"Show, don't tell!"
I'm sure most of us are familiar with this request. Indeed, this tip finds its way into nearly every list of writing tips and tricks. However, what can get confusing is how to go about solving this issue, one which every writer will come across now and again. Oftentimes in writing, one may be tempted to write a sentence which is similar to this one:
Leigh felt overcome by grief.
The problem with this sentence is easy to identify: the author is telling, not showing, how the character (Leigh) feels. The solution, then, is to change the sentence so that it shows the reader that Leigh feels overcome by grief rather then telling the reader that she feels that way. The trick to this is to let the readers draw their own conclusions instead of giving them the information outright. In this example, we may rewrite the sentence like this:
Leigh's knees buckled, and she collapsed to the ground, sobbing, tears coursing down her cheeks.
This sentence does not tell the readers outright the emotion Leigh is experiencing, but instead gives them the evidence necessary to conclude that our character has been overcome with grief. In another example, we may seek to convey that our character by the name of Nayeli has begun to develop a crush on another character, Zach. A telling sentence may be something like this:
Nayeli could sense that she was beginning to develop a crush on Zach.
Again, this leaves no room for the reader to guess or draw conclusions using evidence. It is almost as if the author jumps right out of the story, exclaiming, "Hey, reader! Nayeli's crushing on Zach! Just your friendly neighborhood author keeping you updated!"
This is a bad idea for two reasons: One, if the aforementioned did indeed happen, it's reasonable to assume that your reader would drop the book at once, never to pick it up again. Two, this approach obviously disrupts the mystery and discovery of reading. As an author, I'd like my readers to gather the evidence themselves, debate among themselves as to what will happen next, and so forth. This sentence destroys the possibility of that. Nayeli is cultivating a crush on Zach, end of story. A rewrite would give clues that Nayeli feels this way, rather than asserting so in blatant terms.
When Zach brushed Nayeli's hand, she felt her heart jump inside of her rib cage, and she noticed a warm sensation spreading throughout the apples of her cheeks.
The now revised sentence shows Nayeli's emotions towards Zach in a way which is obvious, yet not as obvious as merely stating her romantic attraction.
Where the "show, don't tell" advice gets particularly tricky is when one is dealing with a first-person narrative. Since this type of storytelling involves being inside the mind of a character, it can be very tempting to merely have said character state their thoughts and feelings to the readers. Let's say our narrator, Leigh Jr., has an aversion to entering a certain building. One could end up writing a sentence like this:
I did not want to set foot inside that ugly shack.
Now, there are times when a sentence such as this will suffice. However, there is a trick: the sentence does not fill the shoes of emotion communication on its own. It must be backed by a couple of preceding sentences, which will show Leigh Jr.'s emotion before she tells the audience how she feels.
I gulped back a lump in my throat and wiped my sweaty palms on my robe. Holding my breath, I crept closer to the shack, which stunk of rotting wood. I wrinkled my nose and forced myself to continue towards it, even though I did not want to set foot inside that ugly shack.
Here we have some scene building before Leigh Jr. communicates her disgust outright (which is consistent with her character, I might add). Again, this helps the readers establish for themselves the thoughts and emotions which Leigh Jr. is experiencing before she reveals them.
Transforming your own sentences from sentences that telling to showing is deceptively simple. The key is to ask yourself, "How do I show (x)?" To show indecisiveness, one could describe the tense moments of hesitation, show the character's eyes darting back and forth, and so on. To show anger, clenched fists, a raised voice, or, for first-person narratives, "seeing red" will communicate that emotion. Tension in a relationship can be communicated by avoidance of eye contact and aversion to touch, among other things. Another good strategy is to have one character call another out. Instead of telling the reader that the character Zenith feels ill, our character Zach can notice that Zenith seems a bit pale, or that he is bent over as if in pain. Dialogue can also serve to show such things, in this case, Zach asks Zenith if he feels all right, and Zenith's answer shows that he is indeed feeling quite sick.
In conclusion, by watching your sentences and making sure that you let the reader gather their own evidence, you can improve your writing significantly. What better time to do this than the month in which many of us are seeking to write upwards of 50,000 words?
Go forth and show the world what a great writer you are!
Happy Writing and don't forget to vote!
-H. R. Kasper
The wait is over! I am so excited to share with you the completed cover for The ShadowMaster! This cover was designed by Adrijus G. of Rocking Book Covers and I can't even begin to rave about how fantastic he was! He was very patient with each revision and didn't mind my numerous last-minute changes. He also had a great eye for design and made recommendations for a better-looking cover. If you're looking for a cover designer I highly recommend him and suggest you check out his other work!
