Monthly Archives: September 2012

Revisiting Some Old Friends (Part 2)

So I wanted to talk to you about Showing not Telling again.  I think this post is going to be a little long, so please try to bear with me.  Again, if you didn’t read the previous post, I am writing at…2:42 AM now.  So please forgive me if I make a little less sense than usual.

The reason I wanted to talk about this again is that I really am seeing a lot of books that fall into that trap of Telling not Showing.  I know I’ve talked about it before, so I’m going to try and give a more thorough explanation, using different examples.

If you went onto a talk show tomorrow, you would find that smiling, bubbly host asking you lots of personal questions.  Probably intrusive ones you don’t really feel comfortable answering on national TV.

And one of those questions, you might expect, would be something like, “What was it like for you growing up?”

At that point, you would be perfectly within your right to say, “I was born on May 18th, 1986.  My parents divorced when I was three and my sister was five.  It really tore me up.  I didn’t think I would ever trust anyone enough to agree to marry them, knowing what my parents had gone through.”

That’s fine.  That is the epitome of “telling.”  That’s what you do when you’re asked a question.  And, in this situation, it is okay.

It is not okay to talk like that in a book, with the exception of, perhaps, a biography.  Just as it would be totally inappropriate for you to jump up and attempt to mime your childhood for a talk show’s audience….

…you cannot turn your book into a personal’s ad for your main character.

The thing about books is that readers like to figure things out on their own.  It is exceptionally boring to read something like, “John was terrified of dating because of a bad experience he had five years prior where his date dumped Tuna Flambe on his lap.”  It is much more interesting to see a scene in which John is on a date, nervous, fidgeting, and fighting the flashbacks of the tuna fiasco.  Don’t believe me?  I’ll leave it to your judgement.

Option 1 – Telling: John was terrified of dating because of a bad experience he had five years prior where his date dumped Tuna Flambe on his lap.

Option 2 – Showing: John couldn’t keep his leg from shaking.  His eyes darted toward the exit.  It wouldn’t be an easy escape; there were at least five other tables between him and freedom.  Still, it couldn’t be as bad as last time, when he’d had tuna flakes dripping off his crotch as he’d bolted for the door.

“Am I boring you?”

John jumped and looked back at the gorgeous blonde sitting across from him.  Gina had had red hair.  She is not Gina, he told himself firmly.  She didn’t even order the tuna flambe.  Mainly because this restaurant didn’t serve that dish.

“No…sorry,” he said, maybe a little too late.

She was not amused.

“I’m sorry, Dana.”


“Amber.  Sorry.  I just…I can’t do this.  I’m sorry.”

Five tables between him and the exit, and each one of them was occupied by confused restaurant patrons, watching John’s Scramble of Shame as he fled the establishment.  Five years.  Five whole years since…the incident, and he was still running.  I’m going to need five more before I can make it to the main course, he thought bitterly.


So.  Which did you like better?  And, no, before you ask, the difference isn’t length.  It’s not.  The length is necessary if you want the reader to have a journey to follow.  There is no journey in Option 1.  There is a journey in Option 2.  I guess the length is also there because Showing uses a combination of so many different elements, like dialogue, narration, thoughts, etc.  It’s like an organ system that runs a living being.  Each part does its own job.  So, when you’re writing, really think about how you can show your readers the important details.  Make them feel the burn of the hot tuna searing them through their seersucker pants right along with your protagonist.  That’s what keeps a reader, well…reading.

Done and done!  Don’t forget to check out the new Behind the Scenes page where you can see exactly how I make the magic happen.  (Requests for a section on how to draw the Yeti will be accepted, and taken into consideration)

Word of the Day: Fiasco (n) – a complete and ignominious failure.

(Ignominious (adj): – discreditable; humiliating)


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Revisiting Some Old Friends

I have…so much to say.  I should never have gotten a life (read: a job) knowing I have a blog in which I will want to post every last thought (and drawing) that comes to my mind.  Also, it’s 2:10 AM Pacific time.  So if, you know…I make no sense and my writing is full of mistakes…yeah, that’s why.  So despite my exhaustion, I’m going to try really hard to be quick and concise, with less text and more fun drawings.  Oh also, I just realized I have no energy to draw right now (I barely have the ability to make words happen on this screen) so this is probably going to be posted at a reasonable hour, after I’ve had a chance to draw.  So just know…this was written at an ungodly time.  It will be posted at a more godly hour.  Which is…I don’t know like…2:34 PM?  That sounds like a godly hour.

