This Business of Writing

Posts Tagged ‘best-sellers’

“Show, Don’t Tell.” Bologna or Beef?

In General Information, The Craft of Writing on March 11, 2010 at 10:15 pm

by C. Patrick Schulze

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Of all the maxims found within the craft of writing, “Show, don’ tell,” is foremost in the mind of almost every writing instructor and student of the craft. Wikipedia explains this as follows: “Show, don’t tell is an admonition to fiction writers to write in a manner that allows the reader to experience the story through a character’s action, words, thoughts, senses, and feelings rather than through the narrator’s exposition, summarization, and description.”

Proponents of this technique say the concept is simple, as is its purpose. When you Tell, your audience has no option but to see what you show them. When you Show, their imagination is free to visualize whatever they wish, thus making your story more personal to them. With Tell, they view your picture, whereas with Show they paint their own.

They say the key to this fundamental adage is the author’s objectivity or detachment from his writing. Can he paint with broad strokes and leave his words open to interpretation or must he interpret the details with a tiny brush?

These days, most are followers of this maxim and Show is considered to have the greater effect. Proponents argue this is obvious and shown even by examples in real life. To exhibit what they mean, consider the raising of a child. As with the classic example of placing a hand on a hot stove, does the child believe you when you tell them not to touch it or when they burn their hand? Seems obvious, doesn’t it? Show is more powerful than Tell.

Now, for the other side of the story.

This truism is hogwash.

A writer should come out and tell their reader what’s what. In fact, the opponents opine, it’s the wordy writer who must dramatize.

This adage, they say, hinders the writer’s spontaneity and stifles his artistic choices. The writer is not an actor doing as he’s told. Rather, he’s a painter who uses his canvas of words to exhibit his conceptual interpretation of the subject matter.

Francine Prose says, “There are many occasions in literature in which telling is far more effective than showing.” In fact, she’s right. Some of the finest novels ever written employ the technique of telling. “War and Peace,” is a classic example.  Even “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” which some think is among the greatest of novels of the Twentieth Century, is almost told in its entirety.

The detractors of this adage say it stems from Plato and has lost much of its punch by this time in history. It is an orthodoxy that should no longer be written in stone.

Remember Anton Chekhov’s line about the glint of light on the broken glass? The detractors of “Show, Don’t Tell” say Chekhov did not mean writers should adhere to a aged sage, but rather he meant writers should use sensory images.

They also say dramatization need not be accomplished by Tell, by rather the author’s choice of what and when to isolate or magnify his details.

So, what are your thoughts? Thumbs up or Thumbs down to “Show, Don’t Tell?” Let’s find out.


Either way, I hope you know I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”

The Secrets to Chapters in Your Novel

In How-to's, Marketing Your Book on March 8, 2010 at 8:20 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

To listen to a podcast of this article, click HERE.


With everything in creative writing there are rules to follow and the construction of a chapter is no different. With that said, know every writers’ rule is designed to be broken. (The proof to the pudding? The rules say you should never use the verb, “to be,” nor should you employ clichés as with the last four words of the first sentence in this paragraph.) Regardless, with chapter design, there are a few techniques you might employ to both entice and engross your reader.

Let’s first review the purpose of a chapter. It’s primary reason, of course, is to move the story toward its conclusion. Your story has a beginning and an end, and the intervening chapters should do nothing more than move the first chapter toward the last. Chapters can be used to introduce characters, establish setting and to set up or enhance conflict. Regardless, every chapter must tempt your reader to continue with your novel.

The first rule of chapter construction, first chapter or last, is to begin as late in the chapter as possible. This technique helps you get to the meat of the chapter. It prods you to cut out the fluff, those nonessential parts of your narrative, and write only about those things necessary to move your story forward. Readers have a tendency to skim over disinteresting parts of a book, so beginning late in the chapter encourages you to write only those words meaningful to the story as a whole.

The second and last rule of chapter construction flows from the first. It says to end the chapter as early as you can. As before, that means eliminate anything immaterial to your storyline. Tighten your writing, tighten it again, then tighten it once more.

That’s it? Two rules? Yep. That’s about it, but the fun lies in figuring out how to break those rules, doesn’t it?

