Show-Don’t-Tell Practice

This post was originally published January 9, 2010. I’m sharing some back posts this week as I’m off on a research expedition in sunny Florida!
As I crank through the rewrite of my current WIP, I’m finding an awfully lot of “telling” that I need to replace with some better writing. In the spirit of show-don’t-tell, I attempted to come up with five ways to show that it’s cold without saying “it’s cold.”

1. Let the character experience the cold: Gooseflesh prickles up my bare arms as soon as I push off the covers.

2. Let her observe the cold: Ice filmed the inside of the cabin windows. I started shivering even before my feet touched the frozen floorboards.

3. Let her think about the cold: I didn’t expect the day’s chill, not in June. If I’d bothered to check the weather, I might have brought along a sweatshirt or jacket. Instead, I’m here in shorts and a tank top, resisting the urge to curl into a ball or warmth.

4. Let her worry about the cold: As the sun drops beyond the mountains, shadows lengthen, bringing with them the sharp-edged chill of the coming night. It pierces through my thin sweater and I wonder how long it will take before I turn into a human icicle. I have to find the cabin. Quickly.

5. Let her discuss the cold: Brrr!” I tuck my hands into the sleeves of my rain slicker, drawing deeper into the sheltering overhang. “My fingers won’t bend, they’re so frozen.”

Not masterful prose, perhaps, but the exercise helped to get my brain moving in the right direction.

Do you have a technique you’re trying to master? A bit of concentrated practice can help you learn incorporate a new technique smoothly into your writing, the way a batter might practice hitting a hundred balls before the actual game. Pretty soon, the technique becomes second nature. Give it a try!

:-) Cheryl

Off to the SEJ Conference!

I won’t be around the blog-o-sphere quite so much this next week, because I’m heading to the Society for Environmental Journalists’ annual conference in Miami, FL! For the next week, I’ll be featuring a few back posts on writing craft that some of you may not have seen.

Meanwhile, time for my pitch for why children’s writers who write nonfiction should consider attending this conference:

  1.  The SEJ conference is the only conference I’ve ever attended that has field trips for writers. Seriously. This year, I will be visiting the NOAA Aquarius Reef Base, the world’s undersea research station. Not only that, but NASA will be field-testing techniques for working on an asteroid in the near-zero g environment provided underwater.  If you write nonfiction, the conference provides AMAZING opportunities to see and do and learn about things to inspire your writing.
  2. Although SEJ caters primarily to journalists, other nonfiction writers are welcome and can benefit from the sessions on writing craft, markets, as well as numerous sessions on topics of interest to people who like to write about science, nature, and the environment.
  3. The SEJ conference is a great place to connect with expert sources as well as a great place to connect with other writers.
  4. Unlike most children’s writing events, the SEJ conference is subsidized in part by outside interests ranging from organizations interested in advancing journalism to organizations interested in advancing themselves–which means that SEJ can offer conference and associated events at astonishingly low costs.
  5. Writing is a business, and at the SEJ conference you will learn numerous tips and tricks for taking your writing career to the next level on the business side as well as the writing-craft side.
I’ll let you know how it all goes!

Tuesday Ten: Real-World Stresses Faced by Kids

Do you write for children or teens? If you do, take care: It’s all too easy to hang onto an idealized vision of childhood—to think longingly of those days when your biggest worry in the world was whether to buy hot lunch, whether to audition for the school play, or whether you’ll catch the bus.


school bus
Image courtesy of flequi, Flickr Creative Commons

Yeah, it sounds great, right? Someone else pays the bills, does the laundry, cooks your dinners, drives you around.

But if you think back—really think back, rather than just daydreaming about what you wish childhood had been like—you may start to remember that being a kid isn’t easy or stress-free. Kids lack power. They are at the mercy of parents and teachers, who rule their lives, and they are under tremendous pressure to perform—and in the past few decades, that pressure has increased tremendously.

Check out this list of stresses your young characters might face—and I hope it inspires!
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