Is it possible you’re showing when you should be telling?

Last night I shared a couple beers and an awesome burger (best burgers in town, can I get an Amen?) at a local watering hole in Mobile, Callaghan’s Irish Social Club, with a fellow emerging writer.  Above the sound of a local music duo, we talked about the ol’ show vs. tell rule. My friend was so sick of hearing of this rule and thought it was about time it should be thrown out. I’m not there yet, but I do see where she’s coming from. Sometimes it is better to tell than show, no doubt. And new writers might have a hard time distinguishing when that time is.

The operative word there, though, is sometimes. I think most helpful articles about this do mention that there are times to tell, but point out that with new writers the big mistake is telling when they should show. I think this is true. Most often when you’re telling it doesn’t help your story so it is best to change it into a richer experience for the reader.

But when should you tell? I’m not sure I’m there yet as a writer and so am trying to eliminate instances of telling whenever I find them. However, I think one comfortable caveat is when you’re transitioning your character from one place to another. A simple statement that they got into the car or carriage is all that’s needed. If nothing happens along the way that helps further your plot, then there’s no need to convert that one sentence of showing to a blow-by-blow of everything that person saw and did. Does this sound obvious? Well, I read a published mystery a couple of years ago where the author had obviously had this rule pounded into their head because we were treated multiple times with scenes just like this (actually the character was walking to work). Because it was a murder mystery, I kept thinking that something was going to happen during those scenes, and nothing did! It was extremely annoying.

One of my favorite links to pass on to folks when critiquing is Shirley Jump’s article Show Not Tell: What the Heck is that Anyway? Her last two points at the bottom I think sum this up well:

  • Don’t pad it too much. Don’t overwhelm the reader with description either. You’re not writing a travelogue, you’re writing a story. Add enough details to give them a picture, then move on to the meat of your story. If you have several paragraphs in a row of description, chances are you’ve gone overboard. Try to work the description in with the dialogue and action instead so you can maintain your pacing and reader interest.
  • Don’t be afraid of telling sometimes, too. A mix of both showing and telling is a good idea. You don’t have to show every single thing in your book. Sometimes, a quick telling helps get through a slow part or provides a quick recap. The goal is to make the MAJORITY of your writing vivid and strong (i.e., showing) and keep the telling to a minimum.

That mystery book was padded with scenes that served no purpose plot or character-wise, IMO, and only served to create false suspense.

So what do you think? When is it okay to tell? Do you think this rule should die a horrible and miserable death?

Friday Grab bag – Dialects, Revision checklist and Girls with Pens

Came across this handy revision checklist – The oh-so-fun revision checklist for writing. Handy if you’re at the same stage as me, which is wrestling a draft into some semblance of shape. And along the same lines – 6 Steps for Your Final Edit, which has some great practical advice on things to look out for.

And speaking of that last link, I’d like to give a shout out to Girls with Pens for their blog I just came across this week. Lots of great articles for the emerging writer. Thanks!

For the linguistic geeks out there, or if you’re wanting to add a little dialect to your story, I came across North American English Dialects, Based on Pronunciation Patterns website this week. Combine it with this book – The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language – and you’ll be sittin’ pretty.

Why I’m Happy My Mom Hates the Ending…

So, my mom is not your typical your-work-is-wonderful-dear kind of reader, which I’m happy about. I made the mistake of having her read a first draft, though, of an earlier work, and boy was that rough. It was good, but rough. Rough in the sense of seeing LOL written in the margins when it’s not supposed to be funny kind of rough. That manuscript is still sitting under the bed. But it means I always know where I stand, which I totally appreciate as not everyone is that honest.

So, with this new novel I waited until I was almost done with my third draft before I let her see it. And then I held my breath. Soon, I started getting text messages and emails keeping me apprised of where she was and how much she was enjoying it, and I’m thinking, is this my mom? Especially because she’s never read a Romance novel.

The positive feedback kept coming. Tuesday, 5:07 p.m.

getting ready to start chapter 18 tonight….and have to tell you that i just ran out and bought some dark chocolate….

(The dark chocolate is something that’s part of the story so it’s not the non sequitur it seems). Yesterday at 6:30 a.m.

hey, got up to chapter 25 last night! almost finished!