In any case, I’ve got some other thoughts for you to consider. First, allow me to tell you how I handle short chapters. I mean REALLY short, four hundred word chapters. While working on “Born to be Brothers,” I found a couple short chapters accomplished what I needed. They couldn’t be eliminated, but neither did they require additional length. When I printed the manuscript, these two page chapters didn’t “feel” right. They looked too short. My solution came from a book I recently started reading. That author had many, many of these diminutive elements and he simply started his next chapter on the same page the last one ended. Whoa! Not only did that solve my “look” issue, it made it difficult to set his book down.

Now a few ideas as to how to end your chapters. Most of us have learned to end them with the classic cliffhanger, and that works well. But what other ways exist to end one of those numerous chapters in the middle of your book? Here are some ideas.

Introduce a secret. That’s always fun.

End with a oath. My favorite is in “Gone with the Wind” when Scarlett vows never to go hungry   again.

End with a reversal of fortune. Always exciting

End with a revelation. Here, my favorite is in “206 Bones” by Kathy Reiches (rikes) where the heroine wakes only to determine at the end of the chapter she’s been entombed.

Your chapter endings need to insure your readers continue to scour the pages of your novel, so a bit of time spent on designing your chapters should pay dividends.

For more ideas on how to end your chapters, consult THIS POST by K. M. Weiland.

Until next time, know I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.

10 Tips to Reveal Your Character’s Character

In The Craft of Writing on March 3, 2010 at 7:18 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

Listen to the podcast of this article HERE.

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One of the three primary secrets to any good novel is effective characterization. The others, of course, are story and dialogue. Without populating your novel with characters the reader will appreciate, there is little chance your novel will succeed. This is not to say a great deal more isn’t necessary to write The Great American Novel, but without this, you’ve got no story.

Your reader needs to become acquainted with your main characters to identify with them and I’ve worked up a list of ten basic steps by which you develop your character’s. They are:

1. The character’s physical description
2. The author’s psychological portrayal of that character
3. What the character says
4. How the character says what he says
5. What the character does
6. What the character thinks
7. The things other characters say about him
8. His reactions to things, people and events around him
9. His how he reacts to himself
10. Your setting

Presenting this type of information all at once is frowned upon in the writing world. So much so, that action has a rather unpleasant sounding name assigned to it. That name is, “Info-dump.” Therefore, for best effect, you’d want to sprinkle these situation around in the pages of your story.

I’m certain you can see how most of these techniques will highlight your character’s personality. After all, isn’t that much the way things work in real life? Regardless, let’s toss in a couple of examples

You’d not want to use only one or two of these techniques and shun the rest. Utilize a number of them for wider appeal

A premier “rule” in creative writing it to “show, don’t tell.” Of course, rules are designed for breaking, but with that in mind, you’d want to shy away from the first item, their physical description, and the second, the authors’ psychological portrayal, as they tend to, “tell.”

As an example of the third item, what he says, in my current manuscript my hero, Jak, is working with a crew to cut down trees. When one wood behemoth refuses to fall, Jak say, “I’ve yet to be bested by an overgrown log.” When I had my critique group read that chapter, a couple of the reviewers mentioned that line and said it told them so much about Jak’s personality. So, the words your character uses are powerful indicators of his individuality.

Let’s give number seven, those things one character says about another, some consideration, too. I think this type of character embellishment allows for interesting opportunities in your novel. It opens the door to misdirection, deception and all sorts and other opportunities to enhance and even introduce plot points into your manuscript. If you possess the imagination, this technique has twists and turns hidden within it, and you can utilize them to great effect.

There’s one of these techniques many authors don’t understand well, so I’ll give it a bit of special attention. Consider number ten, your setting. Setting is much more to your novel than simply a place and time. It is as powerful as any component of your novel and can shape your characters to a great degree. So, too, it gives strong hints as to their personalities. For example, compare a warrior living in the second century to one living in the twenty-first. Don’t you think they’ll have differing outlooks toward war, even though that theme transcends both time frames? Give your setting serious consideration as part of the development of your characters. You can read more about setting in this ARTICLE.

Review these techniques and employ them throughout your novels, and you’ll find your readers become more involved with your characters.

Until we speak again, I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”