“Show, don’t tell” is a mantra that writing teachers quote to conceal the challenges of story crafting, and their students regurgitate it to sound insightful—whether they understand the concept or not. It’s lasted through the decades because it defines the difference between engaging and boring fiction.
Former Story Embers Head Writer
Raised on C. S. Lewis and matured (to whatever extent) on Tolkien, Brandon Miller is a huge fan of Christian speculative fiction. His favorite stories artfully bend physical reality to reveal spiritual realities that apply to all realms, kingdoms, districts, and solar systems (including our own).
When not writing fiction, Brandon spends his time landscaping the great outdoors, sportsing, or romancing his all-star and lifelong coauthor, Megan.
Abortion. Homosexuality. Feminism. Race. Border politics. These topics dominate the news, and fiction needs to accurately portray our world, but how do we write with caution and avoid inflaming or alienating readers? (Hint: Not with blunt statements like the opening of this article.) God’s Word reveals answers and helps us form clear stances on controversial issues. Unfortunately, when we try to share our beliefs in our stories, we can come across as condescending (at best) or openly hostile.
Have you ever read a book or watched a movie where the interaction between two lovers became graphic? Or been absorbed in an adventure story and suddenly had to skim unnecessarily steamy scenes? I have, and I hate it. Not only does the sensuality rip me out of the story and make me roll my eyes, it taints the characters (and prevents me from recommending an otherwise great novel).
What’s the difference between Infinity War and Age of Ultron? Why is one shocking and fantastic while the other is shallow entertainment? The producers didn’t recast half the Avengers or cross more fingers when Infinity War hit theaters. But where Age of Ultron is predictable, Infinity War is riveting. Where Age of Ultron is funny, Infinity War is impactful and humorous (props to the writers). So, why is Infinity War a winner?
Ideas make the storytelling world go round. Everything writers do is based on developing, outlining, and enshrining ideas in prose. But, for people like me, coming up with good ideas can be hard—partly because of a misconception about a story idea’s purpose.
Great stories have a broad emotional range that sends readers looping through laughter, soaring toward ecstasy, and plummeting into despair. When we open a new book, we hope it’s our ticket to a rollercoaster we’ll never forget. Unfortunately, building this thrill ride as a writer is challenging.
One of the biggest challenges with writing speculative fiction is clarifying how your story’s magic and/or technology works. Once you’ve accomplished the monumental task of developing those systems, how do you educate readers without making them yawn? They don’t want you to pause the story to give a lesson on all the phenomena, yet they don’t like being confused (and prone to disbelief) either. (Aren’t readers exasperating?)
Sometimes a book’s theme is straightforward. Eustace is sucked into a painting and learns humility. Henry York crawls through a cupboard and learns bravery. Parvin Blackwater crosses the wall and learns to trust God. But the path to transformation isn’t always that simple. Characters may need to wander through labyrinths of tyranny, persecution, murder, neglect, and revenge.
The time for New Year’s resolutions has come and gone. Why are we talking about journaling now? Because, as a writer, you’ve probably noticed that it’s a fad on Instagram and contemplated joining in. Maybe you even started a journal but couldn’t keep it going.
“I started a project a few years ago and wrote a chunk…but I never finished it. What should I do now?” I’ve heard this tale from every writer ever. We’ve all had a project sputter and die at some point in our journey. When we take a break for too long, restarting the engine can be difficult. The abandoned story probably bores us, and we may have trouble remembering the timeline and the different character motivations that propelled it.