11. Show, Don’t Tell




     Show, don’t tell is a writing technique used to describe what is going on versus narrating it. Make the reader “see” what’s happening. You “show” through descriptions and detail instead of summarizing all that happened. Sometimes there are instances where you want to describe something really quick in one sentence, and of course, narration would be a good use there, but otherwise you should always show. Always always show. Be there in the moment with your characters. Take your time and write it out, don’t just summarize. The worst thing an author can do is overuse narrative. We want to engage our readers not bore them to sleep.
     Take this statement:
     He was a good king.
     This is telling. By telling the readers how something is they are forced to trust the narrator, and suppose the narrator is unreliable or bias…it just causes problems. Instead show this statement. Show that the king is good. Does he go into town and personally greet the people? How is he a noble king? Does he fix any and all problems for his people? Does he put them first?
     Show what he does to be considered a ‘good king’. Otherwise the reader will just have to trust the statement that ‘he is a good king’…now imagine the ‘he’ I’m talking about is really King Joffrey from A Game of Thrones. See why it’s better to show vs tell? Not all narrators are reliable. If you show the readers what the character does vs spoon-feed them, they get a chance to make up their own minds on whether or not a character is ‘good’ or ‘evil’ or ‘foolish’ or whatever it may be.
     If you show it right, the reader will get it. Have confidence in them, and don’t over state a fact. Don’t tell something you’ve just shown because then it’s repetitive, and, like I said, give the reader some credit. They’ll get it.
     Anne Lamott is the queen of show, don’t tell. Buy and read Bird by Bird; darn it, add it to your collection already! It’s a must-have writing book!

Nicole Michelle


10. Setting

     Setting is the place or time in which the story takes place. Without setting the reader cannot put the story into context and will most likely be confused. For example, if we didn’t know that The Buddha in the Attic took place just at the breakout of the Second World War, then the readers would’ve likely been confused when the Japanese were being shuffled into interment camps. Perhaps the reader may have even thought that Buddha in the Attic was some sort of futuristic sci-fi, but luckily we get a clear understanding of the setting so there is no confusion.
     Setting is best described using detail about what’s around the character. What does your character see? Where is your character? Be there with your character, see what they see, and you will write a good setting. There are other elements to setting, such as weather, season, and sensory detail. It’s important to add the five senses (sight, touch, smell, hearing, and taste) within descriptions so it gives your writing a more three-dimensional feel and gives your character more validity as a character.
     While describing setting is an important aspect, there are times where it could seem a little cluttered. This can be easily fixed by incorporating other writing elements, such as dialogue, to break up the longer paragraphs. Setting should always be an underlying stream throughout the novel, because setting is constant. The easiest way to remind your reader of setting is just to incorporate little tidbits here and there, so it’s subtly incorporated and not overdone.
     Here’s an example of setting in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone :

     “The inside was horrible; it smelled strongly of seaweed, the wind whistled through the gaps in the wooden walls, and the fireplace was damp and empty. There were only two rooms” (Rowling 44). It continues, “As night fell the promised storm blew up around them. Spray from the high waves splattered the walls of the hut and a fierce wind rattled the filthy windows. Aunt Petunia found a few moldy blankets in the second room and made a bed for Dudley on the moth-eaten sofa. She and Uncle Vernon went off to the lumpy bed next door, and Harry was left to find the softest bit of floor he could and to curl up under the thinnest, most ragged blanket” (Rowling 45).

