“Well duh” and “Show don’t Tell”


You know that old writers’ adage “show don’t tell?” It’s an incredibly important piece of advice. As important as tight lug nuts on the wheels of your literary car.

Okay, maybe that wasn’t the best one, but you get the picture. “Show don’t tell” means that you include enough imagery, enough action and dialog for the reader to figure things out on their own. It’s as important to your progress as wheels staying on your car.

colferI recently picked up a book by Chris Colfer – he played Kurt on Glee and it turns out he’s quite the writer. I like him. I think he’s funny and talented.

But my praise for him falls short in his most recent book. The Land of Stories – an Author’s Odyssey Book 5. Granted I hadn’t read the previous books (shame on me for not paying attention when I bought this book) and granted it’s written for a young (middle school) audience but Geeze Louise!  Just take a look at the following passages.

“I’ve brought you all here to witness the birth of an era,” the Masked Man preached. “But before we achieve a new future, the ways of the past must be destroyed  and the leaders of the past are no exception!”

The Masked Man gestured to a large wood platform below the balcony, on the lawn between the palace and the dried lake. A very tall man in a long black cloak climbed to the top of the platform and placed a large wooden block in the center.

A dozen flying monkey pulled a wagon out from behind the place. It carried all the former kings and queens of the fairy tale world…(long list of names)

The tall man on the platform withdrew a large silver axe from inside his cloak. The civilians began screaming and shouting in horror once they realized the purpose of it – the Masked Man was going to have the royal family executed!

It’s that last sentence that I object to. Colfer had done a great job to that point of showing his audience what was happening. The characters in the story even figured it out, but then he threw in a sentence to make sure we were told what was happening.

Look at the passage again and remove that last italicized part of the sentence. It leaves us hanging with horror and outrage, an appropriate response. It does not leave us with an exclamation point of excitement. This is an excellent example of how showing is so much more effective than telling.

I read that passage out loud to my daughter emphasizing the italicized sentence.

“Well duh,” she said “it’s an execution.”

Little bit of writing advice here – writers NEVER want their readers to say “Well duh.”

A few pages later, we read about how a trap door opened and how the entire royal party managed to escape by way of horses and a carriage hidden underneath the execution platform.

“To his horror, he saw Goldilocks on Porridge and Jack on Buckle! The couple steered the horses and the carriage into the forest beyond the palace, knocking over dozens of Winkie soldiers as they went. The execution had turned into a rescue mission right before the Masked Man’s eyes!”

Again, “well duh.”

Once again, remove that “telling” sentence at the end (and while you’re at it get rid of about half of the exclamation marks he uses) and you end up with a tighter, more vivid story that relies on the reader to connect the (very obvious) dots.

Now granted I haven’t read the first 4 books and this may be Colfer’s style. I know that his audience is young readers, but please – as writers you must give your readers credit. If you’ve done a good job with the descriptions, action, and dialogue you shouldn’t have to spell out *anything*. Your readers should be able to figure it out on their own.

Next time you hear “show, don’t tell” think of this example. When you write, it’s your job to set things up clearly enough for your readers to “get it.” If you haven’t, then it’s also your job to go back, figure out why not, and then strengthen your work so they do.


Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

Organizing Your Writing Projects with Trello

I admit it: I’m  a bit of a software geek. I can easily spend hours researching and playing with different kinds of project management, tracking, and collaboration software products. I love the way these digital tools help me wrest order from chaos and streamline my workflows and communication.

At the moment, I’ve fallen quite hard for a combination of Asana/Instgantt/Google Drive to help me manage my more complex client projects (the ones with longer lead times, more moving parts, and additional team members). However, I was recently reminded of a simple but powerful software called Trello, and I thought it was worth sharing it as a simple, beautifully visual, and FREE way for writers to track and manage all kinds of information from product status and submissions to lead generation and story ideas.

