For Readers & Writers
from Susan Dennard
M&D Issue #121

July 26, 2018

What's in this heart-to-heart?

Recent Goings On:


I CANNOT BELIEVE I FINISHED OMGOSH OMGOSH. Bloodwitch is done, my friends!

Well, I'm doing copyedits now, but the HARD PART is done!

I don't normally like to "list" all my accomplishments because I think it's tacky and lends itself to comparison in a negative way. BUT I AM SO STINKING PROUD RIGHT NOW, I just have to do it. This once, please bear with me.

In two months, I....

  • wrote 85,000 words (actually it was probably closer to 100,000, but I cut a lot)
  • rewrote two entire POVs (around 45,000 words -- more on this below!)
  • revised the entire manuscript with my editor
  • line-edited the entire manuscript with my editor
  • transmitted that sucker to copyedits! 
And look, I'm sure there are some snots out there who are like, "I can do that in two weeks." WELL, BUGGER OFF. Because that kind of workload is absolutely bananas for me. It required keeping college student cram hours (without a college student's youthful vigor) for nine weeks straight for me to pull it off.

BUT I DID. And I actually think it's a really good book.


Also, San Diego Comic-Con was amazing. Thank you to everyone who came to see me. 💜

For the Misfits & Witchlanders:


Read Screechers today!

If you hadn't already seen, my Witchlands channel is LIVE on the Ampersand app! I mentioned the app before, so I don't want to bore you all again with details.

TL;DR: If you download the app, you can step inside the world of the Witchlands with exclusive world guides, cut scenes from Truthwitch & Windwitch, the original 200 page proposal I used to sell Truthwitch...

AND, later today, you can also read the first 100 pages of my work-in-progress Screechers.

If you've followed me for a few years (or a few months, even), then you've heard me talk about Screechers. But for the new people in the audience -- *waves* -- Screechers is a book I started writing many years ago that has been through many, many iterations and rewrites. Yet somehow, I still love it deeply and keep coming back to it every year between deadlines.

And, because I apparently like to embarrass and torture myself, I decided to share the first 100 pages of the book on Ampersand. It's rough! But I'm putting it out there and even asking for your feedback (a cool feature about the app).

Who knows? If you like it, maybe another 100 pages will go up soon. I have more than enough written for that. 😏

Also, I feel I should mention, this book is written as an adult fantasy. Not YA. There's nothing content-wise that makes it inappropriate for younger readers, but the pacing, structure, and variety of POV characters in the book is much more akin to adult fantasy.

Just a heads-up, in case that's not really your thing. (It's very much my thing. 😂)

Note: If you've already bought the Witchlands channel, then Screechers should appear in there today! You'll get an email notifying when it's live.

Last thing, since I know this question will come up, what about international readers?

No worries! I know the app isn't available outside the US yet, but it WILL BE. It's still a very new app (I'm one of their very first authors to join!), and it takes time to establish in other countries. Please be patient!! Ampersand and I haven't forgotten you. ❤️

For the Daydreamers:


Show, Don't Tell

I mentioned above that I ended up rewriting two POVs in Bloodwitch. Safi and Vivia, actually, and both rewrites stemmed from issues regarding the old adage, Show, don't tell.

Show, don't tell, is one of the earliest lessons writers hear. But actually internalizing that and understanding the nuance isn't easy. I have seven published books under my belt (Bloodwitch will mark the eighth!), yet I clearly still screw it up with regularity. Case in point: Safi and Vivia.

Safi's rewrite was to deal with micro (scene, sentence-level) telling and Vivia's rewrite was to deal with macro (story arc-level) telling.

Basically, I wrote this book really fast. When I write quickly, I often end up using not the greatest prose. OR, because I'm in such a rush, I don't get the simmer time I need to write the best possible story solution for each scene.

Without getting spoiler-y, I thought I would explain why Vivia's POV had to be redone. Then, I thought I would take a page from Safi's POV and show you before + after.

The largest, and most often forgotten angle of Show, don't tell is the macro-level angle. This is displaying your character, your world, your story through large level action and growth. It's slow, it's subtle, and it can require major rewrites to get right.

Most often, I think we see it in character (though it's not exclusive to that). So for example, look at Jaime Lannister. We see him behave one way at the beginning of A Game of Thrones. By the time we reach the end of A Feast for Crows, he is a completely different person. But this growth doesn't happen all at once. We see him gradually change as story events affect him -- the way he speaks to and treats others, the choices he makes at various crossroads, and the moral justification he does (or doesn't) use.

Over the slow course of four books, we are SHOWN his character arc. We follow each emotional domino, watching as they fall in a logical way, and we feel his growth is a natural response to what he goes through.

His story would have had no impact (beyond making us annoyed readers) if we were simply told, "Now he's nicer! Now he cares about others!" We have to see that gradual transformation for it to work.

That is the largest, most macro level of show versus tell. And trust me: not all books have it.

