October 1, 2015

Mini Craft Lesson

Missy Wick, Blog Editor

Last month I had the pleasure of attending the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference and working with Bread Loaf Fellow Brando Skyhorse, author of the novel The Madonnas of Echo Park and memoir Take This Man. In his memoir Skyhorse describes his unusual family history:

When he was three years old, Brando Kelly Ulloa was abandoned by his Mexican father. His mother, Maria, dreaming of a more exciting life, saw no reason for her son to live his life as a Mexican just because he started out as one. The life of “Brando Skyhorse,” the American Indian son of an incarcerated political activist, was about to begin.

Skyhorse also worked in publishing and he graciously shared his editorial wisdom with our workshop. One topic of discussion was the well-worn adage “show don’t tell.” What does this admonishment really mean? Consider this five-point checklist:

1. There is Action: something must happen, usually at the beginning of the scene.

2. There is Dialog: it should help us understand the character or advance the plot.

3. We see Inner Point Of View: When a protagonist gets new information or experiences a new event s/he must:

– React

– Reflect

– Reply

4. Specific intimate details: These are concrete details that you (the author) and you alone are capable of revealing.

5. There is a definitive starting and stopping point.

Do you have any great scenes that illustrate the use of these five points? If so, please share them with us in your comments!
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Missy Wick is a writer, psychologist, and Lecturer in the Psychology Department at Smith College.

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