     This example creates a clear vision of where we are in the story as well as evokes the senses. We know this place is run-down, damp, smelly, and small. The setting is as miserable as Harry. J.K. does a simple, yet magnificent job of showing the reader setting vs just telling us that the room was ‘wet and cramped’. Definitely would’ve lost its appeal then.
     Another way to look at setting, someone told me once, is like this:

eg of inside a car

eg of inside a car

     Look at setting like a layered target. The center is a very detailed portion of setting and the further out you go on the target the broader the setting is. So, in the picture I provided I said let’s use the setting of the inside of a car. The innermost detail is the character sitting in the passenger seat. This would be like an extreme close up on the character if you’re a movie buff. The character may notice what they’re doing with their hands, or perhaps the glove box. The point of view here is very tight and detailed. The next point would be the entire front seat of the car. Now your character may notice whoever is driving the windshield, radio, steering wheel, etc. Then they notice the backseat. Perhaps there is trash and blankets back there that they notice. Then they look outside the car and note the street, the people, the town, etc, etc.
     Setting is an essential aspect of storytelling. The readers crave a time and a place, so they have a better understanding of what is going on in the novel. I recommend reading Write Great Fiction – Description & Setting by Ron Rozelle as well as Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott.

Nicole Michelle

Works Cited

Otsuka, Julie. The Buddha in the Attic. New York: Vintage Books, 2011. Print.

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone. New York: Scholastic, 1997. Print.


9. Dialogue

     Dialogue (speech), believe it or not, is more complex than you think. It serves several purposes in story-telling including revealing motives, sets the stories mood, adds dynamic to plot, creates tension/suspense with characters, speeds up the pace of the story, reveals both characterization and plot, and breaks up narrative. If it doesn’t serve one of these purposes then it has no point being in the scene.
     Dialogue should flow naturally. It should be authentic to the character and not sound forced. You have to ask yourself as you’re writing: Would my character say that? Or sound like that? Speak like that? Would they ever use that terminology or slang? Would they even know what that word means? You have to know your character (characterization). You have to get inside their head. Here’s an example of forced dialogue:

Sam walked alone down an alley and suddenly a man with a knife appeared.
“He has a knife!” Sam shouted. How will I get out of this?

     Okay, first ask yourself, who the heck is Sam talking to? The character is alone in an alley, so they can’t warn anyone and we (the reader) already know the man has a knife, so it’s just redundant to have any dialogue like that there. Also, you have to give your character more credit than that too. I’m pretty sure he or she would realize what is happening in the moment and react in a more realistic way. In this case action probably speaks louder than words. Would the first thing Sam does when he sees a stranger with a knife say ‘he has a knife’ or would he run or freeze or try to fight the guy or even talk him down? Sam sees there is a knife and the man knows he’s holding a knife so its likely Sam doesn’t need to state the obvious. Don’t let the character speak directly to the audience, pretend we’re not even here. Be in the moment with your character and react accordingly. Also, just a side note here, use exclamation points sparingly. Think of them as the Grandparent that you love to see on those super rare occasions that way it’s a nice surprise if they actually do pop up.
     The next part of that example is the italicized inner-monologue, or thoughts, which in it’s own subtle way is forced because it is asking an obvious question the reader expects to be answered. Italics are used generally for thoughts or an emphasis. For example:

“Well I don’t want to be like that because that would mean being like you.

     Emphasis on the you. This dialogue would probably be found in an argument somewhere.
     Another aspect of Dialogue is the use of Dialogue Tags. A dialogue tag lets the reader know who is talking. It’s the he/she/name said at the end of the sentence. Sadly most dialogue tags are skipped over, so instead of using so many fancy tags like he quipped or she bellowed its best to just use standard he/she said/replied. Also, a helpful hint when it comes to writing dialogue is that a general rule of thumb is each time a new character speaks they get a new line/paragraph. Okay, that noted, here’s an example of normal dialogue from My Soul to Keep by Tananarive Due:


““You seem…older…” [Jessica] said. “Not that you look it, at least not much. But you act–”
“Like an old fogy?”
“You said it, not me.”
“That comes from being a misanthrope,” [David] said.
“Are you?”
“In general, yes. But not tonight.”” (Due 32).


