In fiction writing, the technique of “show-don’t-tell” is a tool with the power to bring your stories to life. The basic idea behind show-don’t-tell is that instead of simply telling your readers what’s happening, you should show them through descriptive language, action, and dialogue. To do this effectively, keep the following in mind:
Use descriptive language to show-don’t-tell
Show-don’t-tell is all about using descriptive language to create vivid imagery and bring your story to life. Instead of simply telling your readers that a character is feeling sad, for example, you might describe their body language, facial expressions, or the way they speak.
Describe the action
Action and dialogue are powerful tools for showing your readers what’s happening in your story. Instead of telling your readers that a character is angry, for example, you might show them having an argument or physical altercation, describing the action blow-by-blow as it occurs.
Focus on body language
Show-don’t-tell is about allowing the reader to experience the story for themselves, rather than telling them how to feel. Avoid using words like “sad,” “happy,” or “scared” to describe a character’s emotions. Instead, let the reader infer the emotion from the character’s actions, body language, and dialogue.
Use sensory details to show-don’t-tell
The inclusion of sensory details—alluding to smell, taste, sound, and touch—creates a more immersive experience for your readers, creating a more vivid picture of the scene, helping your readers feel as if they are right there alongside your characters.
Don’t forget subtext
Subtext refers to unspoken thoughts, feelings, and motivations that are implied but not stated outright, allowing readers to infer a character’s feelings, motivations, and thoughts based on their actions and dialogue.
Show-don’t-tell is a storytelling technique that takes practice to master, so don’t shy away from investing time to perfect it. The more you write, the more you’ll learn about how to use descriptive language, action, dialogue, and other techniques to bring your stories to life.
In fiction writing, the technique of show-don’t-tell is a powerful tool that can help to bring your stories to life and make them more engaging for readers, creating vivid, immersive stories that will be sure to capture your readers’ imaginations.
Crafting stories for children, YA, and adult audiences
Writing for different age groups is a challenging task that requires a different approach for each target audience. Children, young adults (YA), and adult audiences all have different interests, reading levels, and attention spans. This blog post explores the different elements that go into crafting stories when writing for different age groups.
Writing for Children
When writing for children, it’s important to keep in mind that their attention span is shorter and their reading level is lower. The story should be simple and easy to understand, with plenty of illustrations and colorful imagery. The language should be simple and the sentences should be short. The story should also have a clear and easy-to-follow plot, with a clear moral or lesson at the end.
It’s also important to remember that children are still learning and developing their understanding of the world, so stories should include positive messages to help children learn about their surroundings, themselves, and others. Characters should be relatable and easy for children to understand and identify with.
Writing for Young Adults
Young adults have a more developed attention span and reading level, but they still have different interests and concerns than adults. When writing for YA, it’s important to remember that these readers are going through a lot of changes and are trying to figure out who they are and where they fit into the world.
The story should be more complex than for children, with a more intricate plot and more complex characters. The language should be more advanced, and the themes should be more mature. YA readers are looking for stories that reflect their own experiences and struggles, so it’s important to create relatable and realistic characters and situations.
Writing for Adults
When writing for adults, the attention span and reading level are no longer an issue. Adult readers are looking for stories that challenge them and make them think. The plot should be more complex and the themes should be more mature. The characters should be well-developed and their motivations should be clear.
Adult readers are also looking for stories that reflect the real world, so it’s important to create realistic and relatable characters and situations. Adult readers look for stories that make them feel something, whether it’s happiness, sadness, or fear.
Writing for different age groups requires a different approach for each target audience. Each group has different interests, reading levels, and attention spans. By understanding these differences and tailoring your story to your audience, you can create a story that will resonate with readers of all ages.
Book blurbs are summaries of your novel for the book jacket, back cover, or advertising copy. They are essential for the marketing and promotion of your book as they are the first things potential readers see when browsing for new books.
There are templates you could use when writing, but here are 5 things to keep in mind.
Why a good book blurb is important
A book blurb serves as a “sales pitch” for your book, giving readers a brief overview of the story and a taste of what to expect. It also helps them decide if they are interested in reading your book. A good book blurb is attention-grabbing, informative, and gives a sense of the book’s tone and genre.
How to write a compelling book blurb
Book blurbs should be around 200-300 words, long enough to give readers an idea of the story and the characters but not so long that it is overwhelming or drops spoilers.
2. Grab their attention
The first sentence should be attention-grabbing and make the reader want to read more. Use a quote from the book, an intriguing comment, or a question that piques the reader’s curiosity.
