Friday, April 15, 2011

Show Me a Story

I wrote a short story two years ago.  Looking back on it, it is fair to say that it needed A LOT of work.  But I liked the story idea and decided to return to it.  I also realized that it was not a short story but, at a minimum, a novella.

But it also gives me an opportunity to talk about a major issue I see in many of the things I have read lately.  It is the natural tendency of all new writers, myself included, to tell more than we show. 

Warning the two excerpts below are mine and mine alone. No one lese can take the blame. The second is the first re-write of the original.  I do not promise mind-blowing literature.

Original Version
Energized by her plan, Nora was the picture of industry.  She opened the shop promptly at nine the next morning and each subsequent morning.  She spent extra time with the regulars who came to offer condolences and support.  She set out fragrant mulled cider and a guest book for customers to enter their contact information, including e-mail address.  Between customers, she cleaned and rearranged inventory, taking digital pictures of attractive pieces; certain a website featuring the store would enhance the value of the business.

Re-write #1     Only 15 more to go!

“I’m surprised you re-opened so soon, dear.”

Nora set the digital camera down beside an ancient looking stone figure and turned to the white haired woman whose shawled shoulders barely cleared the top of the Belleek china display case.  She wracked her brain for the woman’s name, there had been so many at the wake. Bernadette Doyle, originally from a Irish farm in West Meath, that was it,

“Morning, Mrs. Doyle. Can I pour some mulled cider?”

“Just a touch, dear.”  She ensconced herself in the rocker that Aunt Evelyn had kept by the register for certain regulars, like Mrs. Doyle.

“I wanted to thank you again for coming to Aunt Evelyn’s funeral and for all your help with the repast.”  Nora set the fragrant mug of cider on the counter.  She slid the brown leather guest register aside. A wayward spill would smear the few names and email addresses she already collected.

“Ooh, is that one of those digital cameras?  My granddaughter has one.  She wants to e-mail me pictures. Can you imagine?”

Nora had to smile.  For a woman that lived in Tribeca for forty years, Mrs. Doyle still oozed the countryside outside Athlone. “I was taking pictures of some of Aunt Evelyn’s finer pieces to put on the Internet.”

“Your Aunt Evelyn would be proud of what you’ve done with the place already.”  Mrs. Doyle raised the cup to her lips. “The Singing Stone and all its wonders are in good hands.  We’re all glad you’re staying, Nora.”

She turned away from the inquisitive stare of the old woman.  Did Mrs. Doyle suspect what Nora was really planning?


Okay readers, which scene do you like better?  Trick question, right?  The question is why?  We all know in our gut which one, but putting it into words makes for sharper readers and better writers. I'm not going to tell you. 

So tell us why in the comments below. Perhaps, share your experience with a re-write or something you read that grabbed you or fell flat.


  1. I like the rewrite best because the characters had depth and suddenly they were real people with real problem under the surface. They had families, plans, and motivation.

  2. I like the rewrite as well. The rewrite encompasses everything the original does, but through the dialogue we learn more about Nora. Instead of telling us what she did to reopen the store, you showed us. I agree with Lizzie, Nora became a real person with real hopes and dreams in the rewrite :)

  3. I liked the rewrite. Critics today are so big on being too wordy, but in this instance you have given heart to the story.

  4. The first example I'd call "narrative bridge." Only to be used when I need to reveal the passage of time and occurrence of certain off-screen events quickly in order to get at more pivotal action faster. Yes, it's telling, and telling should be used sparingly, if at all. But I "cheat" and use it now and again because sometimes it seems right for the story. And I embed such narrative paragraphs at the beginnings of those pivotal action scenes as my hero's thoughts. That way, the reader gets the information, boom, and we're also launched into the heart of the important action in the next paragraph.

    The other is a full-on scene with dialogue. IOW, showing. Which is ideally what we all want to do all of the time. The opening pages of HUNGER GAMES stick with me as a gorgeous example of summoning vivid images.

  5. Thank you all,
    When I first began to study the craft of writing, I was all tell and no show. I learned from a wonderful mentor and great crit partners that the goal of the writer in a good story is to draw the reader into the world and keep them there. If we are any good at what we do, our reader forgets what is around them. The best way to do that by showing. Also imp is not to do anything that pulls the reader out of the story such as sudden POV shifts. But more on that in a later post.