Until last night. Then I got bombarded with text messages and emails letting me have it. She’s mad at me, folks!  Here’s just some of what she sent:

Don’t have your correct email here so don’t know if u will get this. Finished the book and feel cheated.

Sent from my iPod

That was the entirety of the email. And then at the tail end of a follow up one, where she discusses what she didn’t like, was this:

i don’t know but but but

And here’s a text message:

what the hell! What about Phineas? What was all that stuff about?

So, I called her on the way into work to get more details, because this is like gold to me. She’s only the second person to read it all the way through in this form. She was so worked up about what I’d done to the poor hero and what I hadn’t covered, that at one point I actually had to say, “Mom, calm down.” She laughed and stated that, yes, her blood pressure was up. She was that incensed.

My ending sucks. I was worried it did and was also worried I’d rushed it, and not delved enough into the HEA moment. The first reader gave me that feedback. And now my mom with this reaction…

So, why am I happy? Well, because she’d had such an animated and emotional reaction to it, even though it was negative. She’s an artist, and she’d always told me growing up that a negative reaction was just as good as a positive one — that at least there was a reaction. In this case, at least she hadn’t shrugged her shoulders and gone, ‘meh.’

To me, it meant that she’d gotten so wrapped up in the characters and the story that she was pissed I didn’t end it in a satisfying way. Yes, it means my ending sucks and I need to rework it. And I will need to revise some earlier chapters. There’s a lot of work still ahead of me. But to my mind, her reaction meant I’d at least done one thing right that I didn’t need to scrap and rework, and that’s the connection she felt to my hero and that I’d pulled her enough into the story world for her to feel this strongly about a poorly executed ending.

At least, that’s my story and my interpretation of this morning’s call and I’m sticking to it. 🙂

Writing Newbie Tip: Adverbs can also indicate you’re telling


Photo by Rae Grimm (bloodylery)

I’m a relatively new writer learning the craft and am painfully aware I have a long way to go. I learn new things every day. This post today is for new writers like me, because often I think more experienced writers forget what it’s like when you’re first learning. They already know so many tools and methods that a lot of it is now instinctual and so might not think to state things that are obvious to them.

One thing I’ve noticed as I write, edit and critique other work is that I can learn something conceptually, but until it clicks I haven’t really learned it. Case in point is the writer’s bugaboo: adverbs.

We’ve all read and heard that you should avoid adverbs when possible. This won’t be the usual admonition to scrutinize each one to make sure you’re not using a weak verb. I think that concept is easily grasped once a newbie reads about it.

Sometimes, though you’ll run across a little more in-depth tip that tells you adverbs may also indicate you’re telling. Okay, so I read that handy tip but it didn’t quite sink in as something I really understood until I finally saw a piece in my own writing earlier this summer that made me sit up and go “oh, dummy!” The passage was when my hero was picking the lock on a desk drawer. I had him pull out his nice leather pouch of picks (starting to show, good) but then I stopped the showing short by concluding that sentence with ‘and he went expertly to work’ — When I came across that I thought of how I could show that he was an expert and not just tell, so I did some quick research online and then rewrote it to show him picking out a certain tool and then closing his eyes as he listened to the tumblers, etc. I never said he was an expert, but, hopefully, I showed that he was by how he did the job.

BEFORE (From the second draft):

Taking out his set of lock picks enclosed in a soft leather pouch, he went expertly to work. Soon the lock and drawer opened with a satisfying click and rasp of wood against wood. A leather-bound journal was the sole occupant. Surely this would have the evidence he sought.

AFTER (From the third draft):


Be Humble: Fact Check, Or Why I Thought I Knew This Fact About Jane Austen

When I originally conceived this blog post, it was to use Jane Austen’s anonymity as an example of fact-checking. It still is, but with a little twist. The point turned back on me waving its index finger.

When reading historical romances, I get frustrated by anachronistic words or events. Or just completely not understanding a word’s usage in context to the time (thinking a conservatory in a house was a place where they listened to music, not where they kept their plants). I won’t name any names because that would be mean, but also because I know I’m not immune to this. Thank God my critique partners have caught the ones they have and I shudder to think how many others linger unnoticed in my manuscript. Everyone has their own little pockets of expertise and there’s no way a writer can know all. So double-check your assumptions and have others knowledgeable in your subject read it.