3. Introduce characters and storyline
The blurb should give a sense of who the main characters are and what the story is about. Be sure to mention the genre and the tone of the book.
4. Introduce the main conflict
The blurb should touch on the main conflict or problem the characters face in. This gives readers an idea of what to expect and makes them want to read the book to see how the conflict will be resolved.
5. Call to action
End the blurb with a call to action, such as “Find out what happens next” or “Join the journey,” something that encourages readers to pick up the book and start reading.
Two or three hundred words is not a lot of space to hook your reader, but don’t let its diminutive stature fool you. The book blurb is the first thing potential readers see, so make it short but sweet and include teasers enticing potential readers to pick up your book and continue reading your story from cover to cover.
Storytelling is an art form that has been around for thousands of years. It’s a way for people to share their experiences, beliefs, and values with others. Good storytelling forges emotional connections with the audience. The most powerful stories make the audience feel something, be it joy, sadness, fear, or excitement. To create this emotional connection, the storyteller must use a variety of techniques, such as
Characterization is creating believable, relatable characters with clear motivations, desires, and flaws. Your characters are people your readers will come to know and care about as they drive the action of your story forward. There should also be a clear arc of change in the character(s) throughout the story.
The setting is the place and time in which a story takes place. It should also add to a story’s atmosphere and mood.
Dialogue is the conversation that takes place between characters. It should be natural, believable, and reveal the characters’ personalities, emotions, and motivations.
5. Literary devices and descriptive language
Storytelling uses literary devices like symbolism, metaphor, and imagery, used to add depth and meaning to a story making it more memorable.
The language you use in your story is what brings it to life. Descriptive language uses vivid word pictures to help your readers visualize the world in which your story takes place. Use descriptive language to build layers in your story. This includes using symbolism (when an object or element is used to represent something else), metaphors (writing about one thing and describing it as if it were something else), and other literary devices to add depth and meaning to your story.
6. Balance showing and telling
The art of storytelling also finds a balance between showing and telling. Showing is when the storyteller describes what happens as the actions unfold (including thoughts and dialogue) while telling is when the storyteller simply gives information to state what is happening. Showing provides insight into the characters’ inner worlds of thought and emotion; telling lacks the same depth.
The key to a great story is the ability to create an emotional connection with the audience, and with the proper techniques, you can create stories that will stay with your readers long after they’ve finished reading.
When you’re an author, staying on top of your book sales data and understanding your readership is important. Not only will this information help you make informed decisions about your marketing and promotional efforts, but it will also help you to understand your readers’ preferences better. Here are some ways to use analytics and data to track book sales and understand your readership. Once you have this information, you will know what works and when to pivot your marketing efforts.
1. Reader data
One way to track book sales is to monitor data provided by retailers such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple Books, showing you how many copies of your book sell, information on the format (e.g., paperback, eBook), and the region where it sold. It will also tell you the date the books sold so you can correlate the sales with your marketing campaigns to know if they worked.
2. Understanding demographic data
Understanding the demographics of your readership is crucial for targeting your marketing efforts. Services such as Goodreads and Bookbub can collect data on the age, gender, location, and interests of your readers. This can help you identify patterns and preferences in your readership to tailor your marketing efforts to the right audience.
3. Social Media
Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram offer a wealth of data on your followers and readers. Tracking engagement on your social media accounts gives you insight into the posts and content that resonates with your audience, so that you can adjust your strategy accordingly.
4. Email marketing
Email marketing is a powerful tool for reaching your readers, and the data it provides can give you valuable insights. Services such as MailChimp offer data on open and click-through rates, which can help you identify the content and subject lines that resonate with your readers.
5. Book reviews as data
Reader reviews of your book can tell you what readers liked and didn’t like about your book, as well as what they thought could be improved. Review data can also identify trends and patterns in your feedback, so that you can adjust your writing and marketing strategies.
Whether you’re a self-published author or working with a traditional publisher, tracking book sales and understanding your readership is essential for success in the publishing industry.
In an earlier post, we discussed the importance of a strong beginning, but having a strong ending to your story is just as important. The end of your story is the last impression with which you will leave your readers, and it can make or break their enjoyment of your work. A weak ending can leave readers feeling unsatisfied, confused, or even angry, while a strong conclusion can leave them feeling fulfilled, satisfied, and eager to read more of your work.
Crafting a satisfying conclusion to your story is a delicate balance between wrapping up loose ends, resolving conflicts, and having a lasting impact on the reader. Here are a few tips that will help you do this and leave your readers wanting more:
1. Tie up loose ends.
Be sure to tie up all major plot points and conflicts introduced throughout the story, resolving them in a satisfying way. By doing this, your readers will feel they have a complete understanding of the story and that it all makes sense.