Ok, so as the title of this post suggests, I’m going to revisit two older topics and expand upon them.  First!  A political cartoon.  I drew this on a white board while I was in a Sociology class in London, and I decided to recreate it here for you:

Ladies and gentlemen, my grasp of politics.

Right, number ONE!

How to start a novel.  I wrote about this waaaaay back when I was a really bad writer.  Here’s what I want to say about that:

You need to hook your reader in.  How you start your novel is your own choice, but you should be aware that A) The opening line will probably change, at least once, before your project is complete and B) You should try to read that opening line through the eyes of someone who knows nothing about your book.  They haven’t even read the synopsis on the back, the lazy fucks.  And now they want you to impress them, despite their goldfish attention spans.

So, SELL IT!  Bounce ideas off of friends and family.  And, referring back to point A, don’t worry too much about it until you’ve written a significant portion of your book, if not all of it.  Just slap something down to start with, go from there, and then go back to it. That’s my advice.  One of the books I’m currently reading for work has a great opening line, which is what made me think of this topic.  Obviously I can’t tell you what the line was, but I can tell you it was a direct address to the reader.  Which is pretty much what I do in this blog.  Like, “You really need to try to avoid stepping on scorpions.”


To finish up, I have started writing a third draft of my newest book tonight.  Each draft has its own opening sentence, and I like the current one the best.  Here they are:

Draft 1 – The top half of the notepad slipped out of my hand and slapped me in the face, refusing to be bent back, out of my way.

Draft 2 – Dear Ms. Kramer,

 You think you know how to tie a necktie, but you are wrong!

Draft 3 – I know Deaf.  I live Deaf.

Just a quick heads-up: my main character isn’t Deaf.  Ooo, intrigue.

Yep, this has already gone too long.  I have to keep my readers’ goldfish attention spans in mind, too, you know.

Well…I have to keep my goldfish attention span in mind.  Frankly, I know that if I can’t hold my own attention for the duration of a blog post, I probably won’t be able to hold anyone else’s either.

Gonna start the companion post to this one right now.  Look forward to a more extensive look at Showing and not Telling AND, I think, a Behind-the-Scenes Page that will be going up soon.


Rebecca Leviton
Editorial Staff

Word of the Day: Commence (v) – to begin; start

P.S. Wow, it’s 2:52.  I came pretty damn close to my prediction.  I guess 2:52 is more godly than 2:34.


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A Sociological Experiment

So there was this one post of Hyperbole and a Half where Allie, the writer, said she had to be famous by Thursday.  And, while I feel I have a bit more time than that to gain fame and fortune (I mean, I’m writing this on a Wednesday, and she wrote hers on a Sunday), I think I have to agree with her.  I need to get famous.  Because I don’t think I’d do well living on the streets.  To be sure of this, I decided to conduct an experiment in which I tried to live on the street.

I started by walking out the front door, large cardboard box in hand, and setting up shop on the curb in front of my house.  I crawled inside my nice little box and thought about how my life would change over the next few days as this experiment progressed.

Then it got a bit hot, so I went back inside.

My results from this extensive study led me to believe that I just wouldn’t do well without the basic amenities of life – soap, indoor plumbing, refrigeration, chocolate, etc.

I’m lucky enough to have stumbled upon a new subject for a book…which is me.  I know I did a whole post on writing what you know where I basically railed against the concept the entire time, but I want to remind you that I wrote another post where I said I wasn’t against doing that…I was just against doing only that.  In this book, I’m pretty much sticking to writing what I know.  That is, it’s based very closely on my current life of reading ridiculous query letters and then wishing my books could get published.  I’ve got almost 7,000 words already, which is pretty good, considering I started the book on Monday, and then restarted it on Tuesday (yesterday).

