever it comes across your path anymore: “Don’t preach!”





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Stiff Unnatural Dialogue Vs. Natural Dialogue

Whether you’re working on fiction or nonfiction, one of the techniques you need to master is how to write dialogue that flows and sounds “natural.” In other words, do YOUR words read as if your reader is eavesdropping on a conversation that he’d hear anyplace in his own world?

It’s very important for a writer to get to know his/her characters for this exact reason. People talk differently! WOW! What  a revelation. By now, if you’ve been writing for any length of time, you’ve (hopefully) studied language patterns and colloquialisms and you’ve analyzed the difference in children’s, teens’, and adults’ speech.

 Because I have been published mostly in the juvenile fiction genre, my examples will be from such. But the “talking points” are basically the same for all dialogue, whether for kids or us grown ups.

 First, I’ll give you a sample of “stiff” dialogue, followed by that which flows and sounds just like “real” folks speaking. Watch for the Leave it to Beaver Syndrome to rear its ugly head in the first samples, as well:

  Stiff: (Two young boys discussing eagle feathers)


  “Titus, you cannot buy an eagle feather,” Tim said.

   “Tim, why can’t I?” asked Titus. “Are they too expensive?”

   “No, Titus,” Tim answered. “Buying an eagle feather is against the law.”

   “Tim, is it because eagles are almost extinct?” Titus asked.

    “Titus, that is correct,” Tim answered. “The only people who can own an eagle feathers are Indians.”


(Brother! What kid says, “That is correct”? And why not use contractions? We use them all the time in our speech.)



        “Sorry, old pal,” said Timothy, patting (Titus) on the shoulder. “There’s no way you can buy an eagle feather.”

        “Why?” asked Titus. “Too expensive?”

        “No,” said Timothy. “It’s against the law.”

        “What? You mean because eagles are an endangered species?”

        “Bingo,” Timothy replied. “The only people who can own eagle feathers are Indians.”



By Elspeth Campbell Murphy, Bethany House, 1995, pp.16-17)




 Stiff: (Conversation between two teenage junior counselors at a camp)

       “Timothy!” Skye called to her co-worker out on a paddleboat with a camper. “How is the water out there?”

       “It is just so wonderful,” Tim yelled back. “I would like to be swimming today. Who is standing next to you there on shore?”

       “It is a friend of yours and mine,” Skye yelled to Tim. “I will have him wait for you here until you come ashore.”

       “That is fine with me. I will see you in a few minutes,” Tim yelled to Skye as he turned the paddleboat around and headed in another direction.


(Sheesh! They sound like a couple of robots, don’t they?)



     “Hey, Tim!” Skye called to her co-worker out on a paddleboat with a camper. “How’s the water?”

     “Cool! Real cool!” Tim yelled back. “I’d rather be in it than on it! Who’ve ya got there with you?”

    “Your friend and mine! He’ll be waitin’ when you come ashore!”

    “Okay, Skye, see you in a few minutes!” Tim turned the paddleboat in another direction.


By Marsha Hubler, Zonderkidz, 2009, p. 38)


 So, there you have two simple examples of how to write lousy dialogue and how to make it flow naturally. Now, if you’re writing about robots conversing, then the first samples are the way to go. If not, then work on making your dialogue flow, and your reader will love being right in the middle of the exciting action.

 Next time, we’ll discuss “telling” versus “showing” in your narration and descriptive paragraphs.

 * NOTE: If you’re a published author and would like to be featured on my blog, please contact me. I’d love to post your picture, a short bio, and your credentials along with contact information.

Marsha Hubler
Best-selling Author of the Keystone Stables Series
(Web) www.marshahubler.com

 (Writers’ Conference blog)


(Horse Facts for Horse Lovers blog)





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Fiction That Wows Your Reader

Wow Beginnings

Last time we discussed the effective use of tags and beats to make your dialogue flow well and your characters come alive in any fiction, or nonfiction, you are writing.

 This time we’re going to look at how to “hook” your reader with your openings sentences or paragraphs in your stories, articles, or book manuscripts. First, I’ll give you some Ho-Hum examples of boring beginnings that will either put your reader into a deep sleep or will inspire him to toss your book in the trash can. Then I’ll give you some WOW beginnings, a technique which can be used in nonfiction as well as fiction.

What makes a wow beginning compared to flat, uninteresting words that bore your reader to death? Compare the samples of some of my lousiest writing with some of my published works and then you make the call:

 1. Ho-Hum Beginning:

       A while ago, I interviewed Clyde Peeling, the owner and curator of Reptiland in Allenwood, PA, on route 15 near Williamsport.

      Reptiland is loaded with all kinds of wild animals, including alligators, snakes, and other ugly creatures.

Wow Beginning:

      How would you like a frozen mouse for lunch?

      If you would, then join dozens of snakes, alligators, and other reptiles at Reptiland, a zoological park at Allenwood in central Pennsylvania.

 (From “Lizard Man” – Boys’ Quest; Aug/Sept.02)


2. Ho-Hum Beginning:

       My eight-year-old son had been sick for some time. We finally found out he had cancer and wouldn’t live much longer.

     One thing he wanted to do was see snow, but we were having a warm autumn in central PA.

 Wow Beginning:

      “Dad, I-I want to see the first snow,” he said, forcing the words out with jagged, tired breath. “D-do you think I’ll see it, the way I am and all?”

     “Colton, son, you’ll see it. I promise. We’ll see it together,” I assured him.

 (From “First Snow” – Inside PA Mag. Dec. 08; fiction contest winner)


 3. Ho-Hum Beginning:

    Skye Nicholson found herself in juvenile court for the umpteenth time in her thirteen short years.

     She sat in the chair and just stared at the judge. She was as mad as a hornet and in no mood to appease anybody.

 Wow Beginning:

 “Young lady—and I use that term loosely—I’m tired of your despicable behavior. I’m sending you to the Chesterfield Detention Center!”

       Skye Nicholson looked cold as an ice cube as she slumped in the wooden chair and stared back at Judge Mitchell. Most thirteen-year-olds would have been scared to death as a hearing with an angry judge yelling at the top of his lungs. But Skye was no “ordinary” thirteen-year-old.”

 (From A HORSE TO LOVE, Best-selling book 1 in the Keystone Stables Series – Zonderkidz; 2009)


 So there you have three examples of how to fix your ho-hum beginnings and make them “WOW.”  You’ll hook that reader, who won’t be able to put your piece down. Then he/she will be back for more!

Next time, we’ll go back to dialogue once again, discussing “natural” dialogue compared to “stiff, unnatural,” better known as “stupid” dialogue. :)





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