2. Resolve all conflicts.
The climax of your story should be the resolution of the central conflict, but it’s also essential to ensure that any subplots or minor conflicts get resolved. Subplots and other conflicts can be resolved anywhere in your manuscript, including before the climax (in the rising action) or after (in the falling action).
3. Leave a lasting impression.
The ending should be memorable and thought-provoking. It should leave your reader thinking about your story long after reading, whether it is a moral, message, or feeling.
Avoid using unnecessary plot twists or convoluted explanations in the ending (i.e., do not conclude your book with a huge passage of exposition, also known as information dump). Keep it simple and to the point.
A strong ending should tie up loose ends, resolve conflicts, and leave your reader with food for thought. If you keep these tips in mind, you are sure to write powerful endings that will leave your readers coming back for more.
Creating tension in a story—otherwise known as suspense—is a crucial element if you want to keep readers engaged and on the edge of their seats. It’s the art of building anticipation, uncertainty, and unease in the reader’s mind, making them eager to find out what happens next and keep turning pages. Some ways to incorporate suspense in your story include:
Foreshadowing is a technique in which the author gives the reader subtle hints or clues about future events in the story. This can create a sense of unease and anticipation, making the reader wonder what happens next.
Introducing elements of doubt or confusion creates uncertainty by keeping the reader guessing about what might happen next.
A cliffhanger ends chapters or scenes on a dramatic note or at the beginning of a new conflict. Cliffhangers include ending chapters or scenes mid-conflict. These are classic ways to build tension and suspense, leaving the reader wanting more.
4. A sense of danger
Introducing a menacing character, dangerous situation, or ticking clock, also introduces the threat of danger. This builds tension and unease.
Alternating fast-paced action scenes and slower, more contemplative ones can help keep the reader on the edge of their seats.
Tension and suspense: conclusion
Suspense is crucial for keeping readers engaged and making them want to read on and turn to the next page. By amping up the tension and suspense with each new chapter, your reader is sure to peruse your book from cover to cover and keep coming back for more.
Many self-published authors find it challenging to find reviewers. However, putting in the effort and remaining increases your book’s chance of being reviewed. Here are some tips to consider:
Reach out to book reviewers and introduce yourself and your book. Use a personalized cover letter that includes a book blurb. Here is a sample template you can use:
Dear [book blogger’s name],
I hope this letter finds you well. My name is [your name], and I am contacting you because I recently published a book I believe you would find interesting.
The book, titled [your book’s title] is a/an [your book’s genre] novel.
[1-2 paragraphs describing your book, similar to the back cover and/or sales copy blurb.]
I would be thrilled to have your expert opinion on it.
I came across your blog on the [website title where you found the blogger’s information] website, and I would be honoured if you would consider reviewing this book.
I am happy to provide you with a free digital copy of the book for your review. Please let me know which file type you prefer. I understand that you likely receive a large number of review requests, and I can wait until you are available. Additionally, I would be happy to participate in an author interview or provide any other information you might require.
Thank you for your time and consideration, and I look forward to hearing back from you.
1. Blogger list websites
You can find several reviewers for free at The Book Blogger Listand similar websites. These are sites on which bloggers post their contact information, looking for books to review. There are so many more authors than reviewers, so you will likely have to wait. Reading a book takes time, and there are so many more authors than reviewers.
2. Connect on social media
Use social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to promote your book and connect with book reviewers and bloggers. You can offer a free eCopy of your book in exchange for a review.
3. Online communities
Join online communities of self-published authors and book reviewers like GoodReads. You can connect with other authors and reviewer in online communities that may be interested in reviewing your book.
4. Advanced reader copies
Offer advanced reader copies (ARCs) of your books to reviewers for free for bloggers to read and review your book before it’s officially released. Providing ARCs is a great way to get copy and quotes for ads in the queue, ready for when your book is published.
5. Purchase a review
Some websites and blogs review self-published books for a fee. Keep in mind that Amazon might not approve paid reviews, but they are a way to get a quote from a reputable source for marketing campaigns.
6. Search for bloggers on your own
You can also contact book bloggers directly. Most reviewers maintain blogs and websites to showcase their work. Britbear Book Reviews (maintained by the owner of EMSA Publishing) is one such site. Submitting your book does not guarantee your book will be reviewed. However, the Britbear site does not post anything under three stars.
