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In my last blog, I focused on “showing,” not “telling” in narration, and I gave you an example of lousy narration versus that which will catch the eye of the beholder.

I’d like to continue with the premise that good narration can be “telling,” not “showing” if handled properly. If you do need to “expound” about details that you simply can’t include in dialogue, then I suggest following the next few steps to good “telling:”

1. “Paint” a picture with your words that includes as many of the senses as you can. (Remember my waterfall scene in the last blog?) Think of your reader as one of the characters so they experience the same thing your characters are experiencing.

2. If you are going to open your book (or each chapter, for that matter) with narration and not dialogue, hook your reader. That all important first paragraph of your novel will either inspire your reader to go on or cause him to yawn and put your book down. Check the opening paragraphs of best-selling authors and analyze how they grab your attention in that first paragraph.

3. Even though you are probably writing your novel in one predominant character’s voice, good narration usually establishes an omniscient voice, one that is authoritative and sets the general mood of the novel. The earlier you accomplish this, the better. (Again, study the beginning chapters of some great novels. What voice does the writer present in the narration?)

4. Do not expound for pages and pages of narration. That’s a sure-way to lose your reader. Condense and summarize if nothing exciting is happening to your character.

5. Dialogue is not always the way to go with backstory. If details are not that important in a character’s past life, you can work it in to the manuscript so that your character is reflecting into the past. Don’t bore your reader with unimportant details!

6. Shorten your narration to a few sentences if you’re describing secondary characters. You can’t always show every single action, dialogue, or mood of all your characters. It isn’t necessary. There are times when you will want to economize your method and just plain “tell” the reader what happened. But as a skillful storyTELLER, you can refine your writing style and keep your reader on the edge of his seat, even if you are “telling,” not “showing.”

Marsha Hubler
Best-selling Author of the Keystone Stables books
(Web) www.marshahubler.com
(Writing Blog)
www.marshahubler.wordpress.com
(Horse Facts Blog)
www.mhubler.wordpress.com

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On Writing: Showing Vs. Telling

Anyone who’s ever studied the craft of writing for any length of time has heard this phrase until it’s engraved in your brain like a tumor or you’ve read it a zillion times in “how to write” magazines until your tell-tale heart is flipping: “Show, don’t tell.”

For the longest time, I never knew what the heck that meant until I started studying the writing style of best-selling authors. Then one day, like a light bulb going on, I understood what it meant.

Now, most of the time, the phrase “showing” refers to writing in which the author cleverly works details into the plot through dialogue and not pages of lengthy dull descriptive narration, “telling,” (like we see in many of the “classics” from the beginning and mid-20th C. writers).

But sometimes, “telling” in a short narration can actually be “showing” if the writing is handled correctly.

I’m going to give you two short excerpts of narration. The first excerpt is “telling” and it’s flat, boring, and uninteresting. The second excerpt, taken from my 4th Keystone Stables book, SUMMER CAMP ADVENTURE, is the same scene done in a “showing” style of narration. It’s an excerpt, in my opinion, that draws the reader into actually being a part of, “experiencing,” that beautiful scene.

So, please analyze and compare the two excerpts. Notice what doesn’t work in the first one compared to what does work in the second. Then watch for my post next Monday when I’ll discuss when it might be the right choice to “tell” and not “show:”

Excerpt One – “Telling:”
The riders lined up their horses and looked at the waterfall 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.

Excerpt Two – “Showing:”

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 LackawannaLake. 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

(Keystone Stables Series Book 4)

*************************************

Ready to “show” and not “tell?” Go for it!

Marsha Hubler
(Website) www.marshahubler.com
(Blog) www.marshahubler.wordpress.com
Best-selling Author of the Keystone Stables books

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Here we go! Here are 10 ways to make your characters come alive in that next great American novel you’re writing:

1. Make each character uniquely different with different names. I recently had another writer friend critique my first four chapters of the Amish fiction I’m writing, and she caught a “biggie.” I had two characters named “Joe.” DUH!

2. Give each character his own distinctive voice. After a few chapters, your reader should be able to tell who’s speaking without even looking at the tag.

