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QUESTION: Thank you for your answer. It helped very much. I am using your advice with my dialogue! Your answer was very thorough. I just had a few more questions about flow. When I write I have problems with scenes other than the action , romance, or important parts of the story. I cannot seem to bring the scenes together without describing every little detail. I have read many many books, and saw that sometimes writers do this by having the character think about their past. I would like to know the best way to move the story along without describing everything they think and feel. I will send you a page from my book as soon as I have something worth reading. I write a few chapters, and tear it up. Until I have this problem fixed, I can't seem to make it work. Thank you for your valuable time, it is MUCH appreciated!  Tara

ANSWER: Hello again, Tara!

I'm pleased that my advice was of some use to you!

I'm am somewhat confused about what you're saying. It sounds as if you're having trouble with transitioning between scenes, but when you say that many writers do this by "making characters think about the past," it seems as if you mean incorporating past events into the present story. I hope you understand that it is difficult to answer a question such as this without giving specific details - I'll try to answer the best I can until you write a piece you feel comfortable enough to include in your question. When the time comes, I will be able to give you the most specific advice possible. Remember, the work doesn't have to be of exceptional quality; it simply must display the areas where you are having difficulty (otherwise my advice won't be as useful). That being said, I am going to try to address the two areas where it seems you may be having trouble.

If what you mean is, indeed, that you are having problem transitioning between scenes, there is a very popular way you can go about resolving this. Many writers, including myself, utilize the very handy, dandy scene or chapter break. I'm sure you see this in books often. It sometimes looks like this:

*    *    *

And then it will switch to another place, day, or character. While this is useful for small jumps, I don't recommend using it to jump years into the future (that's better for chapter breaks, or better yet, a sequel).

In the other instance, if you're having trouble incorporating past events into present events, there are (generally) two popular ways of going about this. One, is through character thought (may be recollections or through dreams). The other is through dialogue (discussing past events with other characters). Yet you have to be careful with the second, as if both characters are aware of the past events, they won't be discussing them in full detail - it seems too forced.

There is one other thing that I feel you might need me to address, which I see when you say "describing everything they think and feel." Are you having trouble expressing their emotions without applying too much exposition? That is the vibe I'm getting (correct me if this isn't what you mean).
The key here is to show not tell. Is there some way you can show emotions through actions, rather than telling how the character is feeling or what he is thinking?

So how do you describe someone who is passionately angry? Make him act as an angry person would.


1) Liam had never been so upset. After having known Drake for so many years, he'd never expect him to take hand in the betrayal. He stared in anger as Kelly told him what had happened.

2) As Kelly relayed the information of Drake's betrayal, Liam's face darkened until he took on a deep shade of red, his eyes almost seeming to emit a crimson flash or fury. Kelly, noticing his enraged expression, fell short mid-sentence.

"Sir?" she asked. But Liam didn't reply right away. His mouth opened and shut several times, as if he wanted to say something but couldn't quite find the words.

Kelly jumped in surprise when Liam finally reacted by bringing his fist to the stone tabletop with enormous force. He grimaced in pain, breathing heavily as if ready to leap onto the battlefield, wielding nothing but the brute force of his wrath.

"After all this time," he finally choked.     

"Sir," Kelly began, but Liam cut her off.

"After all this time!" he repeated, his voicing raising into a holler. "I'm such a fool!" He straightened and offered the woman a grin - but they both knew that the smile was meant to be nothing short of devious. Liam turned without another word and, grabbing his coat, stormed out of the room.

Yes, the second example is much more lengthy than the first. Why? Because I'm showing his emotions through his actions rather than simply telling the readers what he is feeling. Never once, in the second example, does it simply say he is mad or that he cannot believe what his friend has done. I've used certain words and actions to show the emotions, instead.

By his face darkening, his heavy breathing, and striking the tabletop, we can see that he is angry without having to be told.

By being at a loss for words and repeating "after all this time" we can sense his disbelief, again, without having to be directly told.

Having him storm out of the room leaves room to begin a new scene without having to follow him around. We can jump directly to Liam confronting Drake.

I hope this all makes sense, and I hope that I was able to brush some of the areas where you are experiencing difficulty. Once again, I'll be able to much better assist you when I have a sample of your work.

Good luck!


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Dear Jamie. Thanks again for taking time to answer my questions. I am so sorry I am not explaining myself properly. Your advice has helped a great deal, and I couldn't be more appreciative. The problems I have are moving the story along, without detailing everything. Example..- ( a bad one) Ivy walked to the door, and opened it. She walked outside.- I do not actually write that in my story but I wanted to give you some idea. I would like to be able to move the scene along without the story feeling too wordy, or forced, and too much detail. I will take your advice and use it, believe me. I love writing more than anything else, and I read to family and friends, who love it. I write five or six chapters of my story and start over! I am working on the second chapter now, and with your help I think I will continue without second guessing myself. I will send you something as soon as I have a finished chapter that I am proud of. You are an expert after all, and I am a little intimidated. Thanks again, Jamie. Your the best. I would love to read something of yours. Thanks! Tara.

Hello, Tara

Thank you for providing the example. That will be much more helpful!

I understand that this line isn't directly from your book, but I'm assuming that you've provided it because what is in your book often comes out a lot like this?

If so, the problem you are experiencing is directly linked to lack of showing. Within the example, there is no showing whatsoever - you're telling me exactly what is happening. My advice for you is to start by recognizing what is telling and what is showing.