     This example jumps back and forth from character to character and since there are only two it’s okay to not use so many dialogue tags. Due uses one every few lines to remind the reader who is saying what. The dialogue continues:


     ““Dr. Wolde,” she said, “I don’t think I can date one of my professors. It would feel weird.”
     “Call me David.”
     “David, I can’t date one of my professors.”
     “Former professors,” he corrected.
     “Former professors,” she repeated, her voice firm.
     Dr. Wolde sighed, glancing down from her face to the scratched mock-wood Formica tabletop. He looked genuinely wounded, but also angry at himself. “I think I’ve overstepped some protocol here. I’m no good at this. I thought since you’re no longer my student, we could–” He sighed again, laughing nervously. “I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable. I didn’t mean to. I just enjoy this, being with you, and I thought…” He raised his palm to cover his eye-lids, as though shielding his face from a sudden flash of light. “I’m embarrassed. Ay Dios mío. I’m sorry, Jessica.””(Due 32-33).


     I really like this exchange of dialogue because it shows characterization on both parts. It shows Jessica being firm with her response and David almost ignoring her, acting like this is a game to him at first, but then realizes he needs to back away. Through dialogue we learned about their characters. The best part about this example is that the dialogue is evenly balanced with exposition. We get to see the character’s actions, which sometimes speak louder than words themselves. For example, “He looked genuinely wounded, but also angry at himself.” What a curious thing for Jessica to observe, don’t you think? Why would David be mad at himself when she is the one turning him down? Characterization.
     One last aspect of dialogue is dialect. Dialect is like an accent. While it’s fun to write a character that has a certain dialect, it can also prove challenging because you have to keep the dialect consistent throughout the whole story. This poem, Sence You Went Away by James Weldon Johnson (from 101 Great American Poems) is a great example of a southern dialect:


Seems lak to me de stars don’t shine so bright,
Seems lak to me de sun done loss his light,
Seems lak to me der’s nothin’ goin’ right,
  Sence you went away.

Seems lak to me de sky ain’t half so blue,
Seems lak to me dat ev’ything wants you,
Seems lak to me I dont know what to do,
  Sence you went away.

Seems lak to me dat ev’ything is wrong,
Seems lak to me de day’s jes twice es long,
Seems lak to me de bird’s forgot his song,
  Sence you went away.

Seems lak to me I jes can’t he’p but sigh,
Seems lak to me ma th’oat keeps gettin’ dry,
Seems lak to me a tear stays in ma eye,
  Sence you went away.


     This poem is beautiful, in part because of the dialect. In this case it gives the poem a good sound, but for novels it would add to a character’s characterization, which is why it’s important.
     Dialogue can be a beautiful aspect to your book, but it’s important to not go overboard with it either. Balance between dialogue and action is key; otherwise the reader may get bored or confused. Hemmingway is arguably the master of dialogue, so check out this link for one of his short stories that is dialogue-driven: http://www.mrbauld.com/hemclean.html.
     For more advice on Dialogue check out Write Great Fiction – Dialogue by Gloria Kempton. Also, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird (have I convinced you that this book should be apart of your library yet?) is good for dialogue too (it’s good for everything!).


Nicole Michelle

Works Cited

Due, Tananarive. My Soul To Keep. New York: Eos, 1997. Print.

Johnson, James Weldon. 101 Great American Poems. “Sence You Went Away”. Mineola: Dover, 1998. Print.


8. POV Pop-Outs

     A pov pop-out is when you accidently jump into another character’s pov, when you should’ve stayed in a different character’s pov. This is a common mistake among novice writers and even, from time to time, professional writers. It’s a very delicate balance staying in only one characters pov.
     I’ve been guilty myself of doing this. Once I continued writing a scene with minor characters after my main character had already left the room–and scene (it was a very embarrassing mistake xp). This is a pop-out because if the story is through my main character’s pov and if they are not there to witness what is going on, then the readers shouldn’t know either.
     It could also be as simple as this scenario: Let’s say you write third limited through Steve’s POV and he’s talking to Angela.

     Steve looked up to the meteor shower above and pointed to a long-tailed comet stretching across the sky. “Look, Angela,” he said. “Isn’t it beautiful?” He turned his attention to her and smiled.
     Angela looked at the spectacle, hopeful—for a new beginning, for change. “Yeah,” she said finally, “it is.”
     Steve looked back to the comet and wished he could see what she saw in it. He was certain it was far more than a rock of ice to her.

