Show and Tell!
Did you love show and tell as a kid? I adored that day. It was such fun to share my own little treasures and see what others considered to be precious. I remember being pleased as punch to show off the clay pig I had carefully sculpted. It didn’t look much like an actual specimen, but boy, was I proud of that thing. Kids have this gift of enthusiasm, so my fellow classmates were moderately impressed as well. In turn I was appreciative of their offerings, the container of marbles, the pencil drawings and collections of stuffed animals. Funny, how those small trinkets seemed so very important in our young lives.
Fast forward to my teaching days. I am sitting at my desk before class when a student proudly hauls in their show and tell…a demonstration bee hive, filled with bees! I was stunned as he plopped the thing on the back table and went outside to play. I sat there in the quiet, listening to those bees humming, thinking that one accidental knock and we would be in a terror movie. Some child would have an allergic reaction and my career would end, all because of show and tell. Of course, nothing like that happened and I called the parent to have them retrieve the hive after a quick sharing time. I’ll never forget that show and tell!
Now, I do show NOT tell for a living! Writers are always trying to capture the feeling, the emotion, the importance of the thing, without actually telling you how to feel about it. Ironic, no? It occurs to me what stands out about the beehive show and tell is not the hive, but the feelings buzzing around it (if you’ll excuse the pun.)
I just returned from a research trip to the boardwalk for an upcoming mystery series. Thanks to the internet, I had all the facts and images before I set foot there. I could have written the proposal without having visited, but there’s something about the feel of it that I wanted to convey, the “showing” the reader intangible aspects of the place, the way the light plays over the beach on a fall afternoon, the smell of salt water and sunscreen, the sense of history connected to the hundred-year-old carousel. Those details are what elevates a piece of writing from telling, to showing. The result is magical.
Never did I imagine as a kiddo that my adult years would be spent creating worlds of stories to show my readers. All these years later, I’m still excited for show and tell!
Emotions. Who needs them?
Apparently, authors do. One thing I discovered about myself when I started this writing journey, I’m emotionally constipated. I tease with my editor that she’s my emotional ex-lax. I’d send her my manuscript and she’s send it back with notes like
“How does she feel about this?”
“Show me how he feels.”
Feelings. Feelings. Feelings. Eew
And I would be like “How should I know?” I would be forced to close my eyes and put myself in the character’s shoes. How would I feel if this were me? How would I react? What would I do? Then I would write it. But it turns out I would probably need to see a heart doctor because my heart beat a lot. It’s hard to show feelings that don’t use the same reactions. Turns out there’s an amazing asset for writers. The Emotion Thesaurus by Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman. They have two editions. I own both editions. In print and ebook.
Turns out, writing with emotions allows the reader to connect to the characters and the story. Without emotions, you just have a storyline. Nothing to connect the reader to the book. Nothing to keep them turning the pages. The key to a good book is to get the reader emotionally invested in your characters and their story. Emotions are our shared human experience. They are how we connect even though our experiences can be so different. The reader is looking for a way to connect, to find themselves in the story.
Think about a book that you loved. Why did you love it? Did you build an emotional connection with the characters? Were you invested in their lives? In what happened to them?
Leave a comment with a book you loved because you connected with the characters – even if you don’t know why?
MacGyver might have come from my family tree. I grew up hearing stories of how my grandpa turned a horse trailer into a travel trailer for camping and how he finagled something out of what he had if he didn’t have the actual thing he needed. I grew up seeing my dad do this. And I’ve been known to do it a time or two myself. Most recently I made an anti-freeze funnel out of a Dr Pepper bottle, some PVC pipe, and duct tape.
My grandpa grew up during the Great Depression, so I could see how making do with what he had came to him naturally. The rest of us saw the usefulness of it and continued the tradition. Even though there are times I’ve stopped and said, “I should just go buy the thing I need instead of trying to make do.” Maybe it would have saved me some time and frustration.
But there is something satisfying about seeing a problem and creating the solution yourself. It’s like solving a puzzle. And for me, writing a book is a lot like that. I start out with various pieces and no idea how they are going to fit together.
When I began Over Her Head, it was the third book of my In the Shadow series. This series explores the idea of what it’s like to grow up in the shadow of a hero. Jessica’s brother, Scott, is a Navy pilot. Their oldest brother died before Jessica was born, so she’s always felt like she’s been in the shadow of her older brothers. How would she become her own person and find the purpose that God has for her?
