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Thursday, October 27, 2016


The Problem With Telling, Not Showing Telling
By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

      Writing styles evolve and change, and reader taste changes with them. One of the more obvious ways is how we handle show, don't tell. A hundred years ago, books were filled with told prose and heavy passages of description. Books written as recently as a few decades ago can feel dated and stale to today’s readers. The more visual we’ve become as a society, the more shown we expect our books to be.
      This is why it’s so important to understand what telling is, what it sounds like, and how it affects your writing, so you can best judge how to handle it. The thriller writer who uses omniscient point of view with multiple characters has different needs than the first-person point of view young adult writer. The same sentence can feel told in one passage and shown in another.
      Because of this, there are two sides to the show, don’t tell problem:
     • Problems writers face
     • Problems readers face

Problems Readers Face
      Readers might say, “Tell me a story,” but a great story is more than relaying facts and details in a logical order. Readers want an immersive experience with enough descriptive details to bring a story to life in their heads.
      Telling robs them of that chance. It explains all the reasons why things are as they are, it telegraphs what’s going to happen, and it leaves little to the imagination. It’s the difference between seeing a movie, and having someone tell you all about the movie, describing it scene by scene.
      Half the fun of reading is anticipating what’s going to happen next and how the story will unfold. Readers love to wonder about the characters and try to figure out the plot twists and story secrets ahead of time. If it’s too easy, or all the answers are told to them, there’s really no point in reading.
      What a reader considers good writing also varies. Readers of literary fiction might want as many adjectives and word pictures as they can get, enjoying the wordplay and use of language. Readers of thrillers might prefer a little explanation (telling) to keep the pace moving quickly, while romance readers want the focus on the emotions and how everyone feels more than dramatizing the action.

For example:
     • Monique dashed along the riverbank, sending flowers dancing into the air, only to land softly on the gentle waves before sinking below the surface.
     • Monique raced along the river bank, seconds ahead of the killer.
     • Monique ran along the riverbank, Philippe’s warm hand in hers, soft as the flowers beneath their feet.

Problems Writers Face
      The number-one problem writers face is finding and identifying told prose in their work. It’s hard to be objective, and reading your own words as you “tell” your story feels perfectly normal. Writing, “John was angry about getting fired” is exactly what’s going on in the story. John is angry about getting fired and you’re writing all about his anger and what he does about it. You imagine all the emotions, thoughts, and actions that support John’s anger, but often, those details never make it onto the page.
      Let’s take this sentence and expand it into a typical paragraph that might start a chapter or scene:
     John was angry about getting fired. He yelled at his wife, his kids, even the neighbors. None of his friends wanted to talk to him, and it had gotten so bad they pretended not to see him when they ran into him at the grocery store. Naturally, this pissed him off even more, and it was the poor dog that suffered his wrath.
     Is this paragraph shown or told?
      Some people will say this paragraph is shown, but others will say it’s told—and they’re both right. What the writer intends this paragraph to do will determine whether or not it feels told.
      • If this paragraph was intended as a quick summary and the point of the scene built off John being angry, this paragraph could smoothly set the scene and readers would read right past it.
      • If this paragraph was meant to show how badly John is treating his family and friends, and this is all the reader gets to understand that, then it probably feels told and explanatory.
      • If this is from a omniscient narrator, it probably feels shown, but if this is John’s point of view, it likely feels like a summary of a scene, not an actual scene. Look at what happens when I dramatize this sentence instead:
      John slammed the door behind him. Who did that stuffed shirt think he was anyway? Fire him? That cesspool of an office would wither and die without him.
      “You’re home early,” Maria said, coming in from the kitchen.
      “Am I interrupting your bon-bon eating or something?”
      Her smile faded. “What’s wrong?”
      “I don’t get any damn respect, that’s what’s wrong.”
      When you compare the two pieces now, how do you feel about them? Odds are the first feels much more told and summarized, while this feels shown and in the moment. It’s obvious John is angry and lashing out, it’s clear why, and you’re probably much more curious about what will happen next than you were in the first paragraph—maybe even dreading what John might do.
      This is why it’s hard to spot told prose. Often, told prose stands out when compared to how the rest of the novel is written. A tiny bit of detached, explanatory prose here and there blends in and bothers no one, but use a lot of it, and the entire novel feels flat.
      The second major problem writers face is that both readers and others writers have different opinions on:
• How much telling is acceptable
• What telling sounds like
• What to do about told prose in a manuscript
      The person who prefers distant third-person narrators will have a higher acceptance for told prose than the first-person fan. The point of view styles are handled differently, and readers react differently as well. It’s very subjective.
      Don’t let this discourage you, however. Understanding this annoying fact is what will allow you to really understand what show, don’t tell means. You won’t be following inflexible rules, but looking at your work and determining where it feels weak and how it could be made stronger.
      Do you struggle with show, don't tell?
      Check out my new book, Understanding Show, Don't Tell (And Really Getting it), and learn what show, don't tell means, how to spot told prose in your writing, and why common advice on how to fix it doesn't always work.

      Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of The Healing Wars trilogy and the Foundations of Fiction series, including Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, and Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft. She's also the founder of the writing site, Fiction University. For more advice and helpful writing tips, visit her at or @Janice_Hardy.
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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Why so quiet? Formative Reviews Time!

Have you wondered why I've not shared a big outing, meal or adventure of late? It's because it's time for formative reviews. We're already half way through our fall semester (can you believe it!?) and this is a marker for how we students are doing.
     Monday I turned in what I have so far of my dissertation. Must admit, I geeked out and overwrote my topic. But this will be the only opportunity I have for my tutor to actually see and comment on my work specifically before the actual deadline. Academic writing is new to me, so I'm trying to learn as much as I can at this stage.
     The other formative review is for my studio course. Here's what my desk looks like as I type.
     We aren't allowed in the studio as our tutors go over our projects to see what we've been up to. Here, I'm showing five projects along with some outside projects. (I have two volunteer positions going on - one for Authors for Refugees and I'm also the class rep this year.)
     None of my projects are complete at this stage, but they're all coming along quite well. I'm pleased.
     But I'm also antsy. I have so much to do! I need back in my studio with all my stuff so that I can keep working!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Coloring Page Tuesday - Halloween Story Time

     Halloween is Monday - are you ready? If you don't want to hand out candy, and you aren't a business, feel free to hand out my coloring pages instead! CLICK HERE for more Halloween-themed coloring pages!
     CLICK HERE to sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially...
my debut novel, A BIRD ON WATER STREET - winner of six literary awards. Click the cover to learn more!
     When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner's strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most.
     I create my coloring pages for teachers, librarians, booksellers, and parents to enjoy for free with their children, but you can also purchase rights to an image for commercial use, please contact me. If you have questions about usage, please visit my Angel Policy page.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

VIDEO: Never Alone

A classmate turned me onto this game available for iPad and iPhone (maybe Android too), NEVER ALONE. I don't really play games and I don't have the right device, but I was still able to enjoy the video about the story behind this gorgeous app. Click the image to watch a short video about it.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Bomi Park's FIRST SNOW

