Before we begin, practice healthy creative habits: Clear your space of clutter, set aside some time to focus and spend 2-3 minutes doing your Daily Free Writing before you begin. See Lesson 2 for more about DFW.

We’re getting close to the end, so let’s look at your individual chapters. Here’s today’s challenge, and it’s a big one: are you telling or showing?

Storytelling through action

I do this for my own work and it changes the energy of a chapter immediately. I read everything with a careful eye for all the times I duck out of storytelling mode and start giving a lot of exposition or description. The question is simple: is there a way to convey this message in an active scene. Is it really necessary for me to go into explainer mode? Does it need to be said? Can it be shown?

For example: you might spend a chapter describing why you’re doing what you’re doing. That’s okay. But consider if it would be better if you could tell a story that illustrated that same concept. “I couldn’t stand my job, so I quit to travel the world,” becomes, “So there was my boss, holding a dead fish over my desk and I had one of those out of body moments, and hours later, half way through a bottle of shiraz, I pressed ‘buy’. I bought a ticket to Spain.”

Or better yet, you tell a few stories and you bring the reader along with you, so they can see and feel what it was like at your job, how it got worse, the funny/sad desperation of that time, and by the end they think, “Of course, she had to quit,” when you reveal the strange way the decision came over you.

You know your book. There are some things you just have to explain. But storytelling is hard and as writers we often back away from painful truths or tricky problems by slipping into this passive voice that keeps a nice emotional distance from the action. You don’t want to be the announcer in the stands, you want to be the player in the field.

Your assignment:

Chapter by chapter, review your outline for these opportunities. You will feel stuck. You will feel resistance. You will feel like, “Ugh, I don’t want to do this…” but for now, just tag it. Make a note that this is an area you’re going to have to tackle when you start writing.

1Daily Free Writing
2Chapter-by-chapter analysis of Showing verses Telling.