Daily Archives: April 27, 2014

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Show and Tell, OCCRWA’s May Online Class with Shannon Donnelly

April 27, 2014 by in category Archives tagged as , ,

Shannon Donnelly is with us today to talk about her upcoming OCCRWA online class, Show and Tell, an Interactive Workshop. Take it away, Shannon!

Thanks Alina. We’ve all heard “show, don’t tell” and there is value in that advice. If all you do is tell a story, how does the reader participate with his or her imagination? However, a book is not a movie. While a movie requires everything to be shown (or an often awkward voice-over to be added if it’s not showing enough), a book has the luxury of being able to use narrative. And that’s where I usually get folks who are utterly confused.

Narrative seems to have gone out of fashion. It doesn’t seem to be taught, and no one seems to really get what it is. So let’s make it easy.

Merriam-Webster gives us the root for narrative/narrating as the “Latin narratus,past participle of narrare, from Latin gnarus knowing; akin to Latin gnoscere, noscere to know.”

This means it’s basically the author telling the reader the information the author knows, which the reader also needs to know. And now, you ask, what does the reader need to know, and when does the reader need it, and how much does the reader need. This is where narrative becomes an art.

This means any writer of fiction needs not only showing but telling as well. What’s the secret in knowing when to show and when to tell? This is something I’ll be covering in the May workshop, but here are a few tips:


– Where are we? (Place and world – the reader needs to be placed into the scene, otherwise it’s confusing to the reader. Do not throw your readers into the deep end without giving them some help.)

– When are we? (What’s the era, the time of the year, the month, the day, the hour? We need everything that helps the reader settle into the scene as if this moment in time really exists.)

– Who is here?(An introduction to the characters, particularly to the main characters for that scene, and for the story.)

– Why are we were? (This doesn’t have to be greatly detailed information, but you need enough details to make a reader care. Think of it this way—too little and you starve the reader’s imagination; too much and the reader quickly fills up and drops the book down.)

All this needs to be woven together, stitched in with careful threads, not dumped on the reader in big clumps. Or, to put it another way, feed the reader your telling—your narrative—with a teaspoon, not a soup bowl.


– Your characters in action—scenes are always stronger when you show a character expressing emotion with physical reactions.

– The world through a character’s senses—we all lean too much on sights and showing what a character sees, but go beyond this to show smells, tastes, touches, and sounds. Use all a character’s senses to not only make the world more vivid for the reader but to also show what your character notices.

– Your character’s emotions through words. Dialogue should never just be there to advance the plot or you end up with a character that seems stiff on the page. Just as you want to show emotions through actions, you also want to show emotion through words—this includes what someone avoids talking about, too.

Showing and telling do not have to be absolutes; mix show, use more show than tell, or use more tell than show; part of the choice is your style, and part is the effect you want to have on the reader.
Alina again here.
Thanks Shannon for giving us a taste of your upcoming lessons. This four-week class starts May 12, 2014 and registration is now open here.   
About Shannon Donnelly:
Shannon Donnelly’s writing has won numerous awards, including a RITA nomination for Best Regency, the Grand Prize in the “Minute Maid Sensational Romance Writer” contest, judged by Nora Roberts, RWA’s Golden Heart, and others. Her writing has repeatedly earned 4½ Star Top Pick reviews from Romantic Times magazine, as well as praise from Booklist and other reviewers, who note: “simply superb”…”wonderfully uplifting”….and “beautifully written.”

Her Regency Historical Romance, Paths of Desire, can be found as an ebooks on Kindle, Nook and at Smashwords, along with her Regency romances.

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