Culling reviews is time consuming but rewarding
Getting your book reviewed takes time, from composing a query letter, emailing it, receiving a response, and waiting for your book to be read and edited, but reaching out to reviewers is a great place to start. The key is to be persistent and patient and build relationships with reviewers.
Your narrative voice is the way you tell a story. The author’s personality and emotions as they tell the story make up their narrative voice. A strong narrative voice gives a story a unique tone and perspective, creating a sense of intimacy between the reader and the characters. It also makes the reader feel like they are a part of the story. Here are some tips to help you find your narrative voice when writing.
Make your narrative voice distinctively you.
Your voice is unique, reflecting your experiences, perspective on important themes, and writing style. Developing your personal voice is what will make you stand out as an author. The more books you read by the same author, the more you get to know their distinctive storytelling voice that helps their stories stand out.
Consider the point of view.
Deciding on the point of view can make or break a story. Each point of view has its benefits and drawbacks, so choose the one that best suits your story. For more on point of view, see “3 Popular Points of View.”
The point of view can make all the different for the story’s narrative tone. Here is a scene from The Guardian by Elise Abram, written in third-person limited point of view from the protagonist’s, Molly McBride’s, point of view:
Molly opened the door of the women’s dorm to a rush of stale, humid air. “Let’s get the windows open. Air this place out,” she said, wincing.
Once inside, she tried the lights. “Huh. Looks like the electrician’s a no-show, too,” she said.
The dormitory was a double trailer set up so that rooms ran down either side of the structure. Each dorm room contained two bunk beds. A lavatory incorporating several toilet stalls, a few shower stalls, and some sinks made up the dorm’s central block. A common room occupied the front quarter of the structure, furnished with a padded bench running along the front wall of the trailer and beneath a bank of windows.
“There’s supposed to be a washer and dryer in each dorm that hasn’t arrived yet. Surprise, surprise,” Molly said. She thought she saw a gleam in Clint’s eye, indicating how much he enjoyed her plans gone awry.
“The bathrooms are this way,” she said, leading them down a narrow hallway. She paused in the lavatory doorway. Because the washrooms were in the centre of the structure, there were no windows to aid in the illumination of the room. Gradually, her eyes adjusted to the lack of light, and she entered the lavatory, making a beeline for the first stall. She flushed the toilet; it worked. The sound of swirling water against porcelain was like music to her ears. “At least the septic system’s on line,” she said.
“Yeah, but no running water,” said Meagan, turning sink taps.
“So let me get this straight,” said Clint. “We can pee, but we can’t see to aim straight? Hitting a bulls eye’s hard enough in the light—any contingencies for cleaning near misses?”
“You are such a pig, Clint,” said Meagan.
“Too much information, buddy,” Gabriel said. He clapped Clint on the back on his way out of the room.
Third-person limited has the same parameters as first-person limited. This scene sets up the adversarial relationship between Clint and pretty much everyone else. The problem is that it lacks emotion, probably because Molly is more concerned about the field school running smoothly than she is Clint’s grudge. Molly is too busy exploring the trailer to care about much of anything else. This is why the narrative focuses on describing the setting.
The next excerpt is the same scene, described through Clint’s eyes:
McBride opens the door of the first trailer to a rush of stale, humid air that smells like dirty socks. “Let’s get the windows open, and air this place out,” says Mary Sunshine. She flicks the lights a few times, like if she can prime the switch she’ll eventually be able to pump some light into the joint. “Huh. No power,” she says, stating the obvious.
To call the battered, shoebox-sized trailers behind the house ‘dormitories’ is to call a prison cell the Taj Mahal. This is what we’re forced to call home for the next few weeks. The front door opens into a common room that occupies the front quarter of the metal structure. There’s a padded bench under the portal windows near the door, and a washer and drier in the corner. The rest of the trailer is furniture free, save for two, bivouac-style metal bunks, in each stall that tries to pass as a dorm room.
“The bathrooms are this way,” McBride says, drawing our attention to what was supposed to be the lavatory in the centre of the trailer. Though the room’s dark, what with no electricity and no windows, I can make out several toilet stalls, some shower stalls and sinks.
McBride pushes past Sykes and I where she makes a beeline for the nearest stall. She flushes the toilet and I can barely hear her sigh of what sounds like relief over the well-water sluicing around the bowl. “At least the septic system’s on line,” she says
“Yeah, but there’s no running water,” says Sykes, turning sink taps like he’s tuning the radio or something.
I think about this for a minute. “So let me get this straight,” I say.” We can pee, but we can’t see far enough to aim straight?”