3. Have your characters working jobs or going to school or doing “something” relevant to the plot. If you’re writing a murder mystery, your main character probably shouldn’t be babysitting puppies for a living.

4. When you name your characters, give them names that fit their personality, body type, nationality, etc. Now picture this: your character is a 220-pound Italian hunk, built like Superman and he’s a policeman, then you give him the name “Wilbur.”

5. If you’re writing fiction with different viewpoints, only get inside the head of your main characters. I’ve read books by one of the leading writers of Amish fiction in the country, but I have trouble following her because of the multiple P.O.V.s. In one book, there were 16 P.O.V.s. I was so confused, I had to start over and write down everyone’s name, who they were, and what they did in the book. The author has a big name, but I don’t care for trying to unscramble all those P.O.V.s.

6. Build your characters a little at a time as you write the novel. The plot should “thicken” at the same time you start to describe your characters more vividly and get them totally involved in the action.

7. Even though you’re writing fiction, be authentic. Interview policeman, veterinarians, computer geeks, or whomever so you have a thorough understanding of their job descriptions. In book seven of my Keystone Stables horse series, I wrote about a barn fire. Before doing so, I went to the local firemen and interviewed them to get the details of how the fire company would handle a barn fire in a countryside setting. I asked what kind of equipment they needed, what certain names of the trucks were, and how they’d tackle the task. The account in my book is accurate and detailed, even though the book is fiction.

8. Start each characters’ names with different letters. How confusing would this be? Sam told Susie that Stella was going to be with Savannah the night of the social. Sheesh! Who’s who in that quandary?

9. For at least your main characters, give them some depth by including some history about them. They didn’t just hatch from eggs the day you started writing about them. (Or did they?) Build character sketches for each of them. I’ve heard of some writers giving their characters full families, birthdays, college degrees, bank accounts in Sweden, and so on to “flesh them out.” Details DO matter when you’re writing about people. Write so that your reader thinks he/she can almost hear your characters breathe.

10. Have your characters less than perfect. Develop flaws in their appearances or personalities, which they must overcome or accept as the plot unfolds. No one likes to read about a character who seems too good to be true. In the long run, that character will be too good to be true, and he/she will turn your reader right off.

Marsha Hubler
(Website) www.marshahubler.com
(Blog) www.marshahubler.wordpress.com
Best-selling Author of the Keystone Stables books

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How often have you heard conference speakers, i.e. authors, agents, and editors, say that, to be a successful, published author, you need to write “tight?”

So in pen laymen’s terms, what in the world does writing “tight” mean?

Here are eight qualities that will define a piece of literature as “tight” or stripped to its cleanest components:

1. Use specific nouns:
Not: The bird flew over.
Rather: The raven flew over the barn.

2. Pitch out as many adverbs as you can:
Not: He spoke loudly and angrily.
Rather: He yelled!

3. Be positive in sentence inflection:
Not: He didn’t show any respect.
Rather: He showed no respect.

4. Use active not passive voice with your verbs:
Not: Bowser, the dog, was walked by Joe.
Rather: Joe walked his dog, Bowser.

5. Get rid of sentences that start with “There” or “There were:”
Not: There was a lot of snow last month.
Rather: Last month’s snow total broke records.

6. Show, don’t tell; in other words, describe your action clearly:
Not: Billy was really angry.
Rather: Billy pounded his fist on the table.

7. Watch for redundant phrases:
Not: Millie blushed with embarrassment.
Rather: Millie’s face turned bright red.

8. Use down-to-earth language and throw out eloquent pedantic phrases and euphemisms that no one will know what the heck you’re talking about:
Not: Rickie’s face showed lines of agony and remorse while streams of tears flooded her poor anguished soul.
Rather: Rickie cried as though her heart was broken.

So, there you have it. Embrace these tidbits on how to become a best-selling author, and your readers will be begging for more.

Marsha Hubler
(Website) www.marshahubler.com
(Blog) www.marshahubler.wordpress.com
Best-selling Author of the Keystone Stables books

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You’re writing that great American novel. You’ve read tons of “how to write” books, studied your high school English books to the last dangling participle, and now you’re ready to start pecking away at the keyboard.