That was one piece. A big one. But I still needed to find a love interest, a plot, and a supporting cast. I started sorting through what I had, looking for pieces that could fit, could be molded into something new and different. A trip to the hair salon provided a fun conversation with my hair stylist about what a newly graduated cosmetology student might be doing and the politics of working in a salon.
The pieces were coming together. Finally, I decided to set the story around one of my favorite activities: camping. Okay, maybe it’s more like glamping. I like a real bed. But it is a great way to force a group of people to be close together for a period of time. There’s an element of stress, and even danger, since nature isn’t predictable.
With all of those pieces, I still had to keep in mind that this book was a spinoff of the original Hometown Heroes series. I had to keep all of those original characters in mind, as they continued their stories and made appearances. The first book in that series, Protective Custody, stars Detective Kyle Taylor, a man who has had to solve a few of his own puzzles. The biggest of which might just be Heather McAlistair. Clearly I enjoy puzzles.
But with every puzzle, you have to keep the ultimate picture in mind. Hopefully the end product looks smoothly finished and not MacGyvered together. But I don’t ever let the rough beginning or different looking pieces discourage me from pressing on with the story. And I think that’s a good lesson for life.
What rough spots need a little creativity to bring them to life and smooth them out? Spend some time letting your inner MacGyver play. And pick up a book while you’re pondering.
Kathleen J. Robison
Faith or Fear
“When you face that pitcher, are you gonna swing that bat with faith or fear?”
When my son was a young boy, one of his coaches gave that pep talk to his team. But it wasn’t just a pep talk. That coach was a believer. He wanted those boys to trust God to help them overcome their fear of failure, their fear of getting hit by the ball, fears of disappointing their parents or teammates. Coaching a bunch of nine and ten-year-old boys, this mentor taught them to overcome their fears of anything and do it through faith in God.
In my newest book, Revived Hope, Melanie Thompson exercises her gift of faith to overcome fear. She doesn’t just muscle it out. It’s not willpower or the power of self. Faith is a gift. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” I often forget that myself—the gift part. And by doing so, I sometimes struggle to persevere through a trial, often giving into sleepless nights. I pound myself with thoughts of “Why can’t I let this go?”
But I can, and I do. My faith is revived through persevering prayer, daily bible reading, and encouragement from my family and friends in Christ. The Holy Spirit settles my soul, and I’m encouraged because “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1. I love this reminder that the gift of faith is greater than anything I can conjure up on my own and that it’s a gift that is produced in our lives through the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)
I recall a trial not too long ago where my hands were tied. There literally was nothing I could do but pray, read my bible, and cry to my husband. I begged God to reverse the situation, to remedy the damage. But I buried myself in His Word, and I continued to pray. I know that had I not had the foundations of faith in place before this trial hit, I would have taken matters into my own hands and ruined the whole thing. As it was, God’s grace abounded, and in His perfect timing, though it was too long for me, and in His perfect way, all was resolved for His glory.
Melanie, in my book, has a beautiful example of an active living faith through her parents. As in all my books, I try to lay the groundwork of a progression of faith through a life of prayer, daily bible reading, bible study, and church attendance. That sounds like such a pat formula, and it’s not the way I draft my stories, but it has never failed me in my believer’s walk. I love that Romans 10:17 stresses this importance. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” Saturation is the key!
My characters of faith, and not all of them have this gift, struggle, fail and persevere as faithful friends and family also surround them. These elements of the faith are the foundation for overcoming the tragedies and trials in this life, and the time to exercise them is now. It’s always right now, and we never know who’s watching. We are that living example to believers and non-believers alike.
I follow my son’s childhood coach on Facebook, and my husband runs into him around town. He has been and is going through many personal, painful physical trials in his health. I’m so encouraged by his transparency. He gives all glory and all dependence to the Lord God Almighty. He asks for prayers, trusting in God’s sovereign goodness. He asks us to seek Jesus for his healing health, and he is a shining example of swinging his bat with faith and not fear.
My faith would always prevail over sleepless nights and anxious days in a perfect universe, and I long for that ideal place one day in eternity. But in our crazy world right now, we are precisely where God wants us. His sovereignty abounds. So, through the encouragement of His Word, let’s allow that beautiful gift of faith to overcome the fears of this world. Let’s face the plate, one at-bat at a time, with faith.