My Jane Austen beef in romance novels has always been when the Regency heroine in some country village or manor house mentions they are reading one of Miss Austen’s works. That, I have no problem with, in fact I love it because I’d go all fan girl on her if I was able to meet her. Anyway, my problem is when they actually name her as the author. While she lived, her published works were all published anonymously. Only her intimate friends, family, publisher and the Prince Regent (and presumably his inner circle) knew she was the author. So if your heroine is a country miss in Kent, she would not know Jane Austen was the author.

If I am wrong on this assumption, please, please, please tell me so that I can stop having this as my pet peeve!

Now to the twist back at me. For some reason I had it in my head that it was the 1833 edition published by Bentley that first had her name listed as the author and so I was going to caution folks to not have your heroine name Miss Austen prior to 1833. However, in preparation for this post, I thought I should double-check that assumption and found out that her brother listed his sister as the author when he printed Persuasion and Northanger Abbey in December 1817, five months after she died. Oops! *Scurrying back to my manuscript to change that little fact about my heroine when she’s drooling over the 1833 edition*

So, if your heroine is having small talk in the parlor before 1817, you shouldn’t have her name Miss Austen’s name.

I think the lesson for me is that it’s even more dangerous to make assumptions when you’re writing about something you think you know pretty well. Double check anyway. I’m also prepared for this to be unintentional irony, pointing out that I didn’t fact check enough and got something wrong. Please let me know. I think that’s the point of this post. I wanted to write a post about fact-checking but am running late for work, so posting… and in my haste probably committed some errors or misstatement of fact.

Monday Grab Bag: Critiques, Babbage and Nerds!

Some articles, tweets and sites I ran across this morning that I thought others might be interested in.

Tabitha makes an excellent point on her post today Writer Musings: How To Get The Most Out Of A Critique, Part Three: if you don’t know the heart of your story, you are not ready for feedback.

On the twitterfarm, John Graham-Cumming (@jgrahamc) posted a picture of punch card program written by Charles Babbage for his Analytical Engine. His tweet:  On this stack of punched cards sits a program written by Charles Babbage and never executed. Time to fix that.

To fellow geeks, some UK folks have created a Nerdy Day Trip website. To see the potential, see the sites in England and read the About page. If you just look at the US you will not truly appreciate it. So, my nerdy and geeky US friends, let’s add some cool places!

Holy neutrino Batman! Time travel might be possible?

h/t @TessaDare, @EddieMcClintock

Jeff Forshaw, a professor of particle physics at Britain’s Manchester University, told Reuters the results if confirmed would mean it would be possible in theory to “send information into the past”. “In other words, time travel into the past would become possible…#though# that does not mean we’ll be building time-machines anytime soon.”

via UPDATE 2-Faster than light particles may be physics revolution | Reuters.

Of course, all this needs to be independently verified, but my God, if it’s true? Just last night I was hanging out on the porch of a friend’s house, sipping beers, and we were talking about where we’d go if time travel were possible. Some interesting destinations were named — Celtic Britain, Ancient Egypt, seeing dinosaurs — and some opposing views — “no way would I go there! Are you crazy?” — we hadn’t seen this article yet, so kinda feels funny waking up this morning having talked about it last night, blogging about my time travel novel, and then seeing this article.

If you could go back in time, where would you go? And what if you were able to do it a la Star Trek, in a safe spot somewhere and if you had to mix with the “natives” you had been made over with appropriate clothes and/or prosthetics? (This last is because I’d think it’d be cool to observe Neanderthals)

To Our Future – a time-travel romance

time travelOkay, so about the novel I’m working on. I’m really excited about it as I’ve always been a sucker for the time travel story. It’s such a fun way to see history and I love the juxtapositions of modern sensibilities with whatever past the protagonist is in. 
So, when it came time to come up with my NaNoWriMo 2010 project, I thought, why not? I knew I wanted to go back to the 1800s, but I wasn’t quite sure when. After doing some preliminary research, I ran across a Wikipedia article on Ada Byron Lovelace and I knew I had to have her be a supporting character. I initially conceived that Charles Babbage would play a larger role (even toyed with him being the romantic lead!) but decided to let Ada’s light shine on her own — it seems she’s always coupled with Babbage. So the one year where she was “out” (having her London debut as a marriageable young lady) was 1834, so that’s when my story takes place.
Here’s the back cover blurb for it so far (any advice on improving it would be totally welcomed!)