     This example really borderlines a pop-out because we go into what Angela is feeling for a moment. Do we really know that she is looking hopefully at the comet? That’s what make this so debatable. One could argue if Steve knew Angela well enough he could state what she is feeling, but it’s still a stretch. The pop-out continues and tells us specifically what she is hopeful for and that is a clear sign of a pop-out. Luckily this is an easy enough fix. To avoid such confusing borderline pop-outs you could simply reword it like this:

     Steve looked up to the meteor shower above and pointed to a long-tailed comet stretching across the sky. “Look, Angela,” he said. “Isn’t it beautiful?” He turned his attention to her and smiled.
     Angela looked at the spectacle as if she hoped for change. “Yeah,” she said finally, “it is.”
     Steve looked back to the comet and wished he could see what she saw in it. He was certain it was far more than a rock of ice to her.

     Here’s a pov pop-out I found in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye . In this scene we are in Soaphead Church’s pov, but there is an accidental slip into Pecola’s pov. The bold shows the pop-out.

“ “Take this food and give it to the creature sleeping on the porch. Make sure he eats it. And mark well how he behaves. If nothing happens, you will know that God has refused you. If the animal behaves strangely, your wish will be granted on the day following this one.”
The girl picked up the packet; the odor of the dark, sticky meat made her want to vomit. She put a hand on her stomach.
“Courage. Courage, my child. These things are not granted to faint hearts.”
She nodded and swallowed visibly, holding down the vomit. Soaphead opened the door, and she stepped over the threshold.
“Good-bye, God bless,” he said and quickly shut the door. At the window he stood watching her, his eyebrows pulled together into waves of compassion, his tongue fondling the worn gold in his upper jaw. He saw the girl bending down to the sleeping dog…” (Morrison 175).

     The problem with these minor pop-outs is that we don’t know that she is physically holding down vomit or that the smell makes her want to puke because we are in Soaphead’s pov not ‘the girls’. How does Soaphead know that the smell ‘made her want to vomit’? or that she was ‘holding down the vomit’? We don’t, because we are not in that character’s head so how can we possibly know what they are thinking or feeling? Morrison could’ve written something like ‘the odor made the girl look ill’ or ‘the girl paled’ to show she was sickened by the meat, but we don’t really know that she wanted to vomit, per se. The second line, ‘holding down the vomit’, would’ve been best left out.

     Point of View Pop-Outs are tricky, but usually an easy fix. It’s just one of those things that every writer does accidently on occasion, which undoubtedly is fixed during revisions.

Nicole Michelle


Works Cited

Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. New York: Vintage Books, 1970. Print.


7. Point Of View

     Before you put pen to paper—or fingers to keyboard—you need to know what point of view (POV) you will be writing in. POV is the way in which your character sees the world within your book. It’s important to remain consistent with the POV that you choose; however, there are times when an author decides to switch the POV to another character. They may do this to help move the plot along, which is fine as long as the shifts stay consistent in each POV. Make sure to avoid POV Pop-outs!


1st Person Point of View = ‘I’

     A popular book written in 1st POV is The Hunger Games The story is seen entirely through Katniss Everdeen’s POV. You see everything through her eyes and are stuck in her head. You know how she feels, what she thinks, and what she perceives.
     First POV gets inside the characters head. It’s beneficial to use this POV because it tells the story right through your character’s eyes the way they see it. Think of it kind of like a First Person Shooter game—you only see what the character sees. This is good depending on what kind of story you’re writing and if you plan on staying in that character’s pov the whole story.
     The disadvantage to this is that you’re constantly in a bias POV; although this could be good depending on your story. You’re also limited to what the character sees and knows. For example, it’s difficult to describe what facial expressions the character is making because they cant see their own face, unless looking at their reflection, but that is generally considered a cliché and is encouraged to be avoided. Also, it’s limiting because you only sees as much as your character does and only know as much as they do. For example, if the bad guys are off in the distance, plotting, the reader would never know that because our character doesn’t know that…unless they’re actually in the room with the bad guys.
Example (off the top of my head): I looked down with a sigh. This wasn’t supposed to happen. What am I supposed to do now?


