Archive for May, 2009

Show. Don’t Tell.

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

waterWriters who work with editors often receive the same admonition: “Show; don’t tell,” and the editors are usually correct that more “showing” would be a good idea. However, many authors have confessed to me that they cannot quite see the difference between “showing” and “telling.” In other words, they can’t tell when their “telling” has overpowered their “showing,” and they would like concrete examples of both “showing” and “telling.”

In general, it’s far more interesting to learn about a character or situation through action or dialogue, rather than through straight narration. In much the same way that we would rather see a dramatic event for ourselves than hear someone else retell it, a reader would rather “see” events unfolding, rather than just “hear” about them through narration.

The following is an unedited piece of fiction that could use more “showing.” Below the unedited version is my edit of the same text. My editorial comments are at the bottom of this post.

The man might have been envious of her, she couldn’t tell. He kept making snide comments to her as they ate, and he acted restless and uncomfortable. Jeannine always thought that envy had to be reserved for members of the same group—only young girls could envy young girls, only middle aged men could envy middle aged men. But she was a young girl, and he was a middle aged man. And he was envious. That was perfectly clear from everything he had said to her.

Earlier in the evening, Mrs. Hastings had served a spectacular coq a vin, and everyone had been very impressed. Mrs. Hastings claimed that she had worked all day on it, and she probably had. The man looked envious. He had eaten quietly, with his head down and his eyes on his plate. The conversation was stilted.

Now that it was time for dessert, the man had become more lively. He told Mrs. Hastings funny stories, and he made several pithy comments. However, he was not more friendly to Jeannine. Instead, he seemed to have become more surly than he had been earlier in the evening. He asked Jeannine various questions, and she felt that she answered them unsatisfactorily every time. He grew more angry.

At last, the man set down his tea cup and looked across the table directly at Jeannine. She waited for him to say something, resting her fork quietly on her plate. The creme brulee had been delicious. The man glared at Jeannine and asked her if she would rather be happy, wealthy or lucky?

Jeannine was unsure what her response ought to be. She looked around the table, but everyone else seemed to be looking at their plates. She asked the man why she would ever have to choose between the three.

The man asked her to just answer the question. He was insistent.

Jeannine started to laugh but realized that the man was waiting for her response. She said she supposed she would rather be lucky.

“You’re wrong!” the man shouted triumphantly. He repeated that her answer had been wrong.

“Coffee, anyone?” Mrs. Hastings asked quickly.

Jeannine started to say that she hadn’t even really understood the question.

The man told her that she was wrong, because she was supposed to want to be happy. “I asked my own daughter that question, and she said ‘happy.’ She has her priorities straight.” The man looked piercingly at Jeannine.

Jeannine argued that ‘lucky’ was subjective. She said that if someone thought it was lucky to be happy, then that person probably would be happy.

“No, that’s the wrong answer.” The man looked around the table in satisfaction, as if he had just confirmed some long-held theory.

After editing, the story reads something like this:

The man might have been envious of her. She couldn’t tell. He kept giving her evil looks as they ate, and he seemed restless and uncomfortable. Jeannine always thought that envy had to be reserved for members of the same group—only young girls could envy young girls, only middle-aged men could envy middle-aged men. But she was a young girl, and he was a middle-aged man. And he was envious. That much was clear.

Earlier in the evening, Mrs. Hastings had served a spectacular coq au vin, and everyone had been very impressed. Mrs. Hastings claimed that she had worked all day on it, and she probably had. The man looked envious. He had eaten quietly, with his head down and his eyes on his plate. The conversation was stilted.

Now that it was time for dessert, the man had become more lively. However, he was not more friendly to Jeannine. Instead, he seemed to have become more surly than he had been earlier in the evening. He asked Jeannine various questions, and she felt that she answered them unsatisfactorily every time. He grew more angry.

At last, the man set down his tea cup and looked across the table directly at Jeannine. She waited for him to say something, resting her fork quietly on her plate. The crème brûlée had been delicious. The man glared at Jeannine and said, “Would you rather be happy, wealthy or lucky?”

