Monthly Archives: February 2014

Show, don’t tell 2

I am constantly learning as I walk the writing path. Like any vocation I expect it will always be that way and I will strive to find new ways to express my characters thoughts and feelings, what they see and hear, with ever improving and intricate plot lines.
Below we continue with show don’t tell and choosing the perfect word. Here I am sharing with you my learning, which helped to make Sam and the Sea Witch into a book worthy of publication.
Choosing the perfect word


We’re lucky, in that English is a wonderfully versatile language, with a myriad of words to choose from to cover every action, every mood.  Think about sad, wistful, depressed, down, gloomy, poignant, nostalgic.  All denote a sort of sadness, but each has a distinct shade of difference.  When writing, strive to find the one perfect word that means exactly what you want to say.  Especially when writing action scenes, this sort of attention to detail can really help to bring your images richly to life.




  • He shut the drawer as hard as he could.
  • He slammed the drawer shut.


In the first sentence, the verb is ‘shut’, with the adverb ‘hard’ denoting how the action of ‘shut’ takes place.  ‘Shut hard’.  Is there a word that means ‘shut hard’ that could be used instead?  Yes, ‘slammed’.  In the second sentence, the action leaps more strongly into life, with the use of the perfect word choice.




  • She slipped on the ice and lost her footing, falling backwards.
  • Her feet skated out from under her, and she crashed to the ground.


In the second sentence, notice how the use of more interesting words (‘skated’ and ‘crashed’ rather than ‘slipped’ and ‘fell’) brings the image to life more strongly.  You should consider each and every word you write.  Is it the most evocative?  Does it mean exactly what you meant to say?  Is it the first word that came to mind, or could you push yourself a bit, and think of something a bit more original and arresting?

Letting the reader make his own connections/interpretations


This is a really important one.  It’s similar to the point about avoiding passive verbs, but looking at it from a non-grammatical viewpoint. This is the use of description to get an idea across rather than simply telling it, and in many ways it’s the very essence of the ‘show, don’t tell’ rule.

Which of these statements brings the scene to life?


  • Grace was devastated by the phone message from her boyfriend.
  • As his tinny words hung in the air, Grace sank onto the sofa, her throat tight and aching.


Don’t tell us that she’s upset, and trying not to cry.  Let your reader figure it out for himself by what you show him.  Let your characters’ actions and words speak for themselves.  If you’re right there in the scene reporting what you see, your characters shouldn’t need you to interpret their feelings, moods, etc. to your reader.

Avoiding adverbs


Similarly, if you overuse adverbs to explain how your characters are feeling, you are almost certainly telling and not showing your action.  Sometimes an adverb describes what you mean so perfectly that it is allowable to use it, but do use them sparingly, and consider what you are doing very carefully before you include one.  As much as possible, try to keep away from them and show us how your characters feel instead, by their actions and dialogue.  Your writing will jump into life.




  • “What do you mean by that?” he said belligerently.
  • “What the bloody hell do you mean by that?” He took a step forward, his hands coiled into fists.


Which sentence does a better job of conveying the idea of ‘belligerence’ – the one that tells you that the character is belligerent, or the one that shows you?   Again, let your characters’ actions and words speak for themselves.  They don’t need you, the author, to interpret their feelings to the reader; they’re more than capable of getting ideas across on their own.



Specific details


It’s your job as a writer to paint sharp, clear verbal pictures in your reader’s mind.  To really do this, it’s necessary to step back from your work and try to read it as someone who has never seen it before.  Does it get across the picture that you wanted to get across?  Often writers have exact, specific details of a scene in mind when they write it, but these are so obvious to them that they don’t report them to the reader.  You naturally do not want to describe every little detail—as with most things, too much is as bad as too little—but you do want to impart a few carefully selected details to them.

For instance, which is more interesting/vivid:

  • The expensive red car cut her off at the roundabout.
  • The red Jaguar convertible cut her off at the roundabout.


And again:

  • She took a sip of delicious white wine.
  • She took a sip of cool, crisp Chardonnay.


Specific details make a story spring into sharp focus, which is what you should be striving for. Ground your readers in the reality you are creating.  Give them details to grab onto.  Let them see what your characters are seeing.

Look at the sentence above: “She took a sip of delicious white wine.”  As description, this is utterly meaningless.  (What’s so ‘delicious’ about it?)  Keep in mind that words like beautiful, handsome, etc., are meaningless as adjectives because they’re so subjective.  My idea of beautiful or handsome may not be yours.  Using specific details, describe the person or place to your readers and let them judge for themselves.  Or, let your characters do their own description through dialogue.


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“Show, don’t tell”

When I was writing Sam and The Sea Witch, I realised I had a lot to learn about writing a story. I read much about how this should be done and I have tried to use what I have learned in my writing. I want to share it with you. If you read what I have posted below, you will see how it helped me to recognise the difference between showing the reader and telling the reader what it happening. It is quite long, so I’ve broke it down. I’ll post the second part of this document on show and tell next week. I hope you enjoy it and find it useful.


M. P. Ward

author of Sam and The Sea Witch

& Sam and the Beast of Bodmin moor




This is a very common writing problem: telling your action/characters/plot rather than showing them.  “Show, don’t tell,” is one of the basic rules of writing.  It may be something you’ve heard before, but it’s not always easy to learn.  It’s a concept that is best explained by example.