2nd Person Point of View = ‘You’ 

     I don’t know many novels that are written in this pov, but it’s sometimes used in poems (and sometimes short stories) to really get into the reader’s head. It’s telling the reader how to feel, what to perceive, and what they see. I think 2nd pov is most commonly used in instruction manuals. Again, if you’re writing a novel, this most likely isn’t the POV you want to use.
Example: You looked down with a sigh. This wasn’t supposed to happen. What are you to do now?


3rd Person Point of View = He/She

     Limited: 3rd person limited, is perhaps my favorite POV to write from, and probably the most popular written in books, besides 1st person pov. With 3rd limited you get the best of both worlds. You are able to see your character from a distance and get into their thoughts. A popular series in third limited is Harry Potter. We see how he handles his struggles and get a special glimpse into his mind from time to time too on how he feels, his internal reactions, to the situations that he is going though.
     The disadvantage to using Limited POV is that you’re limited to this character’s thoughts and feelings, much like 1st person POV. However, I would argue that it’s easier to switch POV’s if you’re writing in third person. It’s an easier transition for the reader and less confusing.
Example: She looked down with a sigh. She knew this wasn’t supposed to happen. What was she supposed to do now?

     Objective: Objective pov is strictly He/She did such and such. You don’t get any of the character’s feelings or how they perceive things. This could be good for keeping things vague and mysterious for the readers. The disadvantage here is the lack of characterization. While it’s not unheard of in books, it is generally kept for short stories or poems.

     Omniscient: Omniscient pov is just that, omniscient. This pov gets into everyone’s head. The readers know everything about everyone and their feelings and thoughts. There are no secrets here. It’s great because of this reason, but it’s also a disadvantage if you don’t want the reader to know everything. Some things are best kept a secret until the right moment.
     While this is a fun POV to write in, it is extremely difficult to master and do well. It takes great experience to pull of this pov, and because of that I would recommend experimenting with this pov only in short stories. Sometimes in novels there is an omniscient narrator, like in The Lord of the Rings, that knows all and lets the readers in.
     It’s important to know where you want your story to go before you pick your POV that way you can pick which is best for you (<=see, here I’m using 2nd pov). Certain situations call for certain POV’s and it’s up to you as the writer to decided which POV is best—how do you want your character to portrayed? How do you want them to perceive things? These are good to know before you start writing. Of course there are times when you first start your story and you’re unsure. The important thing is to just get started. You can always change the POV later if you must. That happens more often than you think!
     Read Write Great Fiction – Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint by Nancy Kress and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott for a better understanding on Point of View.

Nicole Michelle


6. Plot

     Plot is the driving force of any story. Plot is the story. If a scene isn’t moving the plot along or showing characterization (although it’s easy to do both in the same scene) then it should be cut. Without plot, there would be nothing interesting motivating the reader to keep reading. They may like your character, but without anything happening to that character it’ll make for a rather boring story. John Gardner believes that “plot exists so the character can discover what he is really like, forcing the character to choice and action”. By placing your character in interesting plots you will make your audience want to read on.  Plot keeps it interesting. Plot keeps your readers engaged.
     The basic elements of plot are: tension (conflict), rising action, climax, and falling action.



