“Howl’s Moving Castle” ~ A Book Review

It’s been a while since I’ve done a good book review, but I’ve wanted to start getting back into the habit. Especially since my writing has (thankfully) started to pick up again. Lately, for the sake of time, I’ve been focusing more on Audio Books as I am able to multi-task that way. Now I know there are people who are against audio books, people who love them, and people who are totally in between, but that’s a post for another time. Suffice it to say for now that I used to hate them but now I love them, and I’ll get into all of that on a later date.

Recently I’ve been on a kick of listening to EVERYTHING I can get my hands on by Diana Wynne Jones. Unfortunately, there are not a whole lot of audio books made out of her published titles yet, but I will (one day) gladly read all of her titles the good old fashioned way once I can get my hands on them. I discovered her, of course, through her most well known and beloved book, “Howl’s Moving Castle”.

Now, many people know of “Howl’s Moving Castle” because of the movie that was made by Hayao Miyazaki. This movie has a ROARING fan-base and has won multiple awards around the globe. However, when I started reading the book I had actually never seen the movie, and honestly I’m SO GLAD I waited until after I was done with the book to give the movie a shot.

The book IS AMAZING. It has everything a fantasy/fairytale lover could want! Magic, spells and curses, quaint characters, interesting adventures, and an interesting twist at the end that I honestly never saw coming.

I immediately fell in love with this book because of this beautiful and whimsical opening:

“In the land of Ingary, where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is quite a misfortune to be born the eldest of three. Everyone knows you are the one who will fail first, and worst, if the three of you set out to seek your fortunes.

Sophie Hatter was the eldest of three sisters. She was not even the child of a poor woodcutter, which might have given her some chance of success!”

Ok, TOTALLY hooked. Let’s start this story playing off of fairytale tropes, but lets switch things around a bit! The fact that this is the story of the eldest daughter, which every fairytale lover KNOWS is destined to fail, is icing on the cake for me because this book is OBVIOUSLY based on fairytale tropes from the get-go, and everyone knows that in most fairytales the protagonist somehow ends up with a happy ending. So obviously the question BEGGING to be asked here is, “How does Sophie get her happy ending if she is the eldest of three in a fairytale world?”

(WARNING: If you have not read the book, have not seen the movie, or both, and you do not want any spoilers, do NOT read any farther!)





Sophie’s character was absolutely charming. She started out as a young girl who felt like she would never succeed because everyone KNOWS that the oldest of three is the one most likely to fail at everything, and because of that she never really tried to do much with her life since she KNEW she was destined to fail. But when a curse turns her from a young girl of about 16 or 17 into an old lady of about 90, Sophie’s outlook on life changes from “I will never succeed at anything” to “Screw that: I’m old now, I’ve got nothing to lose, and things can hardly get worse… I’m going out to seek my fortune and see what happens.”

As an old woman, Sophie is much more confident and comfortable with herself. Where as a young girl she always seemed meek, soft spoken, and half afraid of her own shadow, as an old woman she is often loud, opinionated, and even a little brash… but in a good way. She is mostly unaware of the fact that, despite her being the eldest of three, she happens to have magic powers of her own and tends to do magic without even realizing she’s doing it. It’s extremely fun to watch her not only become more confident in herself, but to also start to realize how her powers work. This more-sure-of-herself version of Sophie is a beautiful balancing contrast to the characters of Howl and his fire-demon, Calcifer.

Howl is the wizard that owns the moving castle that rolls about the plains above the town where Sophie lives. Before Sophie was cursed to be an old woman, the stories around the town were that Howl was an absolutely evil old wizard who preyed on young girls so that he could devour their hearts. Once Sophie is turned old and sets out to seek her fortune as a grandma-lady, she ends up taking refuge in the moving castle from the night and the cold where she finds out that Howl is not old at all, and that he’s more self-centered and cowardly than evil. She makes an excuse to stay in the castle by telling Howl she’s to be his new cleaning lady.

Howl is just as charming as Sophie but in totally different ways. On the outside he really does appear to be self-centered, vain, and cowardly, but the more we get to know him as the story goes on, the more we learn that he has a good heart, that he’s actually very kind, and that he is definitely brave but not in the most obvious ways. He’s also quite as cunning as Sophie herself is, but we start to learn more about that later. Interestingly enough, the story takes on a sort of “portal fantasy” vibe, when we learn that Howl is actually from Wales in OUR world, and not originally from the fantasy world of Ingary that Sophie is native to at all. We also learn that he is not the only wizard in the land of Ingary that is from our world, and that its likely he won’t be the last.