Jeannine was unsure what her response ought to be. She looked around the table, but everyone else seemed to be looking at their plates. She said, “Why would I ever have to choose?”

The man said, “Just answer the question—happy, wealthy or lucky?” He was insistent.

Jeannine started to laugh but realized that the man was waiting for her response. “I guess lucky,” she said. “I guess, because…”

“You’re wrong!” the man shouted triumphantly. “That’s the wrong answer!”

“Coffee, anyone?” Mrs. Hastings asked quickly.

“But I didn’t even understand the question, and why wouldn’t…?” Jeannine started.

“It’s wrong, because you’re supposed to want to be happy. I asked my own daughter that question, and she said ‘happy.’ She has her priorities straight.” The man looked piercingly at Jeannine.

“But ‘lucky’ is subjective. If you think it’s lucky to be happy, and you consider yourself lucky, you probably are happy,” Jeannine said.

“No, that’s the wrong answer.” The man looked around the table in satisfaction, as if he had just confirmed some long-held theory.

Below is the text with my editing marks. My comments to the author are in brackets and italicized. The portions I cut appear with a strike-through, and the portions I added are underlined. (In a normal Word document with “Track Changes,” my editing marks are in red, and my comments are in their own separate section, not inserted into the text.):

The man might have been envious of her,. Sshe couldn’t tell. He kept giving her evil looks making snide comments to her as they ate, [It would be better to give an example of a snide comment than merely to say that the man was making these kinds of comments. The biggest part of “showing” is to include a character’s actual words, in dialogue. Did the man make any particular comments you could quote here? If not, I’ve added “giving her evil looks,” which does not require an example in dialogue.] and he seemedacted [Normally, I resist the use of the word “seem,” but if you say that the man is acting in a certain way, it might be better to give actual examples of what he is doing. Are there any examples of his restlessness and discomfort that you could include?] restless and uncomfortable. Jeannine always thought that envy had to be reserved for members of the same group—only young girls could envy young girls, only middleaged men could envy middleaged men. But she was a young girl, and he was a middleaged man. And he was envious. That much was clearwas perfectly clear from everything he had said to her. [Because the reader has not seen a specific example of what the man has actually said, I think this shorter sentence is sufficient.]

Earlier in the evening, Mrs. Hastings had served a spectacular coq au vin, and everyone had been very impressed. Mrs. Hastings claimed that she had worked all day on it, and she probably had. [This sentence is interesting, but what does it really mean? Is there some reason to question Mrs. Hastings’s claim about her dish? Why question her if she is probably telling the truth? In other words, why do you use the word “claimed?”] The man looked envious. He had eaten quietly, with his head down and his eyes on his plate. The conversation was stilted. [Although you do not give specific examples of the stilted conversation, this short sentence works well here. “Telling,” as opposed to “showing” is a good idea here, because you want to keep the story moving.]

Now that it was time for dessert, the man had become more lively. He told Mrs. Hastings funny stories, and he made several pithy comments. [I cut these two sentences, because I think they require a dialogue example. Can you mention some specific funny or pithy comments the man makes?] However, he was not more friendly to Jeannine. Instead, he seemed to have become more surly than he had been earlier in the evening. He asked Jeannine various questions, and she felt that she answered them unsatisfactorily every time. He grew more angry.

At last, the man set down his tea cup and looked across the table directly at Jeannine. She waited for him to say something, resting her fork quietly on her plate. The crèeme brûuee had been delicious. [I like the way you inject this seemingly irrelevant sentence into the action here. It seems a real thought that Jeannine would have at this moment.] The man glared at Jeannine and asked her if she would said, “Would you rather be happy, wealthy or lucky? [This is an important moment in the story, and I think you need to use the man’s exact words. If you merely paraphrase his words, the action is less precise, and the reader might not understand the importance of this question.]

