Show Don’t Tell
Tuesday, December 5, 2017
Thoughts on Writing A Novel – Show Don’t Tell by Rosemary Morris
I was born in 1940 in Sidcup Kent, England. As a child, when I was not making up stories, my head was ‘always in a book’.
While working in a travel agency, I met my Hindu husband. He encouraged me to continue my education at Westminster College. In 1961 I and my husband, now a barrister, moved to his birthplace, Kenya, where I lived until 1982. After an attempted coup d’état, I and four of my five children lived in an ashram in France.
Back in England, I wrote historical fiction and joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association, Historical Novel Society and Watford Writers.
Apart from writing, I enjoy classical Indian literature, reading, visiting places of historical interest, vegetarian cooking, growing organic fruit, herbs and vegetables and creative crafts.
My bookshelves are so crammed with historical non-fiction which I use to research my novels that if I buy a new book I have to consider getting rid of one.
Time spent with my children and their families, most of whom live near me, is precious.
Show Don’t Tell
If you are thinking about writing a novel, are a new or experienced novelist or someone who likes reading about an author’s thoughts on writing, I hope you will find this brief blog post interesting.
To write quality fiction it isn’t enough to have a good idea for a story. Whether we write literary fiction or popular fiction we need to understand how to write effectively and hold our readers’ interest.
For the novice and experienced writer there are numerous non-fiction books about How to Write. These include subjects such as creating believable characters, viewpoint and show don’t tell. Although Books We Love have published nine of my novels, I still enjoy dipping into copies of my ‘how to write books’.
My advice is don’t tell the reader anything at the beginning of a scene to ensure it makes sense. Find a livelier, more interesting way to explain it. Show the main character in each scene through what he or she says, does and thinks. This admits the reader onto the stage and allows him or her to experience the protagonist’s emotions and reactions as though watching television, a film or a play.
In fiction, showing is usually a blend of dialogue and narrative. Telling is undiluted exposition about something your character does not know.
Since the action arises from the characters, by dramatizing them they can demonstrate essential information and give hints. Ask yourself what the characters want and feel. You can show through specific details, thoughts and action, what is important or relevant to them. This can also be shown by the reactions and thoughts of other characters.
Was, were, had, feel, felt and feeling are words that tell instead of showing. They should be used sparingly. When I am editing a novel I always check to see if I can replace them.
In fiction a main character should be introduced immediately, and the scene should be set.
I hope you will agree that the first sentence in my published novel, The Captain and The Countess, achieves this.
Edward, the Right Honourable Captain Howard, dressed in blue and white, which some of the officers in Queen Anne’s navy favoured, strode into his godmother’s spacious house near St James Park.”
I had researched costume and the area, but resisted the temptation to write a long description which would have been exposition.
Also, I avoided using the word ‘was’ because it often tells instead of showing. e.g. Captain Howard was dressed in blue and white tells instead of showing; so do the words were, had, feel, felt and feeling, which should be used sparingly.
Fairy Tales continue to have a glamour and grip on readers, whether young or old. Previously ‘Once Upon a Time there was…’ often began the story. Today, a writer needs to cut right into the core of the book.
Modern-day readers are not prepared to read page after page of descriptive prose to reach the main point.
The beginning of a story needs to show the character.
Your comments would be appreciated.
The Captain and The Countess – Back Cover
Why does heart-rending pain lurk in the back of the wealthy Countess of Sinclair’s eyes?
Captain Howard’s life changes forever from the moment he meets Kate, the intriguing Countess and resolves to banish her pain.
Although the air sizzles when widowed Kate, victim of an abusive marriage meets Edward Howard, a captain in Queen Anne’s navy, she has no intention of ever marrying again.
However, when Kate becomes better acquainted with the Captain she realises he is the only man who understands her grief and can help her to untangle her past.
The Captain and The CountessChapter One
Edward, the Right Honourable Captain Howard, dressed in blue and white, which some of the officers in Queen Anne’s navy favoured, strode into Mrs Radcliffe’s spacious house near St James Park.
Perkins, his godmother’s butler, took the captain’s hat and cloak. “Madam wants you to join her immediately.”
Instead of going upstairs to the rooms his godmother had provided for him during his spell on half pay—the result of a dispute with a senior officer—Edward entered the salon. He sighed. When would his sixty-one-year old godmother accept that at the age of twenty-two, he was not yet ready to wed?
He made his way across the elegant, many-windowed room through a crowd of expensively garbed callers.
When Frances Radcliffe noticed him, she turned to the pretty young lady seated beside her. “Mistress Martyn, allow me to introduce you to my godson, Captain Howard.”
Blushes stained Mistress Martyn’s cheeks as she stood to make her curtsey.
Edward bowed, indifferent to yet another of his grandmother’s protégées. Conversation ceased. All eyes focussed on the threshold.
“Lady Sinclair,” someone murmured.
Edward turned. He gazed without blinking at the acclaimed beauty, whose sobriquet was “The Fatal Widow”.
The countess remained in the doorway, her cool blue eyes speculative.
Edward whistled low. Could her shocking reputation be no more than tittle-tattle? His artist’s eyes observed her. Rumour did not lie about her Saxon beauty.
5* Review by Mrs. Jennifer M. Black
Rosemary Morris lives and breathes the late Stewart period of history. The world she describes, in which Morals and Rules were known and adhered to, has vanished now, but her characters speak and behave in keeping with what we know of the customs of the well-born of the time, which makes a refreshing change to the huge amount of historical fiction where young girls behave and think as they would in this century.
The Right Honourable Captain Edward Howard, a handsome young naval officer and artist is at something of a loose end when he visits his godmother – and ignores her attempts to marry him off to an empty-headed young thing. Twenty-two years old, he meets Kate, Countess Sinclair, who is nine years older than him and hides a terrible secret from her past life behind a beautiful face and a formidable façade. Edward is at first intrigued and then falls heavily for the lady, but she swears she will never marry again.
If you enjoy sentences put together with care and grace, dialogue that sparkles without falling into clichés, slang and platitudes; if you want a storyline with genuine twists and turns and a happy ending that comes as a surprise and does not jar against the habits of the time, then this book will give you, as it did me, great pleasure.
Novels by Rosemary Morris
Early 18th Century novels
Tangled Love, Far Beyond Rubies, The Captain and The Countess Courtship.
Sunday’s Child, Monday’s Child, Tuesday’s Child, Wednesday’s Child
Yvonne Lady of Cassio. The Lovages of Cassio Book One
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