And now we come to one of my favorite characters of all, Calcifer. Calcifer is Howl’s fire-demon and he’s the one who helped Howl build the moving castle in the first place, as well as the one that keeps the castle moving. Calcifer is quite as stubborn and hard-headed as both Sophie and Howl. He likes to pretend that he’s an evil fire-demon, when in truth he’s quite a nice one, and despite his complaints and nagging, he is rather fond of Howl and becomes fond of Sophie too… He also gets protective, which in my mind is adorable. In the book he’s described as being blue and green, with red-orange eyes and a purple mouth. In the movie he’s seen mostly as a normal colored flame. When we first meet him, we learn that he is the one who allows Sophie to enter the moving castle while Howl is away, and that he is very particular about who he lets into the castle… (usually Howl and his apprentice Michael agree that if Calcifer lets someone into the castle, that person is probably an alright person…).

Calcifer convinces Sophie to stay in the castle by telling her that if she can find and break his contract with Howl (which he claims is doing neither one of them any good), then he will lift the curse laid on her. Sophie agrees and that’s when she comes up with the excuse of being Howl’s new cleaning woman to allow her to stay in the castle. We do find out later that the contract between Howl and Calcifer really ISN’T doing them any good, and that both Howl and Calcifer realized when she entered the castle that Sophie was the only one who could actually break the contract without killing both of them.

Another thing I absolutely adored about this story is that the love-story part of it felt so natural and didn’t take over the whole plot. When Sophie and Howl first meet, they can hardly stand each other, but as things go on and we learn more about both characters, we can see the fondness grow in both of them for each other. Sophie realizes that Howl isn’t all bad, and that he’s actually quite kind and brave (if still mostly vain, childish, and cowardly when he feels like it). Howl grows a sort of fondness for Sophie and all she does for him (and I like to think he also enjoys the fact that she won’t let him always get his way either). He soon grows protective of her, but not in the way of a lover. In fact, the love story is so subtle that it first appears that they go from absolutely hating each other, to barely tolerating each other, to being ok friends, to suddenly realizing near the end that they actually love each other. There is not much mush-gushy at all in the story, and the realization of their love at the end feels like it was natural and real, rather than forced and contrived. It’s quite a lovely truth near the end of the book when we learn that Howl has tried to take Sophie’s curse off of her several times when she wasn’t looking or when she was sleeping, and that he’d been working with Calcifer to help relieve her aches and pains, and help her heart be stronger when she wasn’t aware of it. At the very end of the book when we truly realize that they’re in love, the moment is more of an “Aww! How cute!!!” one, rather than the “Ugh! I saw that coming a mile away. How unrealistic and cheesy!” one I’ve come to dread in so many other books.

I totally give this book a 5 out of 5 star rating! Seriously, I loved everything about. It’s charming, witty, fun, exciting, cute, adventurous, magical… as I said before, its everything a fantasy/fairytale lover could want in a book and more! It immediately went to the top of my “favorite books” list, along with “The Chronicles of Narnia” and “The Last Unicorn”. And in truth, this is hardly surprising, considering the fact that Diana Wynne Jones went to Oxford and actually sat in lectures taught by J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. (I SOOOO wish I could have been so lucky…)

And now for the movie… I DID finally break down and watch the movie that I’ve heard so very much about. I won’t lie, it was good as far as movies go… but it really wasn’t my favorite thing. As happens so often when books are remade for the silver screen, it only BARELY resembled the literature it was born from, and while the graphics were beautiful, there were so many things that didn’t line up. Calcifer looked NOTHING like his description in the book. Howl was turned into this charming lady’s man with very few flaws (basically the perfect fantasy love interest for a young girl) and I felt like most of his character was washed away into a flat shadow of the awesome character he was in the book. And actually, much the same happened with Sophie’s character. I think they kept a few more things accurate with her character than with Howl’s, but a lot of saltiness was just not present in the movie version. Also, Howl’s apprentice Michael looked WAY WAY younger than he seemed to be portrayed in the book. And on top of all that, the love story in the movie was so much more obvious and ridiculous… I much preferred the book version (but then, I’ve always been picky about my love stories…). Also, the war (which was present in the book but not terribly fundamental to the storyline) was much more prominent and terrifying in the movie, and the whole part of the story about Howl originally being from our world wasn’t present at all.

