Pathology on the Porch: Show, Don't Tell

diane looking down 2-4-08.jpg What a stunner of a day! When it hit 70 degrees, I took my work onto the porch and worked in the balmy air for several hours before it grew chilly again. And what did I work on (among other things)? One of the most difficult but important lessons for any writer to master: Showing instead of telling. 
Although I’m only a bit more than a month away from my deadline for AFTER THE STORM, I still have some scenes that have yet to be written. In my outline, I have notes telling me what I need to accomplish in those scenes. For example, under “chapter 44,” I have written “Illustrate some pathology in ‘Gladys’.”  (I’m using ‘Gladys’ in this discussion rather than the character’s real name, so I don’t give anything away to you.) It would be so lovely if I could simply write in chapter 44, “As she and ‘Harold’ drove through town, ‘Gladys’ displayed some pathology.” But of course, I can’t get away with that. So I had to think of a way to display Gladys’s pathology. I finally settled on having her accidentally run over a small animal in the road. ‘Harold’ pleads with her to turn around so they can see if the animal is only injured, as well as to see if it is someone’s beloved household pet. Gladys refuses, and mocks him for being such a wuss.
diane looking up 2-4-08.jpgBut even all that is telling, isn’t it? So I had to take it one level deeper by being inside Harold’s point of view. He sees the blur of the animal as it runs into the road. Feels the thud as they hit it. Remembers a time he hit a rabbit while driving and how he handled that situation. Feels frustrated at not being able to persuade Gladys to turn around. And most of all, he feels sick to his stomach as he realizes that Gladys isn’t the caring, wonderful woman he’d taken her to be.
Whoops. There we go again. He feels sick to his stomach. I need to show, not tell. Perhaps he feels a pain in his chest or bile rising in his throat or he’s so dizzy he has to lean his head against the window. I haven’t decided yet, but I’ll find a way. It’s one of the challenges of writing fiction that I most enjoy. Deadlines, on the other hand, are one of the challenges I most loathe, so I’d better get back to work.


  1. Margo on February 5, 2008 at 8:22 am

    Wow Diane, 70 degrees!…want to send some of that our way? We’re expecting a major winter storm in just a few hours with snow, ice and high winds so all of us here are getting ourselves prepared. Your so fortunate to have that wonderful porch to work in with the beauty of nature around you…a perfect place to write! Good luck with your deadline. I have no doubt you’ll get it done in time. (-:

  2. Liz on February 5, 2008 at 9:56 am

    I, too, an envious of your porch and nice weather. Margo – we must live in the same area – waiting for a major storm. I think that mignt be all it is, though – wait, as I think the weather forcasters love the histrionics of getting us all worked up and emptying the grocery stores of necessities, cancelling schools, etc. Diane – I think I successfully ordered Breaking the Silence. I don’t order on-line, so…… Question – when you give a new update, does the previous blog become sort of history or do people still comment on it? I’m hooked, now, and was annoyed yesterday when students came into my office and I had to shut down and go back to work. So, clearly, I will need to find a balance. Weird, new experience. I’m curious about “show, don’t tell.” Do you outline what you want, work with editors, friends to develop the pathology of “Gladys” or realization of “Harold” or do you already know what you want. This is a very interesting process to me. Thanks for all the answers you’ve already provided to this novice

  3. Diane Chamberlain on February 5, 2008 at 10:20 am

    Liz and Margo, I believe you both live in Iowa. I know Margo does, and I’m pretty sure Liz does. Strange coincidence! I hope your storm doesn’t amount to much. Cooler today. High of only 60. 🙂
    Liz, I always know when someone has left a comment on a blog post, even if it’s old. I’ll often post a response to it, but “regulars” to the blog usually don’t go back too far to see if there are new comments.
    Here’s the short answer to your second question: I outline (in prose form), send the outline to my editor who makes suggestions. Then I write the book, coming up with my own “pathology” or perhaps brainstorming with friends as I write (I think it WAS a friend who had the run-over-an-animal idea, actually). I send the book to my editor. She again suggests changes. And on and on and on. . .