Jeannine was unsure what her response ought to be. She looked around the table, but everyone else seemed to be looking at their plates. She said, “Why asked the man why she would I ever have to choose?” between the three. [Once again, I think the character’s direct words make the action more immediate for the reader.]

The man asked her to said, “Jjust answer the question–happy, wealthy or lucky?”. [I restated the question for more emphasis and to be sure the reader knows exactly what the man is asking.] He was insistent.

Jeannine started to laugh but realized that the man was waiting for her response. She said she supposed she would rather be lucky. “I guess lucky,” she said. “I guess, because…” [I added this last sentence to emphasize Jeannine’s uncertainty and the man’s impatience.]

“You’re wrong!” the man shouted triumphantly. He repeated that her answer had been wrong. “That’s the wrong answer!” [Directly quoting the man’s repetition emphasizes his unreasonableness and makes the action more precise for the reader.]

“Coffee, anyone?” Mrs. Hastings asked quickly. [I like the interruption this question provides. It’s very believable in a dinner-party context.]

Jeannine started to say that she hadn’t even really understood the question. “But I didn’t even understand the question, and why wouldn’t…?” [I added this sentence, although you might want to reword it. I just mean to indicate that showing Jeannine’s lack of understanding, through dialogue, is more precise than just telling the reader about it.]

The man told her that she was wrong, because she was supposed to want to be happy. “It’s wrong, because you’re supposed to want to be happy. I asked my own daughter that question, and she said ‘happy.’ She has her priorities straight.” The man looked piercingly at Jeannine. [Once again, I think the action is more vivid for the reader if you directly quote the characters. This man, in particular, reveals very strong emotions, and his direct words can convey that emotion powerfully.]

Jeannine argued that ‘lucky’ was subjective. She said that if someone thought it was lucky to be happy, then that person probably would be happy. “But ‘lucky’ is subjective. If you think it’s lucky to be happy, and you consider yourself lucky, you probably are happy,” Jeannine said. [Once again, I use the character’s direct words, in order to “show” the reader more.]

“No, that’s the wrong answer.” The man looked around the table in satisfaction, as if he had just confirmed some long-held theory.

[Please post your comments about this Sample Edit. To submit your own work for a free edit–and inclusion in a posting on this blog–please write to me at jane@beaumonthardy.com.]

Brochure Copy

Friday, May 8th, 2009

metalBrochure text needs to be snappy and to-the-point. Here at Beaumont Hardy, we edit text for brochures on any subject and for any business.

The following is a the unedited version of copy on a brochure offering glass-cutting services. Below the unedited version is my edit of the same text. My editorial comments are at the bottom of this post.

Don’t throw away your old bottles which can be turned into many other uses. Your old bottles can be made into glasses or vases by our trained glass cutters. Or, for an extra fee, we can personally etch anything you want into your bottle, glass or vase. Flowers, patterns or your own personal designs. We can etch anything into glass.

In this day and age of recycling and “thinking green” everyone wants to think of new uses for old things. One of the easiest objects to reuse and recycle is glass, especially glass bottles.

Do you have a closet filled with old glass bottles that are too pretty to throw away? Or are you sentimentally attached to old bottles that you really aren’t using. Keep the bottles that you love and treasure but put them to work for you. Turn your old bottles into glasses that you can actually use everyday.

Our expert glasscutters carefully cut off the top of a bottle and sand the cut part smooth. It’s so smooth that you can safely use the bottom part of the bottle for drinking.

Some bottles are just too pretty to throw away. Keep them and making them useful by turning them into drinking glasses instead.

We can also do an “extra”-special trick on your wine bottles. We cut off the top of the bottle and carefully fuse the top to the bottom of the bottle, creating a really unique and one of a kind “wine glass” that makes use of every part of the bottle. 100% recycling!

Mail us your bottles or bring them into our workshop yourself. We’ll quote you a price that will make you happy.