As I said, the movie in itself WASN’T bad, but it only BARELY resembled the book, and honestly, I liked the book a WHOLE lot better. I give the movie 3 stars out of 5. Brilliantly illustrated… but not nearly as enjoyable for me as its literary counterpart.

So what did you guys think? Have you seen the movie? Did you read the book? Have you done both? Did you see the movie first or read the book first, and which did you like better, and why? Feel free to let me know your thoughts in the comments! I look forward to hearing from you. ^_^


Music That Speaks to the Soul

Hello friends. 🙂

Today I’m doing something I haven’t done in a while: I’m participating in a blog tour.  It’s been several years since the last one I was part of, and this one is different from any of the ones I’ve done in the past as THIS one is for a CD and not a book.  Ah, but its a beautiful CD by a beautiful and talented artist with a beautiful voice.

Today I’m talking about Solveig Leithaug and her newly released album, “Time”.

I was introduced to Solveig’s music a few years back when I first heard the song “Everything has its Season” on a Gaither music video.  I absolutely fell in love with it!  Not just the melody, but the beautiful rhythms and rhyme patterns, and the heart-felt lyrics that gave the song its body and soul.

Here.  Have a listen for yourself. 😀

If any of my close friends read this post, you know well the type of music I love, and yes, I truly fell in love with this song, as well as the singer’s voice (though at the time I couldn’t remember her name.)  I knew, though, that I had to find more of this music.  I simply had to!  And so began an internet search for and my discovery of this lovely woman’s beautiful music.

Then in April I actually was granted an opportunity which allowed me to actually see her play live, and then even briefly meet her!  I was, of course, entranced.  And as soon as I learned that there was to be a blog Tour for her new CD, I asked to please be included!  I couldn’t wait to help spread the news and her music to all of my friends!

Below you’ll find her BIO, as well as a video interview and the music video for this Album’s name-sake, the song “Time”.  Please enjoy!  And expect a review on the CD itself a little later this week.  (I received my copy a few days ago, and have only just had the chance to listen to it, so I’m still writing up an official “review post” for it. 😉  Keep your eyes peeled!)



“Blending a mature adult contemporary sound with some Americana influence, Norwegian artist Solveig Leithaug has given fans a steady stream of heartfelt melodies since the mid-‘80s when she had a deal with Word Records. These days, she’s reaching fans as an indie artist with an impressive catalog and an enjoyable new release, Time. Leithaug’s buoyant, acoustic songs, such as Lift You Up and Simple Things, are filled with equal measures of truth and encouragement. Other favorites include the title track and the beautiful opener Supermoon.” ~ CCM Magazine

Time highlights guest vocals by Anthony Skinner, Cindy Morgan, Kelly Willard and Solveig’s daughter Kari Julianna. Eight of the project’s eleven songs are new and were written by Solveig with award-winning songwriters such as: Reba Rambo-McGuire, Cindy Morgan, Sarah Hart, Anthony Skinner, and Kelly Willard.

Time was produced by Steve Hindalong and features some of Nashville’s finest musicians including Jeff Taylor, Stu Garrard, Matt Slocum, and others along with Solveig’s signature acoustic guitars.

Please enjoy this interview between Solvieg Leithaug and Karen Powers below. 😀

Scrivener: A Review

So… a few weeks back I finally bit the bullet and decided to buy the highly acclaimed word processing software called “Scrivener”.

If you’re a writer and not already using the software, then I know you’ve at least heard of it; there are very few writers who haven’t.  Scrivener has earned praise from some of the biggest names in the writing and publishing industry, and has even thoroughly burrowed its way into the “Writer’s Digest” archives.

Don’t believe me?  Google “Writer’s Digest Scrivener” and see what pops up.  You can also try googling “Outlining with Scrivener” or “novel writing with Scrivener”, and you’d be amazed how many familiar names show up attached to blog-posts on the subject.  I think its safe to assume that Scrivener has come prepared for the long haul and will not be going anywhere in the near future.

