Monday, October 8, 2018


For the October Fiction Writing Critique Group meeting at the Howell Branch Library, I prepared this handout, thanks to great articles from Writers Digest and Jane Friedman's blog.  I also wanted folks to get started thinking about NANOWRIMO. And to encourage them to plan their own writing goal for the month of November.
NANOWRIMO – th.jpg Do It Your Way th.jpg

·      NANOWRIMO begins 1 November 2018 – one month, 50,000 words (1,167/day)
·      Our writing goals don’t always fit the mold
·      Make a writing commitment and then make a plan
·      Set your own/reasonable goals
·      Partner with a friend
·      Utilize the library’s NANOWRIMO space – days and times will be announced
·      As a Fiction Critique Group let’s state and track our progress
·      Why wait? Start now!

Showing rather than telling is part of the magic that you have to work as a writer. In fact, it’s one of the most vital parts. Your reader has to make his way through your story or novel and then finally come away from it with a sense of characters and settings.

Example: “The city suffered significant damage in the blast.” [Too cold, too distant, too all-inclusive]
Instead: “Among the ruins, the reflection of the sun on the pieces of broken glass on the road was so strong that it was difficult to hold your head up as you walked. The smell of death was a little fainter than the day before, but the places where houses had collapsed into tile-covered heaps stank vilely and were covered with great, black swarms of flies.”

In To Kill a Mockingbird, never does Scout say her father is a good man. But throughout the novel, we know it; at the end, one of the strongest images is his goodness.

If your character is a fireman – you could say, “His job was exciting.” Or, you could say, “His heart rate elevated when his truck approached a fire.”

Balancing Act: * Your fiction has to be a balanced blend of both show and tell.*

Keep description short; get specific. “It was a beautiful sunset,” says nothing.
Describe a person through another character’s eyes;
Sprinkle description throughout the story;
Utilize the senses – sight, smell, touch, sound, taste
Setting is character; [Louise Penny’s Three Pines; Jan Karon’s Mitford] The truer your setting, the more believable will be the fictional world you invite your reader to enter. Setting can also set the mood or tone of your story, time period of your story.

“Readers’ love writing that brings the world in your head to life in theirs.” [Elizabeth Sims/WD Jan 2013]

* When describing people, stay away from hair and eye color, as well as height and weight. Many writers make the mistake of describing their characters like the people in a police blotter. Think, instead, about the way you might describe your friends. Do you know the height and weight of your friends? Do you ever think about their eye color? These features are not as interesting as other, more complex descriptors. Consider your characters' gestures, the shape of their facial features, their gait, their dimples, their scars, the way they laugh, the quality of their teeth, their stance, their fashion sense, their odor, their vocal tone, and so on.

*Think in terms of "telling details": details that let the reader see your characters while also revealing something about their minds. In this way, your descriptions can do double duty: giving the reader a physical picture while also showing an inner, mental trait. If a woman has unkempt, flyaway hair, that lets the reader see her, and it also reveals something about the character's sense of self and level of vanity. If a man has rimless, tinted glasses and a dry, taut mouth, that lets the reader see him, and it also reveals a lot about the character's personality.

*Each new scene in a story should have at least one paragraph of description to clarify where the characters are and who is present. This should happen fairly early in the scene. Whenever your readers are unsure about the physical logistics of the story, they will be unable to fully suspend their disbelief and dive in; they will be too busy trying to figure out what's going on. You never want your readers to be unsure about who, what, when, and where. Give us the situation right away. Tell us who is in the room. Locate your story in a distinct place and time.

*Too much description can bog down a story, but not enough can have the opposite effect, making the characters seem weightless and detached from reality. However, this is something to think about only during the process of revision. You should not worry about it while actively writing something new. When it comes to description, finding the right balance will take time, space, and the clarity of mind that comes from editing a finished piece, not creating a new one. While you're actively writing, don't worry about whether you're using too much or too little description. Feel free to try things and make mistakes. When in doubt, write more description than you think you'll need. You can always take things out afterward. [Abbi Geni/Jane Friedman blog 3 June 2016]