It can take 21 months or more to cut a diamond into sparkling perfection. Rushing the process could lead to excessive diamond wastage, unnecessary ugly inclusions and poor shaping. The Diamond cutting business is a prime example of an industry in which “Slow and Steady” wins the day. The same applies to editing and polishing a manuscript. I, for one, have been too keen to take my rough manuscript and hoped it would pass the keen eyes of an accomplished literary agent, only to realise too late that the work needed many more months of fine revision. My humble experience has taught me to not rush the process, and take as long as it needs to make it ‘shine.’ With my first book, 3 WISE MEN, I was not happy until about a year after the first version; with my new book, it has taken a similar length of time to get feedback and re-work the ‘final’ draft. I am so pleased that I slowed down the revision process and hope my readers will be too. A good red wine needs to be opened and sit for a while, allowing it to “breathe”and soften the flavours and release enhancing aromas. Writing is no different? No. JD Salinger took 10 years to write Catcher in the Rye, and the first Harry Potter instalment was six years in the making. Time heals many things and writing is no different.
The Writer’s Trap Door. You never see it coming, then “Swoosh”—you are down in the writing dungeon and your words are lost forever.
“Oh, so very right!”
“Well, hurry up and give it to me!”
“What? the lost words?”
“No, stupid, the trap door! What is the trap door?”
It is…hmm, should I really be telling you this? OK, it is falling into the trap of showing, rather than telling.
First, a definition: “Show, don’t tell is one of the most frequently given pieces of advice among writers. But just like “write what you know” and “write every day,” it can be difficult to follow — especially if you don’t really know what it means! Luckily, we’re here to show you exactly what this involves. We’ll explain the various benefits of “showing” in writing, and provide plenty of helpful examples.
Show, don’t tell is a writing technique in which story and characters are related through sensory details and actions rather than exposition. It fosters a style of writing that’s more immersive for the reader, allowing them to “be in the room” with the characters.
In his most commonly repeated quoted, Chekhov said, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining. Show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
In short: showing illustrates, while telling merely states. Here’s a quick example of showing versus telling:
Showing: As his mother switched off the light and left the room, Michael tensed. He huddled under the covers, gripped the sheets, and held his breath as the wind brushed past the curtain.
Telling: Michael was terribly afraid of the dark.” [from the reedsy blog here]
But, why am I telling you this? Because, even though I have written two full novels, I still have to watch out for the “showing, not telling” trap! No writer is immune and, after many rounds of editing and beta reader feedback, I still missed un important chapter ending that…you guessed it…fell down the trap door! I am ashamed to share it here, but you can work out which is better:
A. There was a disturbance among the ranks and Boreas went pale.. He rose from his makeshift throne and thrust out his trident, defending himself.
“Sailor, you can’t do that!” he yelled. But it was no use.
B. What happened next shocked them all.
Yes, A is a better “showing” than the “telling” example in B! I hope you don’t mind me telling you all this?
You may be wondering what stage my new thriller is at? It has been sent out to a few selected Literary Agents and I am still waiting for it to be picked up for representation. Meanwhile, I have not been idle in my writing! I continue to make minor edits, based mostly on beta reader feedback. This process has been most helpful. For example, over this past weekend, a good friend of mine (who is an avid thriller reader) sent me his annotated suggestions to my draft. I took a few hours to review these and make a few changes to the manuscript. During this process, it forced me to review a few paragraphs, add some character text, change a section from first to third person, etc. Feedback is like sparks that light up new ideas and I find the process so helpful as a writer. It improves the book. “Beta Readers are…a rare species that writers needed to treasure and conserve once found.” (see more here)
David McGowan, based in Liverpool in the UK, made the following comment during an interview:
“From my first novel to my second, I have found that my writing is a lot more developed, but I think editing your work well is as important as writing a good story.
I also find that editing the last couple of scenes I have written when I sit down to write pulls me back into the story and helps me to focus and feel part of the world I have created.”
This is good advice gives cohesion to writing. Thanks, David. You can check out the full interview here.
Here’s the scenario: a sentence in my paragraph doesn’t work, no matter how much I change it. When this happens, I use the subtract rule. That is, take out the problematic sentence and see if the shorter paragraph is any better without it. Most times, it is. I call this the “subtract to add rule“, and I have used it more than a few times during editing of my latest novel. I know what you may be thinking—such a move reduces the word count. Yes, it does, and thank goodness! Think of this sentence culling like the fruit picture. If you take some of the fruit away, do you still have a tree full of inviting fruit? If yes, take away the ones that don’t add. The power of a novel can be in the words and sentences taken out, not in the ones that are left in! Happy fruit picking.
From my own experience, I have enjoyed using online grammatical aids, to a point! Here’s my humble take on them:
+ve: picks up repeated phrases, checks sentence length, and overuse of adverbs, etc. Psst, here’s where it would have helped John Grisham in “The Guardians”—on page 157, he writes, “He takes a drink and studies the ocean.” Then, on page 159, John writes, “He takes a drink and studies the ocean.” Well, software would pick that up.
-ve: does not help you develop your own writing style, nor flow or ‘voice’. There is often a cost.
Ask yourself this question: would Hemingway, et al, use an online writing tool? They might in their early days of writing, but I am convinced they would go up the wall after a while and stay their own course through the rough editing waters. Good writing and editing software are destined to call off their romance after just a few dates!
Novel #2 in Editing Mode: Such a relief to finish my second novel, which is now in the final editing stages. In summary:
write –> edit –> edit again (another full read through) —> ask trusted (brutally honest) friends to proof-read –> final edit –> seek a Literary Agent (more on that soon). On a funny note:
The other night I could not get to sleep and tossed and turned, mulling over my second full edit. I realized that I had made a minor continuity error and had to get up to fix it. Phew!
It really is encouraging that my brain is actively working on improvements all the time, even when half asleep! Motto?
A writer never sleeps!
PS: This pic is accurate, but the time is wrong – I was up at 2am.
Good to have the manuscript and rough edit finished for my next book. Now the mammoth tusk, er … task, of proofing, cover design, self-publishing or finding a publisher, etc. Might take a day or two!
This quote by Ernest Hemingway has an element of truth, although I certainly don’t ‘write drunk’. What rings true for me, though, is that you don’t have to be fully ‘with it’ when getting the rough story down. It might be a matter of grabbing a few minutes between meetings or, in my case, while waiting to teach a class. Some of my better writing seems to happen when I am mulling a plot or ‘what’s next’ while trying to sleep. In this case, I have to put the light on, get up and type the inspiration, just in case I forget when I wake up in the morning.Or, I might overhear a conversation while out and about and need to jot a thought down, ready to take back to my computer to bring into the story. For my second novel, I also set aside regular, early morning times to write. And, in the most part, I have kept to this schedule, even if the word output varies. On a good day I will type up about 800-1200 words and, on a bad day, 400-500. But, even the bad days can be good writing!
However, the editing needs time and concentration, plus a critical analysis of words, sentence structure/length, etc. Therefore, Hemingway is right—it is best done while ‘sober’. Incidentally, Hemingway also has a cameo part in my new novel, when two ladies meet an old man on the Croatian coast in a bar in Dubrovnik—the kind of place that Hemingway would, I am sure, have enjoyed!