Here is a never-before-seen sneak peek at The ShadowMaster, which will be available for pre-order on Amazon December 3rd!
Then the light vanished, and everything was dark. “Leigh?” I whispered. “Where are we? What did you do?”
“I’m not sure…” she answered, her voice quavering. Just then I heard footsteps. Torches were lit, and I looked around at what appeared to be an arena of sorts. People began to swarm in, taking seats in the stands, the seats of which seemed like they were made of black velvet. These people emanated darkness. Noxans.
“Leigh, what have you done?” I said in a small voice, a crack of fear showing through.
Tears were in my sister’s dark purple eyes. “I—I don’t know, Zach!” she responded, her voice heavy with stress.
A loud voice filled the arena. “Today!” it said. “Today we gather for the choosing of a new leader!” cheers inundated the dimly lit arena. “Three enter,” said the man, who was standing in the middle of a triangular area, fenced off from the rest of the place. “Only one will rule.” I bit my lip. I did not like the sound of that. “Xavier Leon, of the X clan,” the man announced as a tall, lanky boy who couldn’t have been more than seventeen climbed into the triangle. Shouts rang out. Some cheered for Xavier. Others called out insults. “Yeraldina Warett, of the Y clan.” A sturdy girl of medium height entered the triangle. Again, some shouted their approval, while others yelled things like, “Kill her!” I looked at Leigh, grimacing.
“I’m trying to get us out of here, but I can’t,” she told me.
The man spoke up again. “Lastly, Zynthia Avariss, of the Z clan.” I snapped to attention, as did Leigh.
“Zynthia!” I rasped as she clambered into the triangle. She looked younger, about fifteen years old. She looked at Xavier, and her eyes widened in seeming horror and disbelief. Her chest heaving, she glanced about her as if looking to escape somehow.
The man smiled, still standing in the center of the triangle. I realized he was not very tall, for Zynthia towered over him, even standing in her assigned corner. “You all know the rules. The duel begins now!” he cried, ducking out of the triangle.
I hope you enjoyed the sneak peek! I have even more news. My first book, The Mirror, has been marked down to 99 cents today, in celebration of the cover reveal (and also
since it's Cyber Monday). Pick up your e-book copy
The official preorder release date for The ShadowMaster is December 3rd. There will also be a blog tour starting that day. The schedule is down below. Also, check out the print cover of
The ShadowMaster, located underneath this post.
Blog Tour Schedule
December 3rd: Cori Dyson's Blog
December 4th: Michelle
December 5th: Georgia Crisp's
December 6th: Margo Bond Collins'
December 7th: Diamante Lavandar's
*this is not the final schedule, blogs may be added so stay tuned!
My post today is about something which is an important element in every story: the antagonist. Without the antagonist, there would be no conflict, no problem, and either no story or an extremely boring narrative which would not be worth reading.
If you were to look up the definition of the word antagonist in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, this is what you’d find:
1: one that contends with or opposes another: adversary, opponent
That’s a rather broad definition. I personally think there are two categories of antagonists:
1. Humanoid antagonists
2. Intangible antagonists
Humanoid antagonists are antagonists who are characters in the story. They are living, breathing beings with a mind, heart, and soul hell-bent on making things extremely difficult for the protagonist, whether they personally know that or not.
Intangible antagonists are antagonists that are not animate beings, but still set back and hinder the protagonist and his or her buddies. For example, the traumatic experience of a plane crash impedes a high school girl from taking the trip to Paris she’s always dreamed of.
For my part, I’ve done more work with humanoid antagonists than intangible ones, and I will focus on them more—also, humanoid antagonists require so much more work, as they are
self-conscious and not merely a single experience or struggle.
When I sit down to watch a movie (which isn’t all that often, mind you—I’m more likely to be writing up a storm or reading another book on my kindle), I often assess the characters and plot from a writer’s point of view. I watch closely for character development, among other things. I also pay close attention to the antagonist, or, in the words of a child under seven, the "bad guy".
As a general rule, villains who are evil just because…they’re evil—they’ve always been that way, always will be, and that’s just how it is, those villains are one of my pet peeves. They have no characteristics except for their bone-chilling, wicked ways, which have no explanation and possibly no motive behind them. Now, sometimes that kind of villain can work, I will admit, but more often than not they end up being cardboard, two-dimensional, and not scary at all.