After editing, the brochure copy reads something like this:

Don’t throw away your old bottles. Let our trained glass cutters turn them into drinking glasses, vases or hand-etched decorations that you can use and enjoy every day.

In this age of recycling and “thinking green,” everyone wants to find new uses for old things. One of the easiest objects to reuse and recycle is glass—especially glass bottles.

When you bring us a bottle, our expert glass cutters carefully cut off its top and sand the cut part smooth—so smooth that you can safely use the bottom part of the bottle for drinking.

We can also do an extra-special trick with your wine bottles. We cut off the top of the bottle and carefully fuse the top to the bottom of the bottle, creating a unique wine glass that reuses every part of the bottle. 100% recycling!

We also offer glass etching services. Our skilled glass etchers will personally etch flowers, patterns or your own personal design into any bottle, glass or vase. We can etch anything.

Keep the bottles that you love and treasure—old glass bottles that are too pretty to throw away or bottles that bring back fond memories—but put them to work for you.

Mail us your bottles, or bring them to our workshop yourself. We’ll quote you a price that will make you happy.

Below is the text with my editing marks. My comments to the author are in brackets and italicized. The portions I cut appear with a strike-through, and the portions I added are underlined. (In a normal Word document with “Track Changes,” my editing marks are in red, and my comments are in their own separate section, not inserted into the text.):

Don’t throw away your old bottles which can be turned into many other uses. Let Your old bottles can be made into glasses or vases by our trained glass cutters turn them into drinking glasses, vases or hand-etched decorations that you can use and enjoy every day . [Readers of your brochure will want to know, up front, what exactly your business does.] Or, for an extra fee, we can personally etch anything you want into your bottle, glass or vase. Flowers, patterns or your own personal designs. We can etch anything into glass. [I’m purposely keeping the opening paragraph short, so readers of the brochure can get a quick, concise idea of your services.]

In this day and age of recycling and “thinking green,” everyone wants to find think of [“Find” is more concise than “think of.”] new uses for old things. One of the easiest objects to reuse and recycle is glass,especially glass bottles.

Do you have a closet filled with old glass bottles that are too pretty to throw away? Or are you sentimentally attached to old bottles that you really aren’t using. Keep the bottles that you love and treasure but put them to work for you. Turn your old bottles into glasses that you can actually use everyday.

When you bring us a bottle, oOur expert glass cutters carefully cut off itsthe top of a bottle and sand the cut part smooth. It’s so smooth that you can safely use the bottom part of the bottle for drinking. [I moved this sentence up, so that readers of the brochure will get an idea of your working methods sooner.]

Some bottles are just too pretty to throw away. Keep them and making them useful by turning them into drinking glasses instead.

We can also do an extra-special trick with on your wine bottles. We cut off the top of the bottle and carefully fuse the top to the bottom of the bottle, creating a really unique [“Unique” does not need any modification.] and one of a kind wine glass that reuses makes use of every part of the bottle. 100% recycling!

Or, for an extra fee, [I’ve saved any mention of fees until the end, where you mention price quotes.] We also offer glass etching services. Our skilled glass etchers will we can personally etch flowers, patterns or your own personal designs anything you want into any your bottle, glass or vase. Flowers, patterns or your own personal designs. We can etch anything into glass.

Our expert glasscutters carefully cut off the top of a bottle and sand the cut part smooth. It’s so smooth that you can safely use the bottom part of the bottle for drinking.

We can also do an “extra”-special trick on your wine bottles. We cut off the top of the bottle and carefully fuse the top to the bottom of the bottle, creating a really unique and one of a kind “wine glass” that makes use of every part of the bottle. 100% recycling!

Keep the bottles that you love and treasure—old glass bottles that are too pretty to throw away or bottles that bring back fond memories—but put them to work for you.

Mail us your bottles or bring them into our workshop yourself. We’ll quote you a price that will make you happy.

[Please post your comments about this Sample Edit. To submit your own work for a free edit–and inclusion in a posting on this blog–please write to me at jane@beaumonthardy.com.]