With all that said, I had heard a lot of good about the software but was skeptical of it myself.  I have been using MS Word for years in my writing and didn’t see any reason to pay more money for something I wasn’t really sure I’d like.  Besides, Scrivener is known to be the “Outliner” novelist’s best friend, and I was certainly not an outliner (or so I kept telling myself).  I journaled my story “outlines” (which is really to say, if I got stuck in writing, I brainstormed with myself on paper until something clicked) and that wasn’t the same as actually outlining.  I was perfectly fine using MS Word to write my novels and dedicating new folders in my drop-box to all the research and all the new attempts or failed scenes that came with my own weird writing process.

But after years of writing this way, just a few months back I was hit with a brand new, bright and shiny story idea.  It’s a Rumplestiltskin retelling with Rumplestiltskin being the protagonist, female, and a Zoro-type/Robin Hood character… and it is going to be EPIC!  Before I’d even started thinking of how the whole story would play out, I ended up writing a prologue and first chapter…

And then I was stuck.

Now, this is one of those story ideas that just won’t leave me alone.  You know the kind: they plague every free moment a writer has.  You find yourself working out plots in your head as you clean, or trying to figure out character names and histories in the shower.  You find yourself going over and over different scenes in your mind on your lunch break, and working through character flaws as you drive.

That was how “Golden” took me.  There was nothing subtle about it.  I came by the idea one day and it completely overwhelmed me.  But try as I might, I just couldn’t seem to be able to write on after the end of that first chapter.  Nothing felt like it was working.  The words wouldn’t come.  Even now, the story is there… but I can’t seem to write it out.  Not yet…

So I finally decided that it was time to try an outline.

Now, outlining is something I’ve looked into before, and even dabbled in — though its not something I do a lot of.  About a year ago I found a way to outline my main WIP, “Song of the Daystar”, and that really helped me organize my thoughts.  The outlining method I used for SOTD was simple and left plenty of room for “pantsting” (as I like to call it) during the actual story-writing itself.  It put the events of the story (and who those events belonged to) in neat little columns and kept everything relatively straight — while in my head the story still grew and twisted like a tangle of tree roots.  In fact, the method was so easy and worked so perfectly for SOTD, I started to think that after years of writing only by the seat of my pants, my writing process might finally be changing.

But when I tried to apply it to “Golden”, everything fell apart.

The outline I was using for SOTD was done in MS Excel.  Its a very simple method, and now that I think about it, it probably worked so well for SOTD because I know SOTD so extremely well.  I’ve been working on that novel for about 10 years now… I know it inside-out and backwards, and I know how everything has evolved.  I know the intricacies and the court intrigues, the characters’ biggest fears and weaknesses… even how the land changed over drafts.  I know EVERYTHING about that world, and its all in my head.  I didn’t need more than a simple outline to put my scenes in order… I didn’t need pages and pages written up explaining how everything works in this world because I’ve spent years memorizing all of that!

“Golden” though… with Golden I only ever had the barest hint of an idea to start with.  I have some character names, and others are left in shadow.  I have only the very basic idea of what the layout of the land is supposed to look like, and only the simplest idea of who my protagonist and antagonist actually are.  With Golden, I don’t know everything yet.  With Golden, I’m still learning.

So, with Golden I need something to help me find out more about this story and how everything works together, and what the world is like, and who the people are that live there, etc, etc, etc…  Mostly, though, I just want to get a sense of where this story is actually going.  I know the basics… but the basics aren’t enough.  And call me impatient, but I don’t feel like waiting another 10 years to get to know this story as well as I know SOTD.

I started researching the outlining methods of other writers.  Its easy enough to do these days, what with google at our fingertips and all.  I noticed in my research that a lot of writers whose methods I was considering used Scrivener to help them keep everything organized.  Then I finally found a method that suited me well, and sure enough, that writer used Scrivener too!  It gave me something to think about.  I could continue using the method of writing and organizing story ideas that I’ve been using all these years… but I’ll be honest with you, its getting rather cluttered and messy.  With each new project I start, I’m finding it more and more difficult to keep everything where I can find it.

And if I was planning to start a new story with a new method of writing, then why not just start everything new?  Why not try a new word processor and see how it went?

I went to the literature and latte homepage and pressed “buy”.

I have now been using Scrivener for the past 2 weeks, and these are my thoughts.



This really seems to be a well made program.  Its definitely a program made for those writers who like to plan everything out, but I’m not gonna say that’s a bad thing.  In fact, I currently think its pretty fantastic.