Aside from that, I’m really banking on Hellbound making it big.  I mean…that book has “movie” written all over it.  As much as it saddens me to say this, authors tend not to make lots of money unless their book becomes an international best-seller/gets turned into a movie.  And, honestly, I’d be okay with just the international best-seller bit.  But, as you well know, when a book does at all well, it will inevitably be turned into a movie.  I hope I don’t sound too shallow, but it’d be really cool to see my books get published and stuff.  And I really look forward to book signings, because one of the biggest reasons I started writing was to share my stories, and book signings are the conduit through which authors can meet their readers and see that their stories have touched some lives.  God that was a long sentence.

So yeah, I’ll give it ’til Thursday, December 24th, 2015, which will be my 25th birthday.  If I’m not famous by then, I might as well use whatever savings I have to buy a large refrigerator – I’ll donate the appliance to charity and keep the box for myself.

Word of the Day: Sociology (n) – the science or study of the origin, development, organization, and functioning of human society; the science of the fundamental laws of social relations, institutions, etc.


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Some Things to Keep in Mind BEFORE Querying an Agent (Part 3)

We’ve come to the end of a long journey, my friends.  Thank you for sticking with me this far.  I’ve got some last points to make, and then I’ll let you be on your merry way.  So let’s get to it!  The finale!

#8 – When we tell you we’re swamped – we mean it!

This is basically a reiteration of what I said in my previous post, but with more focus on the rejection letters you will inevitably receive.  Most rejection letters will include an apology that goes something like, “While your book is no doubt wonderful, we have decided to pass as this time.  Please understand that we receive a great deal of submissions each day, yadda yadda.”  Just wanted to let you know…we mean it when we say that.  When we reject you, it really doesn’t mean that your book is bad and that you should stop trying.  That being said, there are some things you should keep in mind…

#9 – Do YOU like your book?

How do I say this?  Of course you have to like your book if you believe in it enough to send it out to agents, but…have you read similar titles?  Have you compared your book to other books you like and seen if it holds up to the already published books’ high standards?  They say you are your own worst critic.  I think that’s good.  It’s when you’re your own biggest fan that you run into trouble.  If you’re unable to cast a critical eye on your own work, play devil’s advocate and anticipate the criticisms that agents are going to give, then your book probably isn’t quite ready to be unleashed on the world.

When I talked about doing your research in my last post, and having other people read your work, I really, really meant it.  Because we are busy, and we don’t want to have our time wasted by the first 100 pages of literary nonsense that fell out of your brain.  It’s harsh, but it’s true.  A lot of people think agents are there to do your critiquing and revising for you, but that’s just not right.  We can’t take on a book unless it’s as close to finished as it can possibly get without the help of a professional editor.  Our jobs are on the line if your book doesn’t sell, so we can’t take on a project that only has the potential for being good.  Because there’s no guarantee that the author will be receptive to our criticism, and, even if they are, they still might not be able to make the changes we want to see.

And finally…

#10 – How is your book different from the hundreds of thousands that are already out there?

When agents like a book, they have to go through the same process that authors do – querying.  Only agents query the publishers, and the publishers aren’t keen on taking on every project that gets sent their way.  So we have to know why this book is unique and different and guaranteed to sell a million copies.  Which means you have to know all that, and you have to tell us!  When you do your research and find other similar titles, you have to tell us that you’ve looked at them, and that yours is different because it has/does/includes____________________, which none of those other books have done.  Now, this doesn’t necessarily have to be included in the query, though it wouldn’t hurt, but you should be prepared to answer those questions in case they’re asked.  Especially if you know that your book is really, really similar to, say, the Sherlock Holmes series.  We’re going to want to know how you’re different from a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wannabe, and you’d better be prepared with a better answer than, “My book takes place in present day.”

That’s it!  We’re done!  Hooray!  I hope I was somewhat helpful.

Word of the Day: Finale (n) – The last piece, division, or movement of a concert, opera, or composition.

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Some Things to Keep in Mind BEFORE Querying an Agent (Part 2)

It’s time for more whirlwind advice from a lowly literary intern.  Today we’re going to look at a couple big DON’Ts, and maybe a DO if we have time.  Let’s get to it!

#4 – Don’t ramble on and on! (I know, I should take my own advice, right?)