There are a few basic principles of writing good fiction to keep your reader engaged that must be remembered or your book will go flying out your reader’s window. Worse yet, while it’s being reviewed at the publishing company, the editor will send your manuscript back so fast, you’re characters’ heads will be spinning.

So, if you want to turn off your reader, or your editor, here’s what you do:

1. Start your book by waxing eloquent. Describe beautiful settings, introduce action, and throw in a few pages of dialogue of minor characters. But don’t introduce your main protagonist until page 10.

2. Write 20 pages of backstory with vivid descriptions and details of your protagonist’s past life. Tell every nitty, gritty little detail about him that doesn’t mean beans to the main story line.

3. Have your plot direction a mystery. “What the heck is going on here?” will run through your reader’s mind every time he turns the page and starts a new chapter.

4. Develop a main protagonist that is offensive and says really outrageous or stupid things that aren’t justified. For example, women readers are very sensitive to male attitudes toward them. (The author’s attitudes will come shining through in the protagonist’s actions and words.)

5. If you’re writing Christian fiction, preach it, brother! Fill your pages with scripture verses. Have your protagonist a “holier than thou” saint who does no wrong and walks the straight and narrow. No reader in his right mind would want to embrace a character who is so heavenly minded, he’s no earthly good.

So, if you’ve decided you don’t want to ever be published, that’s what you do. Master these five steps, and you’ll definitely turn off any reader who’s brave enough to attempt to tackle your “eloquence.”

Marsha Hubler
(Website) www.marshahubler.com
(Blog) www.marshahubler.wordpress.com
Best-selling Author of the Keystone Stables books

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You’re ready to start pounding the keyboard with a great idea for a novel to catch the attention of tweens or young adult readers. But where do you begin? What makes that story irresistible to the reader? What makes your manuscript a page turner?

Allow me to briefly mention five elements, each which could take an hour’s seminar to explain in detail, that will help you write a winner. If you incorporate these five elements into your writing, you’ll have a finished product that will catch the eye of an editor and hook your reader until the last page:

1. Develop memorable characters – Joe Schmo should not be a brown-haired, brown-eyed stereotype with no quirks or anything different about him; rather, he should have strong personality traits, perhaps be very courageous or very cowardice to gain your sympathy; he should, nonetheless, conquer his fears and frustrations and go after what he wants.

2. Pace your action and intersperse it with periods of quiet. Kids love action, but if every page has Joe Schmo jumping out of a hot air balloon, swimming the English channel, or saving Mary Schmarey from a bomb that’s going off in three seconds, your reader will just get bored or he might need some nerve pills! Conflicting emotions and inward struggles are just as exciting to the reader as a jet plane flying under the San Francisco Bay Bridge!

3. Develop witty, clever dialogue, but make sure it doesn’t all sound like kids’ talk. Brand your characters with certain styles of dialogue for variety’s sake, and for tween novels especially, “have dialogue on every page,” one of my wise editors once told me.

4. Have your main character face challenges and problems that are very difficult to overcome. You need antagonistic characters to make life difficult for Joe Schmo, or you need to develop a plot that has Joe running in circles or, sometimes, running away before he gets the wisdom or courage to defeat his foe.

5. Develop an “instant-recall factor” in your story line. Winning stories always have a plot or parts of a plot that stay with the reader long after he’s put the book down. What favorite books do you remember? What is it about their storyline that is so memorable? Write incidents that excite the reader’s mind or play on his emotions. When I have book signings and my tween fans come to the table, I like to ask them, “Do you like to laugh or cry when you read? I have books in my Keystone Stables Series that will satisfy any emotion, and, hopefully, the characters and storyline will stay with my readers long after they’ve read the last page.

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On Writing: Pesky Possessives

Several years ago, I helped the ladies of our church publish with a cookbook. One of the questionable terms that came up in a few of the recipes is “confectioner’s sugar.” Did it have an apostrophe or not?

I checked out a bag of the little white powder at the grocery store, and the manufacturing company had it spelled “confectioners sugar” on the label.

One of the gals in the church took the time to look up possessives in an English book and found that, at least, in her resource confectioner DOES use an apostrophe in this phrase: confectioner’s sugar.