Now, granted, I’ve never really tried to “outline” before… not for realsies.  This is my first attempt.  BUT, with that said, I have created detailed character sheets, and documents of world histories, and maps of different worlds, and pages and pages of mythologies, songs, and poetry for other stories. I even have folders of nothing but pdf files of research saved from the interwebz. I have them all organized in folders within folders within folders on my drop-box account, and lately I’ve been really feeling the strain of trying to keep everything straight and remember where it all is at the same time.

Scrivener keeps all of that stuff in one place and just a button click away.  In fact, you don’t have to have 2 documents opened at once to keep your notes handy… with Scrivener, you can be writing your manuscript and reviewing your notes on the same page… AND you can toggle back and forth between sheets of notes without ever having to leave your manuscript.  It’s not hard to keep everything where you can find it at a moment’s notice… all of your research, all of your character sheets, your outline, your different drafts, your mythologies, even the pictures you use as character references and inspiration… EVERYTHING stays in a bar on the left-hand side of your screen, and it can be as clearly or as vaguely marked as you see fit.

It’s a beautiful thing, really.  I didn’t know if I would like Scrivener when I bought it, but this ability alone has proven worth the money.  I’m not even writing the full manuscript yet — just working on notes, worldbuilding, and an outline — but this program is worth it.

Another cool feature is the auto-backup.  It automatically saves backup copies of all of your files so that if something goes wrong with the original, you have something to fall back on.  Even if the worst should happen and the program suddenly space out, it still saves Regular Text files in your computer that you can work from in a pinch.  Granted, the files that I’ve been able to find (just to make sure the program actually does what it says it does…) had weird numbers for document titles… but once opened, I found that all of my text was in tact just the way I had had it, and there was even a document for all of the comments and footnotes.

Another nifty feature are the options for Scrivener tutorials.  You can choose from a hand-book style guide, youtube videos, or an interactive tutorial.  I chose to use the interactive tutorial.  It takes a little bit of time to get through (I played around with it for about 2 hours… and I’ll be honest, I didn’t finish the tutorial before I started using the program itself) but its worth it.  It explains everything beautifully, and I found the program wasn’t nearly as difficult to use as I thought it was going to be.  Yes, I’m still finding my way around… but I already have the basics down, and its not hard to find out the answers to any other questions I might have.



Even with all of the features I’m currently in love with, there are a few things I wish could be different in Scrivener… or at least more like MS Word.

  1. ]    I wish Scrivener had an auto-correct feature.

    My MS Word program has a feature that will sometimes automatically correct words that I’ve spelled wrong… if I accidentally add an extra letter to a word or flip two letters around as I’m typing, MS Word just fixes the problem and I move on without bothering.  It’s a feature I’ve come to really appreciate, especially while I’m typing fast.

    I’ve discovered that Scrivener has something similar, but instead of automatically correcting words I’ve already spelled wrong, it has a tendency to auto-spell words as I’m typing them… which means the words that Scrivener chooses are not always the word I meant to type.  I find this annoying so I’ve turned the feature off.  However, with the feature off, I’ve come to find that sometimes I type way too fast and leave a slew of errors in my wake.  I can go back and fix these errors of course… Scrivener does have the feature that allows you to right-click on a misspelled word and choose the correct spelling to change it, so that’s a plus.  I just wish that I didn’t have to go back at all… call me spoiled. *shrugs*

  2. ]   I miss my offline Thesaurus and Dictionary

    Scrivener gives writers the option to hook up to both dictionary.com and thesaurus.com, but it doesn’t seem to have any offline dictionaries or thesauruses of its own.  Or at least, if it does, I haven’t found them yet.

    For me, this is annoying on several levels.  #1) I often work offline or in places where I can’t get the internet, so not having something handy when I need a definition or alternative word and don’t have google at my fingertips (barring the use of physical books, of course) can be extremely troublesome.  #2) to use either the dictionary.com or the thesaurus.com options, the computer minimizes the window you are in and brings up a web-page.  I find this extremely distracting.

    Now, I can find ways to get around the “no-in-program-dictionary-or-thesaurus” problem.  In fact, I already have an offline dictionary downloaded to my computer, and I’m pretty sure it has a built-in thesaurus as well…  BUT, I really loved the in-program thesaurus in Microsoft Word.

