"If you write FOR a particular market or FOR a particular editor you will often miss the mark. But if you write because your fingers have danced across the keyboard, because a character has tapped you on the shoulder, because a story has settled in your heart, then even if you never sell it you have done the work you were meant to do. And sometime, dear readers, real magic happens." Jane Yolen

8/5/10

The Kind of Showing That's Hard for Me

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Those of you who are writers know that one of the cardinal rules of good prose is "show - don't tell." You can probably find dozens of explanations of exactly what this means, but in a nutshell, the rule is this: describe what is going on, with detail, instead of simply stating it.

For example, telling: "Sarah was tired."

Showing: "Sarah plodded into the room, her eyes drooping. She yawned and stretched, trying to focus on finding her bed."

People are more invested in, more interested in, your characters if they see what they are doing and know how they are feeling.  Showing like this is the mark of a good writer, especially of fiction. (Journalists don't deal with this much. Just the facts, yanno?)

Generally, I would say I'm pretty good at descriptions and showing the action in my writing. I enjoy getting into my characters' heads and sharing their experiences, struggles, thoughts and secrets. It's part of the writing process that I enjoy.

Usually.

You see, just recently, a dear friend who happens to be editing my nonfiction manuscript had a word with me about showing and telling. Basically, the words were not enough of the former and too much of the latter.

I puzzled over this for a while, until I realized why I wasn't describing events and emotions as much as I generally do.
Because they were MY events, and MY emotions.
When I wrote about difficult times in my life (and trust me, these were DIFFICULT), I was subconsciously afraid to have to live through it again. If I showed the anxiety, the confusion, the fear, and the uncertainty I felt through my written words, those very same emotions would return. I would be transported back, and relive some of the toughest times I had ever been through.

But if I'm going to share the hope and encouragement God gave me through this experience, I have to share the struggles He lifted me from. I have to show the pain, so I can show the healing. If I am going to reach people with the nourished soul God created in my husband's ailing body, they have to feel what I felt.

So, with God's help, I'm gonna go against my natural tendency to put the tough stuff under my skin, and put it out there more on the page. I will go through the emotions again - live it again - so I can SHOW my readers my weakness, and God's power.


Paving Rough Roads With God's Presence

7 comments:

  1. (((Jo))) It's soooo hard reliving all that, but you're right. Adding in the emotion and showing us how it was and what you felt WILL show so clearly God's provision of ALL you needed to make it through.

    You know I'm praying you through this. Love you, sweetie.

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  2. We'll be praying for you as you rewrite. I'm sure God has His plan in this. I can't wait to see how you grow and are stretched through what's to come.

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  3. Amen! Well said, Joanne. I had to explain the whole concept of "show, don't tell" today to a young lady who asked me to read her work. You're right about it being difficult to go "there" and relive those times, but yes, God's amazing power shines consistently each time we do.

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  4. My prayers are with you! I pray God blesses and comforts you as you set out on this emotional journey! Love you.

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  5. I am currently editing my book and many of the changes have to do with this very subject. It is very difficult but I can't imagine how difficult it is for you with the subject material being so personal. I know you will accomplish your goal and many people will be blessed by it!

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  6. Being vulnerable enough to share such a personal experience is difficult, especially having to relive the emotions. But it can also be healing. When we relive the pain for the purpose of God using us, it can be the most powerful assignment He gives us. Praying for your revisions.

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  7. I can completely understand this, Joanne. So much easier to show and not tell when it comes to an imaginary character, so much harder when it comes to ourselves. But you're right, showing our pain isn't just what writers are supposed to do, it's what we're called to do. Still praying for you.

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