We have just completed working on our first manuscript as a team and we are excited. Not only did our work together run very smoothly, but working with the author was a positive experience which made things that much easier. We spoke with the author, and she was fine with us discussing her story here in as much or as little detail as we chose. We are choosing to keep it anonymous, as we’re not sure how comfortable future authors will be with any discussion, let alone a completely open discussion. We will leave that choice in the hands of the authors we work with.
For now, please read below as each member of The Inkwell Council discusses one writing tip they wished to share from their work on this manuscript.
Everyone tells you to show and not to tell. This is bad advice. Showing should be your primary method of storytelling, but telling is still necessary. What you really need as a writer is balance between the two.
Showing is important for the scenes of the story, i.e. significant conversations between characters, moments when something happens. But then you’ve got other things. You’ve got transitional scenes. You’ve got scenes where characters have to catch up other characters on events that have transpired. In stories with multiple points of view, you sometimes have scenes that overlap between them. For these, a quick telling of events can save you tons of unneeded words and can keep your story from dragging.
Another thing to watch out for is to steer clear of showing and telling. In other words, trust your audience. If you show something, don’t then tell it. For instance, if you create a strong description of a person dealing with an emotion, don’t then say they were dealing with an emotion. You’re doubting in the ability of your audience to pick up your subtle clues, and you’re being repetitive. If you have both showing and telling of one thing in your manuscript, always choose the showing.
But if you realize you’re writing about a character’s entire morning routine in which nothing of any import happens, it’s certainly time to tell.
One way a writer can keep their reader interested is through the flow of their sentences. What I mean by this is how long or short a sentence is. Shorter sentences can indicate finality, a conclusion abruptly reached, impending danger and so on. Longer sentences can capture description, scenery, a mood; there are no limits. When pairing longer and shorter sentences together, you create a rhythm for your reader. As strong as your language may be, it can be heightened or hindered by how you form sentences.
The questions to ask are when is it the right to time to end a sentence and what punctuation do I use? A tip I like to give for the first question is read the sentence aloud if you are unsure. Hearing it with your own voice can sometimes indicate a lot more than when you are reading in your head. For the latter, it can vary. A semicolon is great to use when you are connecting two similar ideas. It can break up run on sentences that are clunky with an over usage of commas. Make sure however that your sentences are grammatically correct, as opposed to phrases that are dangling without a proper place. The second option is to use a period to form two separate sentences. Lastly, depending on the sentence and what it indicates, you can use words like while, and, or then. The importance of knowing what punctuation to use and when to cut your sentences will strengthen your prose. Your reader won’t get tripped up while trying to understand what you want to communicate nor will they feel as if it is taking too long to move from one idea to the next. Like most characteristics of writing, it comes down to finding a balance and what works for the story you are creating.
Throughout the story, one thought continued to resurface, and it is an issue that arises in many stories from many authors: setting. Setting can sometimes be a character onto itself, and it helps the reader draw conclusions about the world in which they are reading. It also helps to set mood, tone, and can sometimes reflect the emotions or thoughts of the character without the character having to do anything to show it (ie: shadows concealing a man’s face to point at the secrecy that surrounds him, or the physical terrain of a journey mirroring the emotional one of the traveler). Even the absence of setting tells us, as readers, a lot about a story, leaving it to us to fill in blanks without restrictions.
However one uses setting, it is undeniably important to the story. There is no hard and fast rule for when to zoom in and focus on a detail and when to pull back and let the reader’s imagination do the work. Which is why deciding how to establish the world in your story can be difficult. The goal is to integrate the necessary descriptions into the narrative in such a way as to bring the world to life without it feeling forced or overbearing. Seamless mergers like that are not easy. I usually try to navigate that high wire act by anchoring information about the setting (and other descriptions) to other parts of the narrative. But sometimes, some places or descriptions need a paragraph of their own, to emphasize the importance of the location or so that the reader does not miss the point.
Again, there is no hard and fast rule about that, it’s really up to the writer to see what ‘feels’ right in their story and pick what they feel is the best way to use setting descriptions to enhance their world.
Okay, all, if you’re interested in submitting the first three chapters and query of your fantasy manuscript or your short story to The Inkwell Council for a full edit and analysis, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. We will start the selection process for our next manuscript on January 18th. Good luck!