Publisher’s choice? This is often the case with punctuation, and, unfortunately, the rules always seem to be changing.

So, FYI, I’ve included just a few of those pesky possessive rules for you to ponder. But don’t bet your life on any of these; in a year or two, some could be different, or the editor with whom you work might have her own idea.

Just try to understand the pesky possessive’s point of view.

Possessives

Generally, a possessive is formed by adding an apostrophe and an s to a word that does not end in s, and only an apostrophe to a word that does end in s. An apostrophe is not added to plurals.
Singular
Brooks
child
lunch
sheep
lady
man
passerbySingular Possessive

 

child’s
lunch’s
sheep’s
lady’s
man’s
passerby’s

 

Plural
Brookses
children
lunches
sheep
ladies
men
passersby
Plural Possessive

children’s
lunches’
sheep’s
ladies’
men’s
passersbys’

Add an apostrophe to a word that ends in an s sound. Or just write “for conscience sake.”
for old times’ sake
for conscience’ sake
for appearance’ sake

Add an apostrophe and an s to a foreign name ending in a silent sibilant.
Descartes’s invention
Des Moines’s schools
faux pas’s

Indicate common possession by making only the last item in a series possessive.
Teddy, Peggy, and Nancy’s home

Indicate individual possession by making each item in a series possessive.
Teddy’s, Peggy’s, and Nancy’s homes

The following types of possessives should be written as singulars.
artist’s paintbrush
baker’s yeast
farmer’s market
confectioner’s sugar
florist’s wire
printer’s ink
writer’s cramp
painter’s tape


So, there you have it. Remember these pesky possessive rules to sharpen your writing skills!

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On Writing: Christian Horror

It’s hard to believe, but there is a brand new genre out there for us writers AND readers to try to absorb: the Christian horror genre.

I’m trying to wrap my heart around the concept of this new genre, but I’m having trouble accepting it. The whole idea of “Christian horror” seems like such an oxymoron, a genre filled with opposites that cannot coexist on the same page. Can two be together unless they agree?

As the director of the Montrose Christian Writers Conference held in Montrose, PA every July for five days, I’m always looking for faculty members for the upcoming year. This past year, we had two faculty members co-facilitate a Fantasy Work-in-Progress for teens and young adults interested in writing fantasy. I’ll continue to look for faculty members who can work with young people concerning their book ideas with the express purpose of making sure the conferees are not stepping into “the dark side” as they create their new worlds.

Ever since Harry Potter appeared on the scene, and then Twilight (plus dozens of other similars), these spooky fiction subgenres are running wild in the market at the moment, so everyone with a pen in his hand is jumping on the bandwagon to write a best-seller thriller, Christian or not.

In my search to fill faculty positions, I’ve been given the names of three different publishing companies (I’m sure there are lots more) that are now releasing “Christian horror” novels. At my request, an editor at one of those companies has sent me a manuscript of the creepy genre to read so I can get a grip on what the Christian market is trying to present to its readers with this seemingly contradictory new type of book.

I’ve been told that the main difference in a secular and Christian horror is thus: The Christian book exposes the occult, witchcraft, demonic activity, or “whatever wicked this way comes” for what it is: evil. The book then presents the gospel of Jesus Christ with hope for the future to be delivered from such evil.

With that promised vision of hope in the resolution, we can work toward “Christian fantasy” or “Christian science fiction,” but, frankly, I dislike the phrase “Christian horror.” Hopefully, we can accept the new genre as part of American literature that is not only a good read, but also presents “the truth” based on biblical principles and hope beyond the gory grave.

If I feel the dark side encroaching way too much into my “Christian” comfort zone when I pick up one of these books, I might just have to put the book down and walk away, concluding that this new genre is not for me. It certainly won’t be for me to write, and I’ll resolve never to pick up a horror book of any kind again, whether it has the “Christian” label on it or not.

This remains to be seen.

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Of course, it’s the dream of every writer to have a best-selling novel on the shelves of every book store in the country sometime in their writing career. And most writers have great ideas that would make super novels. But the reality is that most of us don’t have three to six months to lock ourselves up in a bedroom with our computer and get that brilliant idea down on paper in a form of the English language that can be read without an interpreter. Thankfully, I’ve been blessed to have a best-selling series, The Keystone Stables eight books, with over 250,000 in print.