I love the book Timeline by Michael Crichton, but it will always annoy me how in a single scene near the ending, one of the characters just decides to be a different kind of person moving forward. No set up, not slow metamorphosis. He just makes a choice and is suddenly "grown up now."

Is that a character arc? I guess. But it's not nearly as strong as it could have been.

It's interesting because I often find editors will give me a note about my manuscript, thinking it's a small fix, but then upon further scrutiny, I realize the problem is actually much larger. That it's actually one of these large level character growth problems.

That's what happened with Bloodwitch. My editor felt a confrontation scene near the end was "too much telling." She wanted to see more of the actual dialogue and exchange, so I dug into do just that...

Except that upon digging in, I realized that adding more dialogue (and removing summary) wasn't going to fix this problem. For Vivia's character growth to feel full-circle, I needed her final choices and confrontation to carry more weight. I needed those final beats to NOT feel random and sudden like Timeline.

I needed to go back to the beginning of the book and start over.

So that's exactly what I did. I went through each scene and rewrote it completely or else recast what was there to add:

  • more set up and early exchanges/dialogues with the antagonist
  • more emotional reaction from Vivia to the antagonist
  • more instances of her slowly, slowly making new choices in response to her slow, slow growth
Did I have to make all those changes? No, probably not. Vivia's POV only fills ~25,000 words of the entire 145,000 word book. I could have simply changed what my editor suggested and been done with it...

But then her story wouldn't be nearly as strong. It wouldn't carry the same emotional punch that I think the ending now holds.

I SHOW you what first sets off her transformation. Then I SHOW you how each new "punch" forces her to roll and respond a little bit differently. Until eventually, Vivia isn't the person she used to be, and I SHOW you her final, confrontational metamorphosis.

(And maybe once the book is out, I'll share the original version of her POV, so you all can compare!)

Micro, or scene-level telling/showing, can be as hard to master as macro.

There's a famous quote from Anton Checkov:

"Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass."

It's a great quote and a great piece of advice, but there's so much more to show, don't tell than just that. Yes, it's better to say "her heart pounded" than it is to say "she was scared," but honestly, that isn't enough.

A book filled with visceral reactions and distinctive descriptions still might not SHOW the story at all. Why? Because it's missing the one key part: who the character is.

In much the same way that macro telling most often falls short when it comes to character arc, the same holds true for micro telling.

You can literally show me every little physical detail in a scene, but if you don't ALSO show me thoughts and emotional reactions, then the entire thing will fail.

An example. Here's the same scene three ways.
  • "The man lifted the knife, and she laughed."
  • "Light flickered on the blade as he lifted it. Wüsthoff, it read. Gourmet. A laugh bubbled from her chest."
  • "Light flickered on the blade as he lifted it. Wüsthoff, it read. Gourmet. A laugh bubbled from her chest. To think she'd spent her entire paycheck on that damned knife, and now it was going to slice her to shreds."

Now, look. There's nothing wrong with any of these options, per se. In fact, the only real differences are in how much physical description I give + how much inner thought. Yet, it completely changes the impact on the reader.

The Witchlands books are written in the style of that third example, but my first draft of Safi's story was hitting more along the lines of that second example -- i.e. not enough showing! So while the story itself and all the plot beats were solid, the actual line-by-line construction of her story needed to be completely overhauled.

And here's a page showing you how I did that. It's messy! I'm sorry, but this is how I work.

You can click the image to make it larger!

Also, to help explain what I did and why, I've made a little video! Watch that here.

Since this is only a single page from an entire manuscript, it's hard to really dig in deeply. But hopefully there are enough examples here for you to follow along -- and start to apply to your own work.

And that actually leads me to my final point in this whole conversation... 

How do I recognize this kind of problem in my own stuff, Sooz?

Honestly, it isn't easy. Working with beta readers and critique partners is a great start -- both because they can sense problems you can't, but also because you get practice spotting problems in their work. The more you work on recognizing issues, the better you will get at spotting them in your own work.

Like everything in this writing business, practice makes perfect. The more you write, revise, and study the craft of storytelling, the better you'll get at catching issues with Show, don't tell. And additionally, the better you'll get at learning to sense when your various CPs and readers (or editors) are maybe unintentionally touching on a larger issue.

I also feel I should note: sometimes telling is a GOOD thing to do. I mention this in the video, but you don't need to (and don't want to) show every little detail. That just bogs down the story. There's a careful balance to be struck, and the more you practice, the better you'll get at spotting and applying that balance.

Good luck!

Upcoming Events:


8/30 - 9/3/18
Full schedule to come!
Atlanta, GA


As always, thank you so much for reading! Have a lovely weekend!

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Copyright © 2018
Susan Dennard
All rights reserved.

110 West 40th St.
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I'm a misfit, a daydreamer,
a fangirl, an animal-lover,
a feminist killjoy,
and a gluten-free
cookie-eater. 🐙
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