Here’s a 5-minute video that will give you an overview of how the software works:

The ways a writer can use Trello are almost endless:

To Track Submissions: Move “story” cards through a series of lists that track a story’s progress through the development process:

  • New Idea
  • Pitch in Development
  • Pitch Submitted
  • Ready for Follow Up
  • Accepted
  • Edited
  • Delivered
  • Payment Received

To Track Networking/Lead Generation: Similarly, you might move “contact” cards through a series of lists representing the stages of relationship development with colleagues, editors, and potential clients:

  • Outreach Targets
  • Contact Initiated
  • Ready for Initial Follow-Up
  • First Meeting/Conversation
  • Ready for Second Follow-up
  • Project Initiated/Assignment Secured
  • Back-burnered

To Track Project Status: However you break your projects down, you can use Trello to track progress on each element by moving task cards through workflow step lists:

  • To Be Scheduled
  • Scheduled
  • In Progress
  • First Draft Complete
  • In First Revision
  • In Second Revision
  • In Editing
  • In Proofreading
  • Complete

To Capture Reference Materials: Though I generally prefer Scrivener for this, many people like to use Evernote or even Pinterest to collect and organize story-related reference materials. Trello can be used in a similar way if you create cards for each story element and then organize them into category-based lists:

  • Characters
  • Locations
  • Time Periods/Time Lines
  • Style Guide
  • Artifacts and Props
  • Themes
  • Miscellaneous Details

Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.

The Short Form

The short form crosses the skills of puzzle solving with the compression of poetry

The short form crosses the skills of puzzle solving with the compression of poetry

For the past seven months, I’ve been writing, publishing, broadcasting and posting short form essays at a rate of more than two a week. This has been gratifying work, connecting with my various audiences who listen to my broadcasts, subscribe to my blogs, and read me in The Rutland Herald.

Even my pen-for-hire work tends to be in the short form, from 400-word profiles to 700-word essays.

I’ve come to love the short form, which forces me to choose the exact words I need and to arrange them in the most effective order. The short form requires clear emphasis to establish a sharp focus all while telling a very short story. I think of the short form as a hybrid that crosses the skills of puzzle solving with the compression of poetry.

I like the short form, and I think I’m good at it, at least most of the time. But I long for the long form.

I have two book-length projects in different stages: an incomplete rough draft of a novel and a rough idea for a long piece of non-fiction.

I long to write in the long form of books.

I long to write in the long form of books.

These two long thoughts keep me company like imaginary friends. They comfort me at the oddest moments: in the shower, in traffic, in my dreams. When I can, I jot down notes of ideas and tuck them away for later. If later ever arrives, I’m not sure I’ll be able to find them, but I don’t worry about that. I still have the ideas. What I haven’t yet found is the long time in which to write the long form.

The short form suits my current life, which has been interrupted by both duties and delights. The long form requires more consistency than I’ve managed lately.

I’ve managed the long form before, so I know I can do it. I even know how: rise and write – before breakfast, before chores, before coffee. But I’ve been resistant, which is normal; now I’m tired of that, which is good.

I'm setting off to hike the Long Trail along the spine of the Green Mountains, the length of Vermont.

I’m setting off to hike the Long Trail along the spine of the Green Mountains, the length of Vermont.

In need of a kind of reset so that I can double down by getting up early to work at length before pounding out short form pieces later in the day, I’m setting off on a long walk. Walking never fails to help me find my writer’s voice, so I’m looking forward to listening for it as I hike The Long Trail, which follows the spine of Vermont from Massachusetts to Canada.

I’ll be carrying a tent, a sleeping bag, and a camp stove, as well as a pen and paper. I’m sure I’ll be writing, but I’ll be offline for a month. I’m looking forward to being unplugged. Before I leave, I plan to schedule some reruns of favorites, both here and on my personal blog.

Barring bears, broken limbs or other unforeseen mishaps, I expect to plug in again in mid-September. In the meanwhile, I wish good words to you all. –Deborah.

Deborah headshotDeborah Lee Luskin hikes and writes in Vermont and on the web at www.deborahleeluskin.com





Introduction to Style Guides

Style GuideAs a professional writer, style guides are part of the job.