    Even though MS Word doesn’t have an offline dictionary, the thesaurus can be accessed instantly by simply pressing shift+F7, and it shows up in the same page as your document on the right hand side.  There’s no need to copy and paste a new word in… if the cursor is on the word you are trying to change, Shift+f7 will automatically bring up synonyms for that specific word, and if you right-click on the word you want to replace the old word with, you simply click “insert” and you’re done.  There’s even a quick option: just right click the word you want to change, roll the cursor over the word “synonyms” and click on the chosen synonym you want to use.  Easy Peasy.  And if you’re like me, then a thesaurus can be almost as good as a dictionary in many cases… I’ve been learning the definition of words by associating them with their synonyms since I was 12.

    So yeah… not having an in-program thesaurus at the very least has proven to be extremely bothersome for me.

  3. ]   Its a bit more complicated to format your documents in Scrivener than in Word.

    One of my FAVORITE features in MS Word is the toolbar at the top of the page.  Everything is laid out nice and neat, and you have all of the formatting tools you could POSSIBLY need right at the tips of your fingers.  If you don’t like the way your document is looking, you are only a click away from fixing the problem and making it look just the way you want it to.  This feature is absolutely irreplaceable when it comes to formatting for book publishing. (trust me… been there, done that.)

    Scrivener is a bit more complicated.  After playing around with the program for 2 weeks, I’ve more or less figured out how to change the formatting and adjust things to the way I want them, but its definitely not as simplistic a process as in MS Word, with Word’s big and easy to understand toolbar at the top of the page.   Scrivener has a basic toolbar at the top of the page that allows you to adjust the font size and style, and whether or not you want the text to be centered, or on the left or right side of the page.  If you want to do anything more complicated than that — like use double-spaced lines, or adjust the margin size, or even adjust paragraph indentation — you’re going to have to do some digging and poking around to find what you want and use it.

    There are a few handy tools you can use by selecting text and then right-clicking… my favorite so far is being able to change text color.  But otherwise I feel like Scrivener has something to be desired when it comes to formatting text.  Of course, that could just be me, after years and years of using MS Word instead.


Even with all the pros and cons lumped together though, I still think that Scrivener was worth buying, if only for its organizational abilities (I think it was worth buying for more than just those abilities, but those are definitely at the top of my list right now!)  I plan to go on using it to write Golden, and hopefully to write many more stories.  I may even decide to put all of my documents for SOTD into a scrivener file and see if I can’t get the story done faster!!  Who knows!!!

If you use Scrivener, what do you think about it?  What are some of the pros and cons you’ve dealt with involving the program?  What would you change?

If you use a different word processing program, which one, and why?  What do you like about it? What would you change?

Feel free to tell me in the comments below! 😀

God bless, and Happy Writing!!! ❤

“Show vs. Tell” ~ The Emotional Connection

Recently I have been researching articles that detail the thoughts of other authors on the subject of “Show Vs. Tell”.  As many writers and publishers out there know, this subject is full of controversy and is misunderstood more often than not.  Two years ago, almost to the day, I wrote a post broaching the subject that is published on my personal blog, “The Pen and Parchment”.  In that post, I admitted to having an epiphany concerning how “showing” in writing is a lot like painting in art: one must captivate the reader through action and detail, rather than telling the reader how everything plays out.  To “show” in a story, is to write so that readers are watching the action of the story play out as if it were a movie; the reader is pulled along on an adventure and draws conclusions at the same time as the characters.  To “tell” is to give away the answers to questions and the conclusions to problems before the character has gotten that far; you “tell” the reader all that is happening, why, and how it plays out (or will play out) in the end, before the story has gotten that far.

It’s still a confusing bit of information though, and it’s one of the toughest obstacles that writers (both new and experienced) face.  But the other day, as I was perusing articles on the subject, I came upon a blog post that shed some knew light on the problem.   This person did not so much try to describe and explain what showing was in comparison to telling.  Rather, he contemplated the emotional link that “Showing” can induce within Creative Writing.