     As demonstrated in the picture above, there can be minor setbacks in the rising action for your character. Like life, this is normal. The biggest point of rising action, though, is to build tension and conflict. Keep building, building, building, building until you hit the climax of the story. The climax is where the biggest, or most impactful, plot point happens. This is where the story had led up to and what the readers have been waiting for. This is the moment that changes both the story and the character’s life in some way. The climax is where you see the most action, and, as the picture states, the highest point of conflict. Next, the plot has to start releasing that built up tension. This is called the falling action, where in the story we see how the characters move on with their lives after whatever happened in the climax took place. Their new norm. Last is the final resolution.
     Let’s take a look at A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin for an example (warning: this example contains spoilers).
     Toward the end of A Game of Thrones, the rising action rapidly climbs to the climax. In other words, shit is hitting the fan. Cersei’s secret is threatening to be exposed, Robert is dying, Ned is arrested, Robb is starting an army, Jon tries running from the Night’s Watch to join Robb, Khal Dorgo is dying, Dany is in labor, Arya’s missing, Ned is brought before the people to confess his treason, Sansa has an internal battle between “loving” Joffrey or her father, Ned confesses his “treasons”, Joffrey announces he’s going to cut off Ned’s head, Arya tries to fight her way to her father, Sansa is screaming in the background, the crowd is roaring, Joffrey’s advisor’s are trying to council his decision, and then—the climax—Ned’s head is cut off.
     Martin does a good job of slowing down the pace and coming out of the chaotic climax by then switching to Danny’s point of view. Danny burns herself with Khal Dorgo, the mage, and the dragon eggs, but then something miraculous happens, where Martin leaves the reader with hope, Danny is alive and well with three baby dragons. This resolution leaves an opening for a sequel and also leaves the readers with a sense of peace after the emotional roller coaster they were just put on.
     Another technique is the Pixar Storyboard technique. It looks like this:

Once upon a time…Everyday…Until one day…Because of that…Because of that…Until finally…

     The ‘once upon a time’ introduces us to the world. ‘Everyday’ refers to the character’s norm. ‘Until one day’ is the story point that disrupts the character’s norm. ‘Because of that’ is the character’s reaction to ‘until one day’ and this step can be repeated as many times as needed until you get to ‘until finally’, which is the resolving plot point.
     So if we applied this to Ned’s story from A Game of Thrones, it would look something like:

Once upon a time there was an honorable man named Eddard Stark. Everyday he taught his children valuable lessons. Until one day the king came to Winterfell and asked Ned to be the Hand of the King. Because of that Ned moved to King’s Landing to join the King. Because of that he found buried secrets that he wanted to tell the dying king. Because of that he was imprisoned when the king died and Joffrey took the throne. Until finally the new king ordered to have Ned killed for his “crime”.

     Of course this is just a quick summary, but it hits the basic plot points.  Without these interesting points there would be no plot, and without plot, there would be no story.
     Check out this link for more advice on story-telling: http://laughingsquid.com/22-rules-of-storytelling-by-a-pixar-storyboard-artist/
     I recommend reading Write Great Fiction – Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott also covers a section on plot.


Nicole Michelle


Works Cited

Martin, George R.R. A Game of Thrones. New York: Bantam Books, 2006. Print.


5. Character Sheets

     Character Sheets are a good way to get to know your characters. It’s important to know your characters so you know how they react to certain situations. They contain basic information outlining your character in which you can always refer if need be. Not everyone makes character sheets and that’s fine—completely up to the author. In fact, I didn’t do it for the longest time, until I had too many characters to keep track of.
     Each character sheet is different. Some are very long and detailed and others are simple. Personally, I thought the pre-made character sheets were too much, so I made up my own to what I thought would suit my characters. If you feel like tailoring your own sheets to suit your own books, go for it! In fact it’s probably best to make your own, but not everyone prefers doing that.
     I make a character sheet for all characters, major and minor alike; although I do spend more time with major characters and put in a lot more detail and backstory with them.
     Here’s a list of things that are on my character sheets: full name and nickname, age, birthday (I go the extra step and write down their astrology signs), personality (what the character’s like), eye/hair color, sex, race, job (if any), some of their favorites (food, drink, color, etc.), their dislikes, any unique quirks they may have, their goals/dreams, their role in the story (how they move plot along), and any extra facts that help with plot or backstory.
     There may be details on your character sheets that never appear in the story, but, as the author, you need to know.
     Here’s a picture example of a character sheet I had done for a minor character I ended up deleting:


Sample Char. Sheet

Sample Char. Sheet


     Here are a few links to a three different character sheets, some simple, some complex, in which you can copy or print out:



Nicole Michelle


4. Characterization

     Some writer’s argue that characterization is the most important aspect of story telling, for without characters there’s no plot and without plot there is no story.  The point of characterization is to have someone the reader can connect to and care about. Characterization is what draws the reader into the story. If the reader doesn’t care about your character, they will likely not continue to read or invest in the story. Another reason characterization is important is because it assists in revealing important information about the character which helps to unfold the plot.
     It’s good to develop a strong relationship with your characters, major and minor alike. Really get to know them. In order to write your character convincingly you have to know them better than anyone else. How do you get to know them? Practice, my friends. Write them often and a lot. Another way is through character sheets to get the basic idea of who your character is. You will use characterization often throughout your story, so it’s very important to know how your character reacts to certain situations.
     There are three main ways to convey characterization in your story: through dialogue, through character actions, and through exposition.
     Using dialogue to show characterization is easy enough to do. It shows through the characters own voice how he or she feels in response to what’s happening. For example, anyone can see solely by Jace’s dialogue in City of Bones that he is a sassy, sarcastic, cocky, conceited, and, at times, narcissistic bad-boy heartthrob.


“ “Don’t.” Clary raised a warning hand. “I’m not really in the mood right now.”

“That’s got to be the first time a girl’s ever said that to me,”  Jace mused.” (Clare).


     In the above example, you can see just by Jace’s tone how cocky and conceited he is. Here’s another that shows how Jace’s character treats a serious situation:


““By the Angel,” Jace said, looking the demon up and down. “I knew Greater Demons were meant to be ugly, but no one ever warned me about the smell.” Abbadon opened its mouth and hissed. Inside its mouth were two rows of jagged glass-sharp teeth. “I’m not sure about this wind and howling darkness business,” Jace went on, “smells more like landfill to me. You sure you’re not from Staten Island?”” (Clare 353).

     Jace is less worried about the monster that can kill him and treats the situation with a sarcastic humor. This plays into his cool, prideful character (you know, the one that’s the best, most talented Shadowhunter in his class?).
     Besides showing characterization through dialogue, you could also show it through the character’s actions. For example, in The Aylesford Skull, a young toddler by the name of Eddie acts heroically when the  adult, POV character, Finn, is about to be killed by an antagonist.


            “Ah, no, Finn thought, as Eddie picked up a small stone and threw it at the Crumpet, missing him by a wide margin. Eddie saw a tree branch, then, and picked it up, running toward the Crumpet’s back, the Crumpet completely unaware. Eddie swung the branch at the back of the Crumpet’s head, as hard as he could swing it….” (Blaylock 315).


     Even though Eddie is just a little child, and he can’t do much to help Finn, it speaks wonders to his character that he would still try by using whatever he could find as a weapon.  Eddie is unaware that he’s really making the situation more dangerous for himself, but all he wants is for Finn to be okay. It shows that Eddie is a brave and courageous little kid, but it also shows he’s naïve.
     The last way to show characterization is though exposition, by telling the reader how a character feels or is.  The beginning of The Tell-Tale Start (Misadventures of Edgar/Allan) starts like this:


            “Edgar and Allan Poe sat beside each other in the back row of their homeroom class, asleep. They’d been up late the night before, reading the latest in their favorite series, True Stories of Horror, and now they leaned shoulder-to-shoulder, head-to-head, together in dreamland. Like little sleeping angels…Well maybe not angels.” (McAlpine 1).


     This passage is very telling of the characters right from the first line. First we know that they sit in the back of their class, so it’s safe to assume they aren’t the best students, and then we find out they are sleeping, again proving the point. In the next sentence we learn more about their character, that they like horror stories and we find out what their favorite series is. Then in the last line we learn that they are ‘not like angels’. This is a great example of how to convey characterization through exposition, but just remember to do this technique sparingly. Showing is always better than telling.
     Check out Write Great Fiction – Characters, Emotion & Viewpointby Nancy Kress and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott for more information on characterization.