Clients may have their own guides, or at least their own ideas for guides. Clients may be willing to defer to you and whatever your style is. Whichever scenario, it’s good to know what a style guide is and to have one for your own business.

The focus of a style guide is to provide guidance on usage when more than one possibility exists; it isn’t so much for distinguishing between correct and incorrect grammar.

Business can choose style guides and dictionaries to follow for most word inquiries, but there are always words or phrases – do I capitalize this or not? Does this need to be hyphenated? – that come up over and over. Individual style guides track these types of things.

I generally follow Chicago Manual of Style and use Merriam Webster Dictionary. A majority of my clients go with what I recommend, but I do have a few that use the AP Style Guide and prefer the Cambridge Dictionary.

With your own style guide, you present yourself (your brand) in a consistent way. And when you have staff, or other writers helping you with content, the style guide helps ensure that everyone uses the same tone and remain consistent with your writing. A style guide saves time and resources by giving answers to questions that come up about preferred style.

Even though clients may go with your preference, every company is different – their branding, their voice, their tone – everything is unique to each business.

Style guides are for the ‘exceptions’ – those things that fall outside the chosen manual of style and dictionary (or to clarify which reference to use).

Examples of items in my style guide — regardless of what CMS or Merriam say, I go with “Internet” vs “internet” and “Web site” vs “website”. Some clients prefer the lowercased options. I’m also in favor of the Oxford (serial) comma – meaning a comma after every item in a list.

Other things to include in a style guide are specifics about:

  • Headings in general — how they are capitalized
  • Lists — whether they are capitalized at the start and if/how/when they are punctuated
  • Numbers — when they should be spelled in full, in particular
  • Rules for headings of chapters, figures, and tables — as well as how to number them

Style guides are not long documents — as most rules and examples are found in the dictionary and manual of style chosen. A good rule is 4-5 pages, max – Arial, 12pt font, double space between items. Keep it clean, simple, streamlined. As you add to it, you may reorganize it — if you have other people use it, you’ll find more items to add quickly.

My style guide a simple Word do and is only a couple of pages long, as are the ones created for clients. I bold terms I want to leap off the page, but otherwise it’s simple text on a white page. (Nothing says it has to be typed, either.)

Do you have a style guide for your writing? Have you created one for a client before? Do you think a style guide is a useful document for your business?

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

What’s on Your Shelf Plus Shareworthy Reading and Writing Links Jul 23

I don’t think they run them anymore, but I always kind of liked Capital One’s “What’s in Your Wallet?” campaign. My fondness for the ads might have something to do with the fact that Alec Baldwin and Samuel L. Jackson make excellent spokespeople. I’m just saying.

Anyway …

I thought it might be fun to put a writerly spin on the tagline by asking, “What’s on your [writer’s] shelf?”

Here is my writer’s bookcase in situ, so to speak:

on your shelf 1

It’s a utilitarian piece of furniture that I found via Craig’s List many years ago. It sits to the left of my cat bed-adorned writing desk. (You can see one of my two cats in the photo. She looks surprised and slightly guilty because I caught her in the middle of a catnip snack.)

And here is a closer look at the contents of my shelf:

on your shelf 2

  1. This section is a mish-mosh of writing-related books including classic  favorites like Lamott’s Bird by Bird, Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, and Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones as well as less well-known works like Jessica Abel’s Out on The Wire and Christina Baldwin’s Storyteller. It also includes some fairly new works including Don Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel and Shawn Coyne’s The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know. I’ve also got a couple of books that are more about story in culture: The Storytelling Animal by Jonathan Gottschall and Wired for Story by Lisa Cron.
  2. Section two is comprised of books about structure and inspirational books. On the structure side, we’ve got Story by Robert McKee, You Can’t Make This Stuff Up (on creative nonfiction) by Lee Gutkind, A Story is a Promise by Bill Johnson, Structuring Your Novel by K.M. Weiland, and Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. On the inspirational side, we have Letters to a Young Novelist by Mario Vargos Llosa, On Writing Well by William Zinsser, The Trickster’s Hat by Nick Bantock, and Neil Gaiman’s Make Good Art Speech.
  3. This section is books that I haven’t really read, but which I keep around because I have good intentions: First Words edited by Mandelbaum, in which we get to read the earliest works of favorite contemporary authors; the workshop edited by Tom Grimes, in which we explore seven years of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop; the Norton Anthology of Poetry (probably a hold over from my college days); and Short Novels of the Masters edited by Charles Neider, a book I bought through a book club more than a decade ago and haven’t yet opened. <sigh>
  4. These are not writing books. These are orphan books that couldn’t find a home on any of my other bookshelves, so they landed here: Susan Orlean’s Rin Tin Tin, Irene M. Pepperberg’s Alex & Me (about her work with an African Gray parrot), Emma Ford’s Fledgling Days (about falconry), Hand Wash Cold by Karen Miller (Zen), French Women Don’t Get Fat (don’t ask), and The Gift of an Ordinary Day by Katrina Kenison (a book I am terrified to read because I am sure it will make me bawl like a baby).

on your shelf 3

  1. Most of these books are also not about writing, but about other creative practices including graphic design, zentangles, drawing, and painting. There are a few, however, that have to do with the written word including a couple of quote anthologies, a book of Regency and Victorian insults (Deadlier Than the Male, compiled by Michelle Lovric), Rotten Rejections (a collection of literary rejections edited by Andre Bernard), and an odd little collection of lessons for grown-ups from children’s books called What the Dormouse Said collected by Amy Gash.
  2. Style and grammar books: The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition; Strunk and White (of course!); Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Trauss; Lapsing into a Comma by Bill Walsh; A Writer’s Reference by Diana Hacker; The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi; Roget’s International Thesaurus, and the beautiful (and hefty!) American Heritage Dictionary.
  3. These are mostly marketing-related books, but my collection includes a few writing-related references: Everybody Writes by Ann Handley, Content Rules by Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman, and The Well-fed Writer by Peter Bowerman.
  4. This last section is also a bit eclectic, most notably including No Plot? No Problem! by NaNoWriMo founder, Chris Baty and a fun little flip book of writing prompts by Jason Sacher called The Amazing Story Generator.

So, that’s my collection.

If you’d like to play along and share your writer’s book shelf, please share publish a blog post (and share the link below) or post an image to either Instagram or Twitter with the hashtag #whatsonyourshelf … I’d love to see what you’ve got!

_jamie sig



 Books I’m Reading:

I am actually reading books (four at once, actually … a bit more than I usually tackle, but there are extenuating circumstances), BUT I still haven’t FINISHED any. Next week. I promise!

··• )o( •··

My Favorite Blog Reads for the Week:





Sundry Links and Articles:

friedman cohenThis coming Wednesday – July 27th – Jane Friedman is partnering with Bryan Cohen to present a free training about writing sales copy that will help you sell your book. The sign-up page for this free event lists the following as part of the presentation:

  • The foolproof system for writing compelling book descriptions
  • How to turn your new description into a click-worthy ad
  • How to boost your ad results with a few small changes
  • Plus… Live Q&A with Jane and Bryan

I’m a long-time fan of Friedman’s work, so I’m betting this will be a worthwhile event, even if there is a sales pitch at the end of the presentation.

Finally, a quote for the week:

pin trapped library

Here’s to appreciating our own libraries and dreaming about all the libraries we have yet to explore.
Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.

Summer Bucket List

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION: We’re just about halfway through the summer. How are you doing on your summer bucket list? 

JME5670V2smCROPJamie Wallace: *hangs head in shame* Not so great. I’ve been unusually busy for the summertime. While I’m delighted to have a full work schedule, I am bumming out a little about the summertime fun I haven’t yet had. I wanted to spend more time at the beach with my daughter (she’s been getting plenty of time by the shore with friends, but not with me), go on a whale watch, get more daily walks in, spend a few afternoons just reading, take some more day trips into Boston and up the coast … oh, so many plans!