We're getting a bit frosty before it's time, but I have to share this fabulous debut picture book by Bomi Park. All the way from Seoul, South Korea, she stopped by to discuss it with us...
e: What is your creative process, can you walk us through it?
Bomi: Out of the many possible subject matters, I’m always observing and keenly thinking about certain images, topics, or short words that might become seeds for my stories. If a seed has the potential to sprout, I save them up no matter what it is. Out of those seeds, I draw a thumbnail sketch which gives me a general idea of the story’s plot or allows me to examine whether the seed provides the framework to become a long story or not. Then I flesh it out.
      However, one slight difference I had from other authors was that I went from drawing a thumbnail to the original picture directly without sketching for three of my picture books (including books not yet published). You could say that it is like a composer who directly recorded a song through improvisation without making sheet music.
      The fact that this process was possible with three of my picture books was in a way really fortunate for me. It was because I was able to complete the books without much trouble or difficulty. However, I decided to change my method after experiencing a great slump from relying on intuition. After much trial and error, currently I’m sketching out all of the pictures and coloring them after some corrections. I don’t think that my first method of relying on intuition is wrong. This is because each author has his or her own way.
      I’m not sure how my process will change in the future. The biggest charm and appeal of drawing a picture book is changing my methods every time I run into difficulty and uncertainty.
e: What is your medium?
Bomi: It is hard to choose just one material among those that I’m familiar with.
      If it’s a material that best corresponds to the feeling of the subject, I don’t limit myself to one material or several materials. Instead I try to use everything that is on hand.
      I don’t really differentiate the process of sketching and coloring. I also don’t prefer planning out the process either.
      The main materials for “First Snow” were pencils, acrylic paint, oil pastel, ink sticks, digital work and others. However, the most important material was “paper” that had a rich texture. I spent a lot of time figuring out how to express white snow on white paper.
      The solution to that was using a paper with grain thick enough to hold slightly heavier paint and crayon. I wanted to express the warm and tender feeling of snow.

e: Is there a unique or funny story behind the creation of this story?
Bomi: “First Snow” was a picture that I painted to complete my course at an illustration school.
      While taking courses for several months, I put a lot of effort into making a three dimensional miniature house for an exhibition with the topic of “season” and “house.” However, less than one month before the exhibition I realized that my plan and image concept was wrong. I was devastated.
      However, I didn’t want to give up on the exhibition and after a lot of thinking I came up with a new plan called “First Snow.”
      I didn’t have much time, so I thought of the clearest image inside me and that image was of “A child rolling a snowball on a snowy day.”
      This was because I had worked for 6 years as a Christmas card designer before I became a picture book author. So it wasn’t difficult for me to think of winter and in a way it was the most natural thought I could come up with.
      It was only during the publish process that text was added. In other words, until the exhibition the book had been a picture book without text. Since the picture book didn’t have any text, each reading of the book had its own interpretation. This was amazing and very interesting. There were those who interpreted the book as a fantasy of a boy who couldn’t walk. Even now, after the picture book was published with the text, I think how it would have been like if it didn’t have the text.
      Although at the time I was bewildered from having illustrated the book in such a short amount of time, now I realize that it was the picture book that most reflected compared to other books I spent more time on. It is said that each author has his or her own breathing rate. I think my breathing rate must be very short.
      (I’m currently working on a nonfiction picture book with 100 pages and it’s just exhausting.)
e: What is your favorite or most challenging part of being a creator?
When I was little, I was the only child in a large extended family made up of adults. Although I received a lot of love and attention as the only child in the house, I was always lonely. Living under a quiet and serious atmosphere and being unable to play carefree as a child should, I spent most of time alone imagining trivial things and thinking of fantasies. Rather, I grew up as a mature child who hid her feelings to understand the adults.
      That may have been the reason, that even though I grew up to become an adult, I still developed a mentality of wanting to receive compensation for my childhood. This might have provided me with the motivation to become a picture book author.
      I want to live in an exciting story whenever possible and I also want to create “a world where children create for themselves” in which children can live without interference or attention of adults.
e: What are you working on next or what would be your dream project?
I’m currently working on a story about Korea’s lunar calendar seasons (subdivisions of the seasons) which are very distinct. The content is also very wide in scope and the book is quite long as well.
      Although it includes the fictional story of one child who lives in different animal’s houses every two months for one year and has various adventures and experiences of the past, it is true that the book is overall nonfiction, so it has many points to study, and requires a lot of energy and patience to create.
      If I complete the book, it will become a very rewarding journey for me. The book is very natural, and I’m continually surprised of my ancestors’ wisdom of dealing with 24 distinct seasons that only occur in the East. Therefore, I hope to introduce the book all over the world.
      Other than that, I always dream of freely imagining myself flying around in my stories.
Check out Bomi's work space...
e: Thank you Bomi! Learn more at the Chronicle Books website.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