A better kind of antagonist or villain is what I like to call the sympathetic antagonist. This antagonist has both an explanation and a motive for their barbaric actions. A (somewhat geeky) example is Loki in the Marvel movies. Oh, yes, he has quite the list of dastardly deeds. Yet beneath that crazy dictator-magician exterior there lies a heart, which we often see evidence of, from his agreement to help his adopted brother to the tears in his eyes as he sits in his jail cell. Now he is a "good", well-written and carefully characterized villain, a character that the audience can love and hate at the same time, all the while wondering what he will do next. This is the type of villain I love to write, read about, and see in movies.
How does one go about creating this sort of antagonist? It’s a simple process, with a good deal of brainstorming involved, just like almost anything in writing.
I like to look at something I call the F.A.H. factor first. Why does this "bad guy" do what he or she does? Why do they have evil plans to take over the world? Why are they intent on punching every brunette man with a goatee? Why does the sight of a Chinese buffet make them clench their fists?
That above is the F.A.H. factor, the three main things which often drive a well-characterized antagonist. Now the questions must be asked: Fear of what? Anger towards whom? Hatred of where?
Maybe…the fear of overpowering governments is what drives our villain to devise a plan to take over the world. Perhaps…the anger she feels towards her jerk-wad ex-boyfriend is behind her punching every brunette man with a goatee. Her father was fatally poisoned at a Chinese buffet…which is why she hates the sight of one.
Now we have an antagonist our reader can sympathize with, even when she punches our brunette, goateed hero square in the face. After giving her ‘the character treatment’, which consists of detailing personal appearance, some likes and dislikes, and overall personality, she can make the jump to the pages of our story.
Farrah Algonquin walked down the dark alley, shoving her hands deep into the pockets of her tattered jeans. At last, she would meet the mysterious stranger who had been fighting her plans to take over the world before dictatorship did. She slipped through a battered door and descended creaking steps to a dank, musty room, lit only by a single lightbulb. A man was bound to a chair, his mouth muffled and his eyes covered. The men who had been standing over him straightened at her arrival, and one walked over to her. "Here he is, Quinn. We followed him to a Chinese Buffet and were able to detain him." Farrah barely repressed a shudder. "Excellent work, J.P.," she answered, patting him on the shoulder. She
smeared some magenta lipstick on her lips before removing both the blindfold and gag. The man blinked. He had brown hair and a goatee. As soon as Farrah registered that, her fist shot out, connecting with his jaw.
I don’t know about you, but I like Farrah. She’s an antagonist, no doubt, one which the hero is actively working against. Yet she doesn’t exactly have horns coming out of her head. Lastly, although she makes a lot of people shudder she’s not exactly fearless and unfeeling herself. Although the reader may be cheering for our unnamed hero, they are wondering a little bit about Farrah and hopefully sympathizing with her, if only a little bit. That’s the mark of a "good" "bad guy".
-H. R. Kasper
Great news! The cover of The ShadowMaster will be revealed on Monday, November 30th! There is a ThunderClap going on
right now and all supporters will receive a coupon code for a discount on a paperback copy of The ShadowMaster! Also, on Monday the preorder and blog tour details will be posted as well. I'm so
excited for all of this and I hope you are, too!
- H. R. Kasper
Maybe you're wondering. What is #IndieBooksBeSeen? Is it a support group? A website? The answer is neither. #IndieBooksBeSeen is a hashtag created by author Mark Shaw which subsequently
united independent authors around the globe. Independent or "Indie" authors have rallied to support each other's works, letting them be seen by the public. Mainstream authors have jumped on the
bandwagon as well, along with booktubers and bloggers who want to draw attention to all the fantastic self-published books out there.
Want to join us?
If You're An Indie Author
The main idea behind #IndieBooksBeSeen is authors supporting authors and working together to accomplish what they can't get done alone. I hope you can bring your talents to the table and join
Hello again! I've been quite busy lately, as I've been balancing writing The ShadowMaster and overseeing a re-editing and formatting of The Mirror. I'm happy to announce that the improved editions of The Mirror are in the review process and will be ready for purchase within a few days.
I'm also wrapping up the first draft of The ShadowMaster. Editing and formatting will follow, and so will information on the blog tour, cover reveal, pre-order date (oh goodness! I'm making myself excited!), and more. The ShadowMaster has been such fun to write and I simply cannot wait to share it. The stakes will be heightened and you'll be seeing a few new faces. I should stop before I spoil the entire plot. If I can remember to do so I will clean up a couple of paragraphs to post for a sneak peek. That's all for now!