Isabelle Rochon is an American museum curator working for the British Museum. When she finds a mysterious silver card-case, she thinks it a perfect accessory for a reenactment ball. But what she thought would be an exciting lark, fulfilling her desire to “live a little history”, becomes more than she bargained for when she realizes that the attendees are a little too realistic: she is truly in 1834 London, England. There she meets Lord Montagu, who’s so hot he curls her toes. A thief steals her silver case, stranding a feisty, modern American in a stiffly polite London on the verge of the Victorian age. She finds it hard to resist her growing attraction for Lord Montagu, known even to his relatives as the Vicious Viscount.

Can their love overcome the biggest barrier of all – time? And what difference will a working model of the Difference Engine make to the next two centuries?

I’m currently on the third draft and hoping to have that wrapped up soon so I can have some folks I trust read it through and help find all the slips in logic, continuity errors, bad grammar, uneven pacing, bad plot decisions, the usual stuff. Meanwhile, I will post soon some lessons I’ve learned this summer while revising this, plus excerpts from this working draft.

What are some of your favorite time travel books?

Just Pre-Ordered Everything I Know About Love I Learned From Romance Novels

Everything I Love I Learned From Romance NovelsWhew. That was a long title to type out. Anyway, am excited about this as it comes from one of my two favorite Smart Bitches, so it should prove to be an hilarious read while also defending the genre we know and love.

I became fans of Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan earlier this summer when a friend recommended their book Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels. It highlights the best and the worst of the genre, its evolution from bodice rippers, common tropes and clichés, and much much more (like the actual location of the hymen!), all delivered with wit and style.

Coming out soon is a solo project by Sarah – Everything I Know about Love I Learned from Romance Novels.

Since I haven’t read it yet, I’ll cheat and use the product description:

Take a dashing hero with a heart of gold and a mullet of awesome. Add a heroine with a bustle and the will to kick major butt. Then include enough contrivances to keep them fighting while getting them alone and possibly without key pieces of clothing, and what do you have? A romance novel. What else? Enough lessons about life, love, and everything in between to help you with your own happily-ever-after.

Lessons like…

Romance means believing you are worthy of a happy ending

Learning to tell the prince from the frog

Real-life romance is still alive and kicking

No matter how bad it is, at least you haven’t been kidnapped by a Scottish duke (probably)

Straight from the heart of influential romance blogger Sarah Wendell, this inventive gift book provides the best wisdom about love that the romance genre has to offer. Laced with signature witty commentary and peppered with thoughts from bestselling romance authors (Nora Roberts, Jennifer Crusie, Debbie Macomber, Eloisa James, Robyn Carr, and lots more) and avid readers, these pages will reveal what every romance reader already knows: while romances are certainly steamy, they have more to offer than just a sexy hero. In fact, they might have more to say about love than we give them credit for.

Tap, tap, tap…. is this thing on?

imageWelcome! Well, the first post is always awkward. You’re addressing no one as yet, but there’s a need to go ahead and get that first one up.

An introduction is probably in order: I’m Angela Quarles and I am in the process of finishing up the third draft of my time-travel romance To Our Future. It’s about a modern-day American who accidentally finds herself in 1834 London, England, where she runs into the likes of such historical figures as Ada Byron Lovelace (Lord Byron’s daughter), polymath Mary Somerville and Charles Babbage, the inventor of the Difference Engine. Hopefully, adventure and hilarity ensues. We’ll see. I’ll post a blurb about it soon…

About myself: I live in an historic house in the beautiful and quirky town of Mobile, AL, and enjoy the usual stuff like gardening, reading, hanging out, eating, drinking, chasing squirrels out of the walls and creating the occasional knitted scarf. I also dabble in Shaolin Kung Fu, which is probably the only purposeful exercise I get.

This being a blog post, I thought I should do the obligatory photo of the pets. Being a romance writer, I think it appropriate that I have two perfectly matched grays, Darcy and Bingley. You actually can tell them apart – Darcy is slightly darker and hardly talks, and Bingley is a talker. Both are sweet and loving; they are appropriately named.

The focus of this blog will probably morph over time, so I will not say definitively what the focus will be, but for now I picture that this will be a place where I will post writing tips, book reviews, musings, questions about my work in progress, the occasional rant, and the like.