What I'm Working On: Dissertation

It's backwards here in the UK - you write a Dissertation for your Masters and a Thesis for your PhD. So, I am in the thick of writing my Dissertation. No play time for me!
     My title is, "Comparing and Contrasting a Decade of the US Randolph Caldecott And UK Kate Greenaway Medal Children's Books to Identify Trends, Similarities and Differences Between the US and UK Markets." And it is fascinating. I am learning so much by really examining these titles and seeing how they are presented to their respective markets. You may be familiar with the Caldecotts...
     But how about the Greenaways? This is the equivalent award for the UK.
     Probably the coolest discovery I've made so far is the difference between the overall color palettes. Check this out - the US Caldecotts are on the left - the UK Greenaways are on the right.
Is that not the coolest? It's so fun to talk about!
      That's just a taste of what I'm learning. It's also why you'll only be seeing the top of my head for most of this term as I lean over reading, studying, and writing, writing, writing.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Coloring Page Tuesday - Skull and Spider

      This is probably the only time I'll ever give you a spider to color. But this one is teeny, only a little bit scary. Halloween is just around the corner—I think I can handle it. CLICK HERE for more Halloween-themed coloring pages!
     CLICK HERE to sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially...
my debut novel, A BIRD ON WATER STREET - winner of six literary awards. Click the cover to learn more!
     When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner's strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most.
     I create my coloring pages for teachers, librarians, booksellers, and parents to enjoy for free with their children, but you can also purchase rights to an image for commercial use, please contact me. If you have questions about usage, please visit my Angel Policy page.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

VIDEO: Just Some Motion

I love the sheer joy of Parov Stelar dancing in his living room - Just Some Motion. I dare you not to join him. Click the image to dance along.


I was stumped what to share with you today, dear readers, because I have been laid up in bed sick for most of this week. PAH! But no worries, this is Edinburgh. Sometimes, the wonder of this town comes to you. I started to feel a little better so had moved to the couch. After dinner, we heard an odd noise outside. And then again, and again.
     "That sounds like fireworks?"
     Indeed it was.
     Turns out the end of the 2016 Edinburgh International Festival was being celebrated with a Virgin Money Fireworks Concert on Calton Hill...which is right up the hill from our flat. This was our view. We got to see the whole thing. The ball of light on the left side of 'our tree' is the moon. The ball of light on the right is the fireworks show getting going.
     The show got bigger and higher - we really did get to see the whole thing from our living room window. But this shot with the moon was the coolest of them all! In all the nearby flats we could see our neighbors enjoying the show too. Any excuse to celebrate - that's Edinburgh. I love it here. :)

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Sunday in Cupar

I suppose it's an American thing to do leisurely Sunday gatherings too, but it's truly become part of our lives since moving to Edinburgh. Uni keeps me extremely busy, but I usually try to give myself one play-day per weekend, so I really value these gatherings.
     Karin's (Romania) and Antti's (Finland) flat was a warm and happy place, filled with treasures, where we all relaxed.

Here is our lovely hostess, Karin (photo by Nadee).

Catherine (Chile), Me (US), Antti and Karin.

Nadee (Thailand) and Antti.

Stan (US).

Boris (Taiwan) and his adorable new wife, Vicki (Taiwan).
Remember I said Boris saw seals on his trip up? He had to show us what they looked like, striking a pose in stripey socks.

Then the food came out - oh my! Antti spent two days cooking.

The centerpiece was lamb stew (called Sultan's Delight) served over mashed aubergines (eggplant), surrounded by tabouli, tadziki sauce, a roasted red pepper dip, a greens and garbanzo beans dish (which I also need to get the recipe for), and hearty bread. You'll also notice Nadee's spring rolls. (She created a cookbook last year for her MFA1, so we were dying to try some of her creations.)
And Vicki brought mushrooms all the way from Taiwan to add to noodles.
OMG - YUM!!! We ate SO MUCH!!!!
     The reason I mention everybody's home countries (including ours - the US) is because we counted up, and between us and the dishes, we had no less than 17 nationalities represented. I absolutely adore how international our lives have become here! It's such an easy and comfortable thing that I wish more people in the world would get to experience.
When it was finally time to leave, we all meandered slowly to the train station, taking some last group shots.