We get lots of query letters and emails.  Hundreds a month.  And we’re one of the smaller agencies out there.  It’s our job to read and respond to all of those queries as quickly as possible.  This means that we do not have time to read your life story.  Your query should tell us exactly what we want to know – and nothing more.  This usually includes a brief synopsis of your work, a breakdown of what categories your work fits in to (Young Adult/Adult; Fiction/Nonfiction; etc.), word count and assurance that the manuscript/proposal is complete, and a little bit about yourself.  If you’ve been published before, have an MFA in Creative Writing, whatever, we do want to know that.  We may even want to know how you heard about us.  What we don’t want is:

Hi there, agents!  How are you today?  I’m doing fine, thank you.  (I just assumed you asked me how I was back)  I heard about you on Writing Website and then I read all of the novels you’ve represented and I decided we just had to work together.  Please consider my novel, Hitting on Dummies.  It’s kind of a Satire-Meets-Parody-Meets-Film Noir type deal.  Now let me provide you with a three-page synopsis, the first seven chapters, and my life history…

Did you get bored reading that?  Maybe not, since I tried to make it funny, but things like this do happen.  My coworkers and I often sigh in frustration as we mutter to the computer screen, begging the email to somehow produce the vital details that we’ve desperately been searching for through all the fluff.

I’m not saying you should be curt or rude, or risk cutting down your synopsis for the sake of brevity, but when querying an agent, believe me – less is more.

#5 – Do your research!

I’m putting this in here because it ties in to the previous point.  I know doing research is a bore, but it’s necessary.  Each agent has different specifications for queries – some aren’t accepting unsolicited queries at this time, some only want a synopsis and a brief bio, others want you to include some sample chapters with your query (usually in the body of the email, when sent electronically), and some will specifically state that they don’t represent certain genres – and that genre might be yours!  (We have received several queries for children’s picture books, which we simply do not represent.  End of story.  Aw, crap, I’ll leave that in, but no pun intended.)  Others still will tell you that they don’t accept snail mail queries, and some others even want you to spell their name right.  Yes, as I’ve said, we’ve seen some interesting variations of our boss’ name.  If nothing else, please make sure you get the name and sex of the agent you’re querying right.  And do try to make it personal.  Chances are, your query isn’t going to be read by the agent him/herself, but address it to them anyway.  No “To whom it may concern” or “Dear Sir/Madam.”  I’ve seen both, and it made me feel like the author couldn’t be bothered to look up who they were writing to.  This also leads me to…

#6 – Your query will most likely not be read by the agent you’re addressing.

Did you see what I said up there about the hundreds of queries a month?  Did you note that I’m an intern?  That’s because there is just no way that one person could possibly handle that influx of queries – not to mention other business information.

So don’t kid yourself.  An intern or an assistant is probably going to be reading your query first, but they are just as important as the agent, if not more.  In order to get the agent to take notice of your work, you first have to impress the intern.  So listen to the advice I’m giving, because this is the kind of stuff I pay attention to before telling my boss she should look at a book.  And don’t be offended by the idea that the agent probably isn’t going to even look at your query letter.  First try to answer 150 emails a day, 5 days a week.  Then tell me you don’t want interns reading your query.


#7 – Don’t ask us to recommend other agents to you if we reject you.

We’ve gotten this a few times:  We send out a rejection, and the author writes back thanking us for our time, and asking us if we could maybe possibly recommend some other agents that they might maybe possibly be able to query.  Here’s why this is bad:

Remember the “Do your research” advice up there?  Remember the “We get a ton of emails every day that we have to answer”?  We’re not going to do your research for you, Lazy McGee.

And we’re certainly not going to give you other agents’ names, because it’s possible that you might then write to that agent saying, “I got a glowing recommendation from this other agent, and he/she said that you’d probably be really interested in my work.”  That’s not what we said, but you could certainly lie, and we wouldn’t be able to stop you.  And then our reputation would be on the line.  So don’t ask us, because we won’t tell you.

That’s all for now!  I think I’ll dedicate one more post to this subject, and then I’ll be done with it.

Word of the Day: Ignoramus (n) – an extremely ignorant person.

(Hint: Don’t be one of those)

Also, this XKCD made me think of, well…me.

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