In my (never-too) humble opinion, fiction is all about forging an emotional link between the author and the reader. While many a great piece of fiction functions on a high intellectual level, the good stuff almost always works, first and foremost, viscerally. We are drawn into it because something there speaks to our deeper selves, gets inside us and takes hold. Indeed, fiction always has to sneak past the barriers our intellects erect, because (by virtue of the label “fiction”) we know that the stories we’re being told are fabrications. We call this feat of mental gymnastics “willing suspension of disbelief,” and good writers tend to help us accomplish it in two ways: by making their fiction as plausible as possible, and even more significantly, by blazing through the brain and going for the gut. […] Basically, the distinction is this: telling merely catalogs actions and emotions, showing creates images in a reader’s imagination. It’s the difference between the laundry list and the laundry.  

(Michael Burns on “Show Vs. Tell”)

Something about this article “clicked” with me.  There aren’t very many writers that think of showing vs. telling in this manner, but Mr. Burns is absolutely right.  I’ve noticed such connections within my own writing — chapters that didn’t hold my attention at all, and others that I felt deeply connected to in a visual, almost physical way — but I could never put my finger on the reasons why these excerpts worked or didn’t.  Now, I think I understand.  Or at least, I understand better.

With the thought in mind that showing is an emotional connection between a reader and the context of the words, I can now see that the parts of my earliest stories I struggled most to connect with were very telling.  I would list actions, explain things ahead, catalog emotions and feelings.  None of this helped me to connect to my characters or the world I was attempting to build.

Later in my writing life, my ability to show rather than tell improved, even though I didn’t fully understand why or how.  I suddenly realized that I could connect with my characters and worlds much better than before.  I could submerge myself in them to an almost believable degree.  They were becoming alive as I wrote.  This was something that I had experienced while reading my favorite books, but not something I had accomplished yet with my writing… and so I grew excited.

But what had changed?  What made the difference?  Up until I read Mr. Burn’s article, I honestly believed that the improvement in my writing was due mostly to the fact that I had improved upon my vocabulary and my descriptions, and that I wrote constantly.  And yes, this did help, but the real question is why did it help?

As I mentioned in my previous post on the subject, I believe that the difference between showing and telling can be confusing to writers, mostly because they learn about the subject from other writers who may themselves not fully understand it.  I certainly don’t claim to understand it all, but I think I am finally starting to see the connection.  Literally.

Showing is all about connection.  Connecting your reader to your character, and your character to your world.  To do this you need more than just words… you need to create an emotional bond between reader, character, and world.

It’s the difference between telling your friend that you kissed a boy, and having your friend watch you kiss that boy.  It’s the difference between saying that the rotten egg smelled like sulfur, and actually smelling the sulfur of the rotten egg.  It’s the difference between saying that snow is soft and fluffy, and actually feeling the soft and fluffy snow.

Basically, telling is impersonal… it is a statement about an experience, but not the experience itself.

Showing is the experience.  All of it.  The good, the bad, and the ugly.  It’s not just hearing about what happened second hand, but actually being there as it happened.  That’s what you want your reader to feel as they are reading your book.  That’s what you are aiming for.

Here are two examples.  The first is an example of telling:

Jason stood in his doorway.  The room was hotter than he liked, so he asked his wife to turn down the heat.  She didn’t reply and he thought that maybe she was still mad at him, so he decided to turn it down himself.  He walked into the hall and to the top of the stairs, where he saw smoke at the bottom, and smelled something funny.  It smelled like propane and burning wood.  The house was on fire.  Jason started to panic and hurried down the stairs, looking frantically for his wife Sonya.

This example is impersonal.  It is simply a series statements, nothing more; someone is telling someone else about a man that smelled fire in a house and started looking for his wife.  We, as readers, are not with this character experiencing the fire.  We are simply learning about it second hand.  We are not transported into the text to stand with Jason, smelling fire or trying to figure out what the strange smell is.  We do not wonder at the strange heat, and we do not feel scared for Jason as he starts looking for his wife.  We are simply being told what already happened.  There is no emotional connection… there is no bond with the character or the world or the story in itself.  This is simply a report.

Now, let’s try and rewrite this in a “showing” way.

Jason stood at the entrance to his room.  The door stood open a crack and light spilled in from the hallway.  Heat too.  Why was everything so warm?  He’d turned the thermostat down, but maybe Sonya had turned it up again.

“Sonya, turn the heat down! I can barely breath up here.”

No answer.

He waited the span of fives breaths and then called again, louder this time.  Angrier. “Sonya!  Are you trying to burn me out?  Turn the thermostat down!  I’m dying.”

But Sonya never replied.