Here are a few suggestions for you would-be novelists to help get you motivated to start and finish a manuscript that just might land you a contract with a leading publishing company. These simple steps worked for me not once but 17 times, enabling me to publish just as many juvenile fiction and Amish novels at an average of three-months writing time a piece:

1. Analyze your time and budget it. Prioritize so that you have time to write every day.Yes, I know it’s impossible to write every day, but if you have this at the top of your priority list, you’ll get it done more often than if you just haphazardly decide, “Oh, it’s Monday. I have two extra hours today. I think I’ll write.” Your novel will never happen this way.

2. Write a short outline or description of where you’re going with your story and characters. I know many authors who have written their same novel over and over, and to this day they still haven’t finished it because they never resolved the ending. Their characters seem to be lost forever in some kind of word time warp, never to “live happily ever after.”

3. Don’t worry about perfect English the first time you write. Just get your brilliant idea down on paper. Worry about the PUGS (punctuation, usage, grammar, spelling) later.

4. Let your finished manuscript sit a few weeks then get back to it. You’ll read parts of it and wonder Who in the world wrote that junk? This is a great time to start revising. Go through each scene with a fine-toothed comb, making sure your characters move the plot and/or subplot forward.

5. When you finish revising your manuscript, print the entire thing on paper, read it aloud, and get it into the hands of a critique group or other writers who will tell you the truth. Aunt Susie or Brother Bill will only tell you how wonderful you are, but that won’t get your manuscript ready for a trip to the editor’s desk at the publishing house.

6. While you’re revising again and perfecting your work, send out your queries, at least five at a time. It might take up to three or four months for you to get a response from the editors. if at all. In that framework of time, you can hone your manuscript and shape it into something that any editor would want.

7. As soon as possible, attend writers’ conference to meet those editors and agents. That’s your best opportunity to get that contract in your hands.

So, get the computer turned on, get your brain tuned in, and get typing. You just might be the next great American novelist!

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When it finally happens, you know, the phone call or e-mail that says, “Congratulations! You’ve got a contract with our company!”, prepare yourself for the exciting adventure of seeing your name in print. There’s nothing quite like it after you’ve been trying for years to do so. Have a party or go to McDonald’s for a latte or buy your dog a big box of treats. Celebrate somehow. Then prepare yourself for the next step in your writing life.

As you enter this new phase of writing/publishing, determine in your heart to do the best job you can with the editor to whom you are assigned. The editor is your friend, not your arch enemy who is set on destroying every clever phrase you ever penned.

Here are a few tips that I learned along the way that might help you in your “strange encounter of the first kind” with the person who has been hired to make you look real good:

1. Before you ever submit your first draft to your editor, revise, revise, revise your manuscript. Have a critique group edit it; have another writer friend or two critique it, and send the best possible manuscript to the editor after you’ve rewritten it at least seven or eight times. Your editor is NOT your high school English teacher. He/she expects you to know how to use commas, quotation marks, and colons.
2. Be on time with assignments – editors are on a very tight schedule. Don’t give them deadline headaches. If you have excuses for not meeting those deadlines, you won’t be invited back for another contract.
3. Divorce yourself from your manuscript and analyze it objectively. Your editor is going to suggest changes you won’t like. The words you wrote are not written in stone, and, as much as you think your manuscript is your newborn baby, it is not. Accept with a learning spirit the changes the editor wants.
4. If you are set on keeping your words, discuss the matter with your editor. Explain your reasoning but be willing to listen to his/her explanation. Your editor is a hired professional who knows the ins and outs of publishing. He/she KNOWS what will work 99% of the time.
5. Thank your editor often. When the project is done, send him/her a card of gratitude, at least. (A small gift as a token of your appreciation would be well received.) He/she just might remember you the next time the company is looking for an author in your genre specialty.

So, there you have the basics of working with that editor who wants you to succeed as much as you do. Remember, you’re on the same team. Just let the editor be the quarterback.

Marsha Hubler
www.marshahubler.com
www.marshahubler.wordpress.com
Author of the Keystone Stables Series

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