Imagine that you’re watching a movie.  It’s an action sequence: two men fighting.  It’s so well done that you feel every punch; you flinch with every blow; you gasp with suspense and dread when the hero goes down.  Will he get up?  Oh god, what’s going to happen?!

That’s ‘showing’ action.  You’re in the scene with the characters as it takes place. 

Now imagine that instead of that exciting action scene, a narrator is sitting in a chair talking to the audience.  “And then Jason hit him.  Andrew spun quickly, hitting him back. And then—” 

That’s ‘telling’. 

So when I say you’re telling your story instead of showing it, what I mean is that you, the narrator, are describing the events to your reader rather than letting them experience them for themselves.  And so you’re keeping your reader at arm’s length from the action, because they’re receiving it second hand, filtered through you. 

Do you know the feeling of reading a really good book, and being so caught up in it that you’re off in another world?  That’s what you’re striving for, and the way to do it is to plunge your reader right into the action, so that he not only feels as though the story is unfolding right in front of him, but that he himself is actually part of it.

There are several ways of doing this, all of which you can utilise: 

  • action verbs/sentence structure as opposed to passive;
  • choosing the perfect word
  • letting the reader make his own connections/interpretations;
  • avoiding adverbs in describing a character’s emotions – let your characters do the work;
  • specific details;
  • exposition through dialogue/incident rather than narration;
  • getting inside your main character’s head.
  • metaphor/simile


None of these are really separate concepts, and so some of what I’m going to say will echo other bits of it.  They all work together as parts of a single theme.



Action verbs/sentence structure


Overuse of ‘be-verbs’ (was, were, are, etc.), keeps your action at arm’s length from your reader, because you’re telling it instead of showing it. 

Passive:           The ball was kicked by the football player. 

Active:             The football player kicked the ball.


Do you see the difference?  One plunges you into the action, the other just tells you about it. 

A sentence is passive when its subject (‘ball’) is acted upon (‘was kicked’) as opposed to active, where the subject (‘football player’) is acting (‘kicked’).

In my own writing, this is something I try to be very aware of, and if I find myself composing a sentence with a be-verb, whenever possible I try to turn it around and rewrite it using an active construction instead.  It almost always sounds sharper and more interesting that way. 

The overuse of be-verbs has an almost lulling effect on the reader, because we’re so used to hearing them that they don’t surprise us.  Sometimes you want that lulling effect as a pacing device, but usually you don’t.  Using unusual but appropriate action verbs instead keeps your reader interested and awake. 

One of my favourite examples of this is from a book called Red Azalea—the main character is jogging with some soldiers in a gruelling survival course, and she says ‘their footsteps chopped through me.’  I love that, because you can both hear and feel the effect of their pounding footsteps on the ground.


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Is it the same Beast attacking sheep on Bodmin Moor and Exmoor?

Sam and the Beast of Bodmin Moor

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Blurb for Sam and the Beast of Bodmin Moor


Imagine being the first person to capture the Beast of Bodmin Moor.


The second book in the sea witch series is full of magic, murder, and mystery, within the Cornish setting.


Whilst spending the night camping in the garden, Sam and Johnny hear strange howling noises. The next day Jenny said, “It’s the Beast of Bodmin Moor.” Sam tells her he wants to catch it and this is going to be the best mission ever.


But what does the Beast of Bodmin Moor look like, and how do you catch it, when it has eluded, so many, for so long?


     Jenny tells Sam, “It’s a big cat, released onto the moors when Government officials went around taking them from their owners, back in the nineteen seventies.” She shows Sam a newspaper article about the event. Now he’s desperate to find it.


They set off for Bodmin and soon come across an eerie, campsite, near Saint Cleer (known locally as Hell up by Liskeard). Sam thinks this is the perfect place to hunt for it.


That night a Black Panther circles the camp. Sam thinks he’s found the beast and chases after it into the Forbidden Woods.


But he soon discovers there is more than one creature running around these parts. Sam and his friends have stumbled upon a terrifying secret, hidden away for hundreds of years, and the sea witch has no small part to play in it.


He finds a book hidden beneath an old man’s bed and contained within its leaves are the names of every living Berserker, Lichen Throat and Imp. Later the old man tells him, “When the book is full, it will be the end of us all and Cornwall will be destroyed along with everyone who lives here.”


Sam hasn’t much time, but will he be able to stop the witch, save Cornwall, and capture the Beast of Bodmin Moor?

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Sam and the Beast of Bodmin Moor

Here is footage of what some people believe is the beast of Bodmin moor. Do you think the Beast exists and what do you think it is?

Love to read your views.

M.P. Ward

Author of Sam and The Beast of Bodmin Moor




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Do you think Sea Witches exist today?

There isn’t an awful lot to read about sea witches. It is believed that they have power over water and wind. They use water in their magic. But apparently you have to be a natural witch. You might be one, you just don’t know it yet. It’s not like being a herbal specialist, where you can read lots of books and build up your skills. You have to have a natural feel for it or so I have read.

I have had someone tweet me, ‘I am a sea witch.’ That was exciting, being able to connect to a modern day sea witch. Or maybe someone was pulling my leg. What do you think?

I’m leaving this link with you where you can acquire ritual spells and water magick equipment, if you fancy having a go. However I’m not validating this site and I certainly haven’t tried it. Just a bit of fun. Let me know how you go on, if you’re brave enough.

samandtheseawitch333x500 Young Adult

Cheers, M. P. Ward

Author of Sam and The Sea Witch


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