We got silly waiting for the train as we realized how many of us wore glasses. We traded them all around to compare how blind we were.
But really, when you see the world through other people's eyes, you are anything but blind. We are all just people, and we are friends.

Thursday, October 13, 2016


This sweet new book written by Caroline Nastro is illustrated by Vanya Nastanlieva. She stopped by to talk us through her process.
e: What do you think makes an illustration magical, what I call "Heart Art” - the sort that makes a reader want to come back to look again and again?
Vania: Heart-Art : If I can feel something, anything, like emotions, mood, atmosphere, then there is a magic. If I am able to get closer to the character's soul, to his/her emotions, fears, dreams, then there is a magic, there is life, there is heart in it.
e: What is your creative process, can you walk us through it?
Vania: I am constantly learning and up-grading the process of my work. Sometimes it really depends on the the project I am working on and what I need to achieve in my illustrations. I do not have a specific or unique process/ style. Generally the idea drives my work, and then the creative process/style will follow the idea. I always try to experiment with a variety of new techniques and materials.

      I love my pencil and I love the process of drawing and sketching.
      I start with sketching, doodling, storyboarding in my sketchbooks and notebooks.

There I have many notes/ideas I make that I can refer back to anytime, it could be an image, a sequence or just simple words or even a text or very often a combination of everything above. I find it very natural and easy to focus on developing and getting to know my characters, the setting, the composition, when I use my black pencil. Once the rough sketches are to my satisfaction and the publisher's, as well I do the more detailed drawings. And next I add the colours to the black and white drawing.

Sometimes the colours could be on a different paper, sometimes I can add the colours on one piece of paper.

I use a more limited-colour-palette, probably because of my textile background.
      The computer comes in when I need to scan the illustrations and the different layers. I scan it, clean it if needed in Photoshop and then connect the layers all together, the black and white drawing with the colour ones. There could be some finishing touches, adjustments or arranging but generally my work is all hand-rendered.

e: For illustrators - what is your medium?
Vania: Pencil, pastel pencils, oil pastel, tempera, gouache, acrylic, watercolour, Photoshop. It could be from dry technique to mix media.

e: What was your path to publication?
Vania: Years ago, after I finished my high school, I had a solo exhibition in my home town. There was a writer who liked my drawing of animals very much and contacted me and asked me to illustrate his book, so I did.
      While I was studying at the National Academy of ART, I was juggling various part time jobs and doing illustrations for a children's magazine, then a newspaper for a short time. I also illustrated short stories written by my friends.
      The real break-through happened after I studied for an MA in Children's Book Illustration in Cambridge, UK. As soon as I graduated I went again to the Bologna Book Fair in Italy (this time more prepared). I met and made many contacts with publishers, art directors and editors, while showing my work and my dummies. I kept in touch with the ones who were the most interested in my work. I was lucky enough to meet the right people and then, after a while, I was offered my very first picture book deal and this is how it started.

e: What is your favourite or most challenging part of being a creator?
Vania: The Favourite - to be able to create, anything, anytime, anywhere, even if I don't have any a pencil, pen and paper (that is very unlikely, but it happens sometimes). I just do it in my mind, I make mental notes and try to remember the main idea or even very small things till I can get hold of some paper and a pencil and then write it down so I won't lose it.
      The challenge is to express and leave on the paper what is in my mind, in my heart. Sometimes the way from the heart to the hand can be very long and very challenging. But once you catch the flow it goes very easily and smoothly, just like fluid pouring from your heart through your hand and leaving the marks on the paper. I love it when this happens.
e: Is there something in particular about this story you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious?
Vania: I have always believed that everyone has his/her own special path to go through and discover himself/herself. And everything, everyone who she/he meets on this path is just a part of the big puzzle, the big picture and serves to rediscover and develop herself/himself.
e: What are you working on next or what would be your dream project?
Vania: At the moment I am working on a third book of my own. I wish I could say more but it is still at a very early stage.

e: Thanks Vania!

Kirkus Reviews said, "Cuddle up with this Bear and his pillow for a just-right bedtime story."

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