Jason snorted irritation.  Typical woman, not to answer him.  She thought the silent treatment could fix everything.  She was probably still stewing about their argument over dinner.  This was her way to get back at him.

Well, he wouldn’t apologize.  Not for that, not ever.  That money was as much his as it was hers, and she knew it!

Flinging the door open, he stomped out into the hall.  Fine then!  He’d turn it down himself.  Show her how little he cared for her tantrums.  She couldn’t burn him out of his own house!

Stomping down the hall, he came to the top of the stairs and paused, listening.  Something was wrong… He couldn’t hear her.  If he was still in, he would still hear her, wouldn’t he?  Especially if she was angry. She’d be banging in the kitchen, or stomping through the living room or… something.   He’d never heard the house so quiet, not since the first day they moved in, and Sonya was especially noisy when she was was mad at him.  She made it a point to be.

He looked down the stairwell.  The steps from the bottom down were invisible beneath a curtain of swirling grey smog, and a sharp, bitter smell drifted to his nostrils.  It smelled almost like burning hot-dogs.

What the…?

Jason took the steps two at a time, coughing and sputtering as he entered the smog.  But not smog; this was smoke!  Dark thick smoke, smelling of wood and propane.  Not hot-dogs. And everything was hotter now.  The air tasted dry and thick, and stuck in his lungs like tar.  He couldn’t see two paces in front of him.

The house was on fire!

“Sonya!”  Panic played with Jason’s heart like a yo-yo.  Where was she?  What had happened?  Was she alright?  Never mind their stupid fight!  He couldn’t be angry at her; he’d forgotten how.  If he found her — if she was alright — he would never let her out of his sight again.

Quickly he dropped to the floor, crawling on his hands and knees through the rooms.  That’s what they said to do in fire safety classes, right?  Smoke rose towards the ceiling  so fresh air would settle near the floor.  He hoped that was right, but coughed as he drew in a breath of bitter grey swirls.  He had to find her!

This example is a bit long and rather rough, but it get’s the point across.  In this example, the reader stands with Jason at the door, feeling angry at his wife, Sonya, for the fight they had earlier.  They follow Jason into the hallway.  They wonder to themselves why everything is so warm, and remember with him that he had turned the thermostat down. They follow Jason to the top of the stairs, see the grey swirling curtain at the bottom, walk into the smog and realize that it is actually smoke.  They smell the burning wood and propane, feel smothered by the heat, and then panic as they start to search for Sonya.

It all has to do with emotion and experience.  I mean, yes, this last excerpt was more detailed than the earlier version, but notice how the story seemed to be coming from Jason’s head?  This excerpt didn’t read like a report, and it didn’t feel like one.  The reader was right there with Jason in the burning house, panicking over the disappearance of his wife and trying to find her through the swirling smoke.

Perhaps this is the reason that so many writers choose to write in 1rst person.  It’s easier to show an experience through someone’s eyes if you are actually the person experiencing it.  Many writers choose 1rst person POV because it gives them the opportunity to slip into their character’s persona and pretend that they are actually living their character’s life.  It’s much harder to do this in 3rd person POV, which is what I used in the excerpt above.  In 3rd person, the writer isn’t actually a character in the story at all.  They write the story as if they are watching a movie of the events and know what the character is thinking and feeling at the time.

Because the 3rd person style of writing often doesn’t seem as personal as the 1rst person style, a lot of new writers approach their stories as if they are simply giving a report to someone else about what happened.  But as we’ve now learned, cut and dried reports don’t need emotions or thoughts or feelings of any type.  They are a recitation and nothing more.

But a real story — a novel-worthy story — needs to be much more than a recitation.  It needs to grip a reader by their throats and pull them to the edge of their seats so that they can’t wait to find out what happens next.  The sad parts need to bring tears to their eyes and the happy parts need to make them smile and laugh for joy.  The scary parts need to terrify them.  And the only way to accomplish this is through emotion. Make the reader see it; feel it; live it.  Make it an experience.

Because isn’t that what makes a book truly memorable?  It’s almost never just about how the words sound on paper when they are read aloud, or whether or not the writer has a large vocabulary and a way with descriptions (though that helps).  Rather, the truly memorable books are the ones that leave the reader feeling like they actually just lived through something amazing (good or bad).  A memorable book is one that changes the reader, so that after they finally finish the last page and close the cover, they pause to say to themselves, “Now that was a good story.”