Nicole Michelle


Works Cited

Blaylock, James P. The Aylesford Skull: A Tale of Langdon St. Ives. London: Titan Books, 2013. Print.

Clare, Cassandra. The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. New York: McElderry Books, 2007. Print.

McAlpine, Gordon. The Misadventures of Edgar & Allan Poe: The Tell-Tale Start. New York: Penguin, 2013. Print.


3. Manuscript Format

     Proper manuscript (MS) format is essential because it makes or breaks your pitch to an agent. Many agents will instantly toss a manuscript that is not in its proper format (note: while there is a basic MS format, each agent/publisher has their own guidelines in which you should follow when pitching specifically to them). This, I believe, is due simply to following instructions. If an agent wants submissions in proper MS format and you choose not to comply, they will not take you seriously and, ultimately, toss your stuff.

Here’s what the basics look like:

  • 12 pt Courier/Courier New font
  • Double spaced (no extra spaces between paragraphs)
  • 1-1.5 in Margins
  • Pages numbered (don’t number first page)
  • Include word count

     It’s very simple to follow.  For a novel you have a separate cover sheet with the title in all caps and your name. If writing a short story it’s the same guidelines, but has a few extra things. Instead of adding a cover sheet, author’s information (left side), word count (right side), title (centered, all caps, three spaces from the name and info), and byline (by, one space under title, name, all caps one space under by) should be on the same page as the story. Under your name space twice (or four single-spaced) and begin your story.

     I suggest reading The Writer’s Digest Guide to Manuscript Formats by Dian Buchman and/or Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscriptby Chuck Sambuchino.


Here’s a couple pics to give you an idea:



Check out these sites to help:





2. Reality Of Being A Writer

     Perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions of being a writer is that all writers do is sit down and write; it’s that easy!  Sadly it is not that easy.  There is much more to writing besides sitting down and writing, and if you’re lazy then perhaps this is not for you.  Writing has to be treated as a job, because much of the writing process is timely.

     I would argue that research takes up most of my writing time when I am not actually writing.  It is important to research so your work is authentic. No one wants to read something that is inaccurate. The reader wants to be able to trust their author to know what they are writing about.  There is hardly an author that is perfect and knows everything, so it’s only natural we must do some research on certain topics.  For example, if your story takes place in a rural city on the east coast, but you’ve never been to the east coast, this would call for thorough research on weather, ecology, and maybe what kind of shops are around.  You can find most of this information online at the city’s official webpage, or in books, but the best research for this would be to actually take a trip to this city on the east coast; however, not everyone has funds for this kind of research.

     On top of keeping your manuscript authentic, there is a laundry list of other duties a writer has to do.  A few of them include: making timelines, making character sheets, there are a ton of things the author must know that the audience may never find out, you must know the audience, plan in advanced (chapters, plot ideas, character actions, etc.), revise and edit.   There are, of course, more an author must do, but this is just off the top of my head.

     Being a writer is not an easy task, and getting published is even more difficult.  If your goal is to be published than you have to get an agent. To get an agent you have to learn to write a quarry letter and a synopsis.  Expect to get turned down a lot, but try not to give up hope.  You may break through and land a good publishing company in which you then begin the long and rigorous editing process.  The editor will tear your manuscript apart and at times you may not agree with everything he or she has to say.

     When and if you’re published you will likely not be a millionaire.  Hence the term “starving artist”.  The key rule is to not quit your day job (I know I’m such a hypocrite). Yes, even if you’ve been published it is advised to have a side job.  Also, expect criticism.  Acknowledge not everyone is going to like or agree with your work.  Criticism doesn’t have to be such a bad thing, you can learn from it.

     For now I suggest getting yourself out there.  Simply put, share your work with others and ask them to (constructively) critique your work.  This will greatly improve your writing abilities.  Sign up for contests to boost confidence, attend or preform at an open mic night, take classes, go to group writing sessions, and just remember to share, share, share.  For more information on the realities of being a writer, I recommend reading On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King, and Some Writers Deserve to Starve! by Elaura Niles.

Nicole Michelle