I still have hope, but I also realize that it’s going to take some proactive effort on my part. I’m going to have to put my foot down and cordon off some time – with an alligator-filled moat if need be. When you’re a freelance writer working from home, it’s just too easy to say, “yes” and to do “just one more thing,” which then leads to one more “one more thing,” and suddenly the whole day is gone. Clearly, this is an area where I could use some work.

I think I’ll look into that whale watch this weekend. Maybe I can get it in before the month is out.

Deborah headshotI’m at the opposite end of the spectrum from Jamie and have had lots of play, but am woefully behind on two writing projects. That said, I’ve been busy at work, especially lectures and planning future classes; it’s just that I’ve been busier at play with family visits from grandnieces (In Love In Vermont) and other relatives, visits from my three adult daughters, visits from Old Friends, hikes in the White Mountains, and the most beautiful and productive vegetable garden ever. The party continues this week, with my thirtieth wedding anniversary and my dad’s ninety-first birthday. Then I buckle down to clear my desk before taking off for a twenty-five day through-hike of Vermont’s Long Trail. I’m hoping that this will be a Reset for me, and that I’ll return ready to tackle the long form again. Summer rocks!

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson: I didn’t/don’t have a bucket list per se, just the goal to have fun. And to that end, I’m succeeding quite well. I’ve been hiking, cycling, and swimming. I’ve been to the beach, had a long stay in a nice hotel, have had wonderful seafood. Have been to a few country concerts – after not having been to concerts in several years. I’ve found a new place to live and look forward to the move. I have a week-long vacation with my brother (and his family) in a couple of weeks. Have spent quality time with my parents – fun stuff with Mom, helping both folks clean out the years of collected clutter in their house. I’ve done quite a lot and still more to do! And I’ve been blessed with a lot of great client work. Glorious season all around!



Short and Sweet Advice for Writers – Gather Momentum

define momentum

I don’t know about you, but I often have trouble getting started on a writing project. I have no trouble with the pre-writing work – thinking about, exploring, and playing with an idea – but when I’m finally sitting in front off the blank screen, fingers poised over the keyboard, I freeze. I am suddenly gripped by self-doubt, fear, and indecision about what to do next.

This is to be expected. Getting started is hard. It’s like stepping off a cliff or out of a plane into … nothing. You’re on your own. You’ll probably fall for a while before you remember that you’ve got wings. It helps to have a process to get you going – a series of steps that you can lean on when you’re not really sure what to do first. (Here’s a 12-step process I use for many writing assignments. Feel free to borrow it!)

But, while starting is hugely important (I mean, you obviously need to do that first), it’s also important to KEEP GOING once you’ve started. This is where MOMENTUM comes in.

Say it with me: “Mo-men-tum.” It’s kind of fun to say. It almost has a rhythm that feels like you might be able to dance to it.

As defined by Merriam-Webster, momentum is:

  • the strength or force that something has when it is moving
  • the strength or force that allows something to continue or grow stronger or faster as time passes

I like the sound of that. Don’t you?

Think about it in terms of your writing. Have you ever been working on something and suddenly feel like you’ve reached the downside of a hill? You know – you’ve been slogging along and then something shifts and the words come more easily and your fingers can barely keep up with your brain? That’s momentum. It’s what happens just before you find “flow.”

So, how do you gain momentum?

You write. And you write and you write and you write. You don’t get up every two minutes to get a drink or check your email or dust the curios in the cabinet. You write. You get yourself started however you can, and then you keep going. You don’t give in to the temptation to step away. You don’t let the demons slow you down. You just keep putting one word after the other, even if you’re worried they might not be the right words. It doesn’t matter. You just keep climbing up that hill, one sentence at a time, and then – all of a sudden – you’ll feel a force at your back, pushing you forward and making the whole process easier. You’ll feel like you’re tripping lightly downhill instead of clawing your way up a steep slope. That’s momentum.

And it doesn’t just apply to the piece you’re working on right now. It also applies, on a larger scale, to your whole writing life.

Momentum. It’s a beautiful thing. Go out there and create it today.

Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.