McBride clucks her tongue against her teeth and shakes her head either in disgust or frustration at me, I ‘m not sure with. Six of one, half-a-dozen of the other; I’m quite content with either reaction.
“Too much information, buddy,” says Sykes. He claps me twice on the back, hard, like we’re good buddies or something, on his way out of the room.
Told in first-person limited from Clint’s point of view, this scene is more descriptive and vivid. It focuses on what’s going on inside Clint’s head. As a result, the animosity between the two characters is brought to life. This is because Clint cannot get over his resentment of Molly being his boss. The narrative focuses on what’s going on in Clint’s head, so the animosity between the characters takes the forefront in favour of describing the setting.
The choice to switch the point of view and the point of view character brings the scene to life while making it more interesting for the reader.
Narrative techniques include stream-of-consciousness, writing from multiple perspectives, and unreliable narrators. These techniques can help create suspense and interest in your stories, setting them apart from other authors.
Read like a writer to develop your narrative voice.
Reading widely will help you to develop your narrative voice. The next time you read a book, read like a writer instead of a reader. Question every choice the author makes, asking yourself why the author included each element of the story and its purpose. Reading different authors and genres will help you become familiar with various narrative voices and techniques that you can borrow for use in your own stories.
A strong narrative voice can make a story more engaging, memorable, and powerful. It is the voice of the author and/or narrator that sets the tone of the story. A distinct narrative voice can make your story stand out, connecting you to your readers.
If you are struggling to develop your narrative voice, EMSA Publishing can help. Contact us for a developmental edit of your manuscript. For more details, see our page on developmental editing specifics.
Scene (aka section) and chapter breaks are important structural tools, indicating to the reader that something in the setting has changed. They can also indicate flashbacks and signal changes in time, location, and point of view. Using scene and chapter breaks is a good way for authors to control the flow of their stories. Chapter breaks are usually indicated by starting a new page and assigning a chapter number. Scene breaks can be indicated by an extra line between paragraphs, asterisks, or some other symbol.
Use scene and/or chapter breaks to
Indicate a change in the narrative.
Scene and chapter breaks indicate the passage of time, a location change, or introduce a shift in the point of view character. They can also introduce new characters or plot points. For example, you might use a chapter break to indicate a change in point of view or narrative style.
Fallen Angel is mainly written in first person limited point of view using Braelynn as the point of view character. However, some chapters show the reader what is happening in the world of Samael, the antagonist, before they meet. These chapters are written in third person omniscient point of view.
On the left is the last page of one of Samael’s chapters.
On the right is the first page of chapter 2. Note the difference in point of view and narrative style. As the two differ significantly in tone and voice, so a chapter break is a good way to let the readers know to expect something completely different moving forward.
Scene 1: the beginning of the chapter. It begins after one event has concluded (the girls go up against the leader of a gang of greaser vampires and survive). Because the girls must attend class or get into trouble for skipping, they cannot debrief.
Scene 2: time has passed. The girls are now in the middle of class. The author inserts a section break and skips all the irrelevant stuff that has happened since the last section, helping the story to move quickly forward. The girls hatch a plan to fake a bathroom break and meet in the stairwell.
Scene 3: the setting changes. The girls are now in the stairwell instead of the classroom. There is no need to show Braelynn getting up from her desk and walking down the hall to the stairwell, so the author uses a section break to show the change in setting.
Scene and chapter breaks also signal a change in tone or point of view. For example, the shift from one point of view character to another can be indicated by a section or chapter break, allowing the reader to follow the different perspectives of the story easily.
You can also assign different section breaks for different purposes. In a single chapter, for example, you can use “soft” section breaks to show a change in setting or the passage of time. Indicate this with an extra blank line between sections. “Hard” section breaks might show a change in point of view. For example, showing the same events from two different characters’ points of view. Indicate this with asterisks or some other symbol between sections.
Scene breaks are transitions between scenes. Use a scene break to get the characters from one plot point to another. Your book does not unfold in real time. You can speed up or slow down the narrative with your sentence, paragraph, and scene structure. Scene breaks help speed up the narrative by telling your story and skipping the boring stuff that would otherwise transition your characters from one plot point to the next.
Experiment with different types of breaks, such as flashbacks, flash-forwards, and cliffhangers, to add variety and interest to your story. By using chapter and scene breaks effectively, you can tighten up the structure of your story, making it easier for readers to follow the action of your carefully constructed plot.
The next time you write, think about how you can add scene and/or chapter breaks to your writing to help structure and control your narrative.