  4. Margo on February 5, 2008 at 11:09 am

    Hi Liz…are you from Iowa also?…very true, weather announcers live for storm forecasts so they can keep us all on the edge of our seats and we can rush to the grocery store and grab those last loaves of bread before anyone else (lol)! I do believe they are right about this storm tho. From the looks outside it could happen within the next few hours. Don’t know about you but we always have main essentials in our cupboard for weather like this so luckily we can skip the crowds at the grocery store! (-:

  5. Margo on February 5, 2008 at 11:13 am

    Diane, only 60 degrees today?…I think I’d still sit out on the beautiful porch with a nice hot cup of coffee! (-:

  6. Therese on February 5, 2008 at 12:40 pm

    Call it an overfull brain, but it took me reading Julie L’s recent post to realize I didn’t have your blog linked from mine.
    Glitch now fixed!
    I’m so annoyed that you were at Maureen’s reading and I didn’t realize you were you–another glitch, which I hope to fix soon. 🙂
    This is a great post, and great photos too!

  7. Kathy Holmes on February 5, 2008 at 6:57 pm

    70 degrees? We’re cooler than usual here in Las Vegas – only 44. But the sun is shining and that’s what I love most of all.
    Great example of showing rather than telling. I think I’ll save this one for future reference as I’m editing my wip. 🙂 Thanks!

  8. brenda on February 5, 2008 at 7:02 pm

    Warm today-I live in WV…I grew up here…Married-we raised our family in Ohio and then in another are of WV…not here…I finished college in my 40’s and taught in S.Carolina for five years…I am now back here after 30 plus years…my son lives in Florida…my daughter in Indy…weather varied everywhere.
    Diane-I spent today trying to teach my high school kids to show/not tell. I spent this evening trying to teach the college kids to show/not tell…it is not easy…
    I read the BLOG regularly-just not responding as much…sorry…personal…

  9. brenda on February 5, 2008 at 7:05 pm

    Kathy, Did I read that you recently moved to Vegas???

  10. Kathy Holmes on February 5, 2008 at 7:23 pm

    Hi Brenda – yes. Writing about it on my two4vegas blog. 🙂

  11. Liz on February 5, 2008 at 8:56 pm

    Hi, Margo – yes, I do live in Iowa and we are indeed in the midst of this winter storm. My apologies to the weather freaks. They were right. I’m still grateful for “snow days from school”. Makes me glad for an upcoming trip to the Florida Keys. I can see how addictive this can be (blogging), but my eternal question is always, how do you know you’re talking to real people???? I’m starting to feel a little silly for scorning those around me who are always on-line and have face book, etc. Well, I will need something in retirement and this is proving to be fun. Diane, I don’t know how you are able to write and contribute so frequently and personally to this medium, but thanks for doing so.

  12. Diane Chamberlain on February 5, 2008 at 10:11 pm

    Margo and Liz, hope you’re warming up by now. Liz, I believe all these people are real. Otherwise, they really have me fooled.
    Brenda, sorry you’re struggling with personal issues. It’s got to be hard to have to be “on” all day with your classes.
    Therese, I can’t wait to read SOUVENIR! I’m having trouble posting to your blog (and Julie L’s as well). See Liz, it’s not just you? If you (Therese) could email me, maybe I could figure it out with your help.
    Kathy, just checked your blog and saw the model of your new house! Wow, it’s stunning. I hope that sunset comes with it.
    Hugs all. A surprise 74 degrees here today!!!! Sorry to rub it in, snowbirds.

  13. Margo on February 6, 2008 at 8:36 am

    Diane, 74 degress today?…here in Iowa we are in the midst of a winter storm and I think it’s about 20 degrees…Liz, we had tons of snow where I live and are expecting another 3-6 inches today. I’m 1 of those people who actually LOVE winter and snow so I’m not complaining. It’s absolutely gorgeous here! Kathy, I’ll have to check out your website and see that beautiful sunset D’s talking about! Brenda, hope your problems are over with soon. It’s hard to put on a happy face for everyone else when your struggling. 1 more thing…Liz, I am a real person…really I am. (-:

  14. Liz on February 6, 2008 at 3:28 pm

    Well…..I do think you are all real – just had to throw that out there, as I’ve not done much communication on-line. I live in my own head too much, but today, with a great “snow day”, I’ve checked out some of your blogs – Therese, Kathy and Julie – this is a cool discovery for me – new authors to read. Margo – you must be an artist, also. I do NOT like this snow – and am eager to escape. A problem ankle keeps me from enoying it as much as I used to. I am looking for the creative part of my brain, now, as I have not cultivated enough interests in my life – work, raising children (who keep returning to the nest!!) work, keeping friendships alive and nurtured and did I mention work?? At the end of the day I want the escape of a good book – this is where you have come in, Diane. If I don’t have you or Emilie Richards or Barbara Delinsky by the bed, I’m lost. (Is that pathetic, or what?) I’m looking forward to reading Therese’s book; sounds like this is your first?? It must be such a heady feeling to be published. Brenda – are you an author, also?