Imagine your friend trying to describe something (that you've never seen) to you. He's struggling to get in details, mostly telling you what he saw. Now imagine him taking you to see it. Now you understand what it looks like, because it has been shown to you.

Unfortunately, we cannot show people actual pictures with words. So instead, we must describe it in a way that readers can mentally visualize what we want them to see. So we know that Ivy walks to the door, opens it, and then walks out. Can we see what's happening? Yes, we can. However, there is no scene here. We are focused entirely on Ivy walking through the door. And even so, it's not very exciting to read something designed with this structure.

What you have here, is actually something I see often when writing critiques. I call it "Timeline Structure," for the simple reason that it is set up as: this happens, then this happens, then this happens. Good for relaying events verbally, but not ideal for storytelling, or rather "storyshowing" as it should be called.

Let's focus on your sentence, here. You don't need to describe every small action like this; especially not in simple sentences. In addition, you need to consider the scene, Ivy's facial expressions and body language, and other characters in the scene if they are present. There are so many things we can do with this little tidbit, changing with circumstances. The big issue is not that it's too wordy, or even that there's too much detail, but rather that it is lacking the right words and you're putting detail on the wrong things.

Because we don't have any background or scene to work with, let's improvise.
To avoid telling, we're only going to imply that Ivy has left while distracting the readers with dialogue and imagery. Ivy is a maid trying to comfort her master:

“You’re a good woman, Ivy,” Leben said. “Why don’t you retire from your duties for the night? No use in worrying about me.”
  “Very well,” Ivy said as she put out the last glowing lantern. “Try to get some rest, Sir. You can’t fight when you haven’t the energy.”
  “No, I suppose not. Good night, my dear.” He moved to follow the maid out of the room, but stopped and glanced over his shoulder at the window. The moonlight flooded in through the glass, making the den look ghostly yet serene.

Here are some more examples of how to narrate character's walking through doors.

“Is that so?” Mother Alma wiped her wet hands on her cloak as she stood. The weapons she had stolen from Argent and Whisker where still tucked through her thick leather belt. “Perhaps I should take a look. Maybe they will both suit me. Well done, loved one.” The woman pulled her hood over her head and left the hut without another word. Amelia followed her to the doorway and poked her head out. She watched after for a few moments, then turned back and nodded at Shanahan.

Myles skipped up the steps to the tall white building from which the servants had brought the food during dinner. Argent gazed up at the doors as Myles forced them open. There were two of them, side by side, made of imposing grey stone. They were fit only to contain a prison on the other side, or something just as unpleasant. She was surprised to see that on the other side rested not a row of cells, but an old, fancy hallway. The walls were paneled with dark wood, and the floors were wooden as well. A long abstract-patterned rug lined the length of the hall, and ever here and there, was a potted plant or young tree. She and her friends followed their guide down the corridor, where it split and ran to both the left and right.


In the first example, it says that Alma left the hut, but doesn't make her actions the focus of the scene. The fact that she's walking through the door isn't what's important here. It's what is going on around her: what the characters are thinking and feeling, portrayed through expression and action. Someone walking through a doorway, does very little to enhance the story, unless it is a doorway to sudden death, or something like that. Additionally, the events aren't displayed in "Timeline Structure." By describing the scenery to the readers, we take away from the feeling of being read a timeline, as it assists in breaking up the chronological actions.

We can also avoid telling, by finding alternate ways to say what we want to say. Instead of saying "Myles opened the doors," we can say "Argent gazed up at the doors as Myles forced them open." This way, we are given a bit of imagery. We see him struggling to open them, and thus make the connection that the doors are stuck, or difficult to open. We are better able to form a picture in our minds.    
Likewise, instead of saying "They walked down the hallway," we say "She and her friends followed their guide down the corridor, where it split and ran to both the left and right." Now we aren't directly telling readers that they ware walking, but we're implying it by saying that they followed their guide.

This doesn't mean you should go around implying everything that happens in your story. You should only use this technique to avoid telling.

You can also do some exercises to help with this. Take a few telling lines, such as the ones you have provided, and turn them into a showing scene.

Try taking this scene and making it more descriptive by showing with words that appeal to our senses (imagery):

Rosemary stood by the lake. She looked at it for a long. Then she remembered why she was there, so she picked the berries and went home.

I really do hope that my explanations are clear. I strongly advise you to complete some exercises, because showing is not a skill that will come overnight - it's something you need to work with. Finish your draft, then go back and edit. First drafts aren't meant to be perfect (trust me, mine are downright embarrassing). But it gives you a sort of guideline so that may improve the story.  

There's no need to feel intimidated, I'm happy to help and I'm here to help, not to criticize.

Good luck, and if you ever have any more questions, do not hesitate to ask.



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Jamie Darrach


I can answer just about any question regarding the composition, editing, and publishing procedures for all forms of literature. I will give aspiring authors ample tips on how to strengthen plot, how make story-lines and characters credible, how to improve visual description and dialogue, and how to make works flow easily and naturally. In addition, I can give writers advice on how to adequately edit and revise their works. I have knowledge of the literary market, and can advise writers in which route would be best for their piece, including offer examples of presses and agents who work with manuscripts in the author's category.


I have been writing for eleven years, having completed fourteen novels, several short stories, and countless pieces of poetry. I am experienced in multiple genres. I have worked as a copy-editor and critic for aspiring authors. I have researched the literary market from inside-out, and can provide much information to writers who are seeking advice.

College for BA in English

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