  15. Diane Chamberlain on February 6, 2008 at 4:00 pm

    Liz, Margo is a super artist! I’ve never met her, but I’ve seen plenty of her work and I constantly nag her about putting up a website. She promises to do it one of these days.
    I don’t think your need for a book at the end of the day is a bad thing at all. I am SO HAPPY there are readers in the world. My problem with that end of the day reading is that I forget to stop. Right now, my bedtime reading is the printout of BEFORE THE STORM. (I think I know how that one’s going to end. lol). Next on my stack is Delinsky’s latest. Can’t wait!

  16. brenda on February 6, 2008 at 5:12 pm

    I am not an author…I teach high school English and college English. I became a teacher in my 40’s and didn’t finish Master’s until last year at almost 60.
    I can never retire because I taught in two different states.
    I wrote a newpaper column, THE WAY WE WERE…THE WAY WE ARE…for 9 years=first for a large newspaper, later for smaller ones.
    My favorite thing as far as scholastics: study and teach Shakespeare. I studied at The Folger’s in 1996, Shakespeare and Company, 2002, and London in 2006…great fun…chosen (expenses paid) for Humanities Grants
    I do some writing…not really great.
    I love Diane and Barbara D-my favorites so we have that in common and also the work, work, work…
    My children are grown and far away from me-one in Florida (a corporate attorney)and one in Indy-a stay-at-home teacher/mom…
    Welcome to this wonderful BLOG…

  17. Julie on February 6, 2008 at 8:39 pm

    Liz, thanks for reading my blog. I’m not an author yet, though! I’m a writer, but I guess I subscribe to the theory that I won’t be an author until my fiction is published. I *do* consider Kathy an author because she has self-published quite successfully it sounds like.
    It took me a long time to have the confidence to even say I’m a writer, but I’ve been quite comfortable with it for about a year now, since I made it the main focus of my working hours. I still surprise myself sometimes, though, when people ask what I do and I easily tell them I’m a writer, but I do freelance editing for college tuition. 🙂 (I’ll have kids in college for the next 12 years! Eek!)
    As far as the “real people” thing, just a tidbit–I met my husband of almost five years on the internet. He’s about as real as they come. 🙂 I’m guessing most people use some sort of screen name, though, as opposed to their real names just for safety and privacy. Always a good idea. Just as authors often use their maiden name, or former married name, etc., as pen names.

  18. Margo on February 7, 2008 at 8:32 am

    Thank you Diane…sometimes I forget about the website because I’m so busy painting!…a huge project I started in January is taking up all my time as it needs to be done by April. I’m not complaining…as you know, I love what I do. Liz, I am always with a book…I read over lunch and late at nite. My fav author is Diane Chamberlain and fav book of all time is KEEPER OF THE LIGHT which I’ve read 4 times! If you haven’t read all of her books you are in for such a treat…I own all of them and oneday I plan to make it to a book signing of hers and meet her in person! I can hardly wait for that day!

  19. Brenda on February 8, 2008 at 8:23 pm

    Julie-In 1992, I was living in a hospital (for 90 days) while Mother (age 60) died of cancer, divorcing my husband (we were together 30 years), going to college, had a daughter in Indiana in college and a son in Tx in college-it was rough-and trying to run a business (we had a small Hallmark store)…My husband was the breadwinner until I left all that.
    Anyway, within one year 93-94, my son graduated from TCU, my daughter from IU, and I from a small college in WV. My son went on and graduated from U of Texas law school. Talking about tuition…It was something else…However, we did it…my kids were one year apart in school-and both valedictorians. I had to keep good grades to keep up with them…
    Good luck with the tuition and the writing. How did Kathy self-publish?

  20. Brenda on February 8, 2008 at 8:24 pm

    Margo-we will meet each other also-my dream is to attend a workshop with Diane as the leader…

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