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Tip Tuesday #156

Tip Tuesday features writers' tips on craft, research, querying, blogging, marketing, inspiration, and more. If you'd like to send in a tip, please e-mail me at agentspotlight(at)gmail(dot)com.

Kristin Lenz is a writer and social worker who contributes to the YA Fusion group blog.  This week she shares advice about writing flashback scenes, and she has several giveaways, including an ARC of Emily Murdoch's debut YA/Adult crossover novel, If You Find Me. Please visit her at YA Fusion, but first, here's Kristin's tip:

I’m taking an online writing course with author Tim Wynne-Jones as my mentor/instructor. Tim’s academic home is the Vermont College of Fine Arts where he’s taught for over ten years in the Writing for Children and Young Adults two-year MFA, low-residency program. But he also teaches through Humber University in Toronto where students are paired with a mentor who critiques up to 300 pages of a manuscript. I was thrilled to be matched with Tim. Here’s a small sample of what I’ve been learning over the past couple of months.

As much as I think I understand the show-don’t-tell rule, Tim pointed out that I’m writing way too much in summary. “When you tell the story in summary, it’s more like listening to the news.” We might feel sympathy or outrage, but we don’t become embroiled in the story. “We don’t read stories for the news, we read stories so that we can eavesdrop – listen in. We learn who those characters are by what they say and do. It doesn’t have to be a full-blown conversation, but keep your eyes peeled for opportunities to take readers more deeply into the story.” In other words, let the reader be a fly on the wall, and better yet, let them walk in your character’s shoes.

I already knew about the importance of white space in a story, and truly thought I was including enough dialogue. This is especially interesting because I am a quiet, introverted person. I spend a lot of time in my head. And as much as I deliberately try to make my characters’ different from me, they too spend a lot of time in their head. On many pages of my manuscript, Tim wrote, “This needs to be said out loud.” Or “What is she waiting for?” Or simply, “Dialogue.”

Blogger Joanne Fritz recently interviewed Newbery honor winning author Kirby Larson and asked her advice on revising a rough draft. Kirby’s advice was similar to Tim’s. She advises, “scout the manuscript for narrative chunks: such chunks probably indicate telling, rather than scene-building. Convert those sections to scenes and you're most of the way there!” Read the rest of her advice here.

For more about the Vermont College of Fine Arts and the Humber University writing programs, go here:

Have a great week!
Kristin Lenz


  1. Great tips, Kristin. I'll have to scour my manuscript for narrative chunks too. Awesome that you're taking an online course with Tim.

  2. I think writers get in the habit of "telling and not showing" because we rely on illustrators to convey a character feeling sad, or looking angry. So, we neglect to include it in the text. I know I do this frequently...

  3. Fabulous, Kristin! Thanks for the tips.

  4. Enjoyed reading these tips - and as I do tend to eavesdrop and be generally nosy I totally see how this is what I want my reader to enjoy doing too when they read my stories, thanks Kristin! Take care

  5. Great advice. I do revert to telling, esp. when I'm in a hurry to move my story along. Reviewing with an eye for these sections is essential for me.

  6. Great...great advice. Thanks for sharing. I am heading into the big read of an ms now that it has had a rest from me. Will keep eyes peeled for those narrative chunks and telling story in summary!

  7. Kristin, thanks so much for the shout-out. And Tim sounds like a wise and wonderful mentor. Lucky you!

  8. Excellent tips!! Another great way to check that you are indeed showing and not telling.

  9. Great advice for showing not telling, always enjoy reading these tips.

  10. Thanks for the tips, Kristin! The mentor program sounds wonderful, and it'd obvious it's really helping you. Write on! :-)

  11. "Narrative chunks!" Great way to really remind us that we need to show and not tell. Sometimes we can get lost in the individual sentences, perhaps even in the diction itself, and we forget to look at the whole. What a great tip!

  12. Great post, Kristin. And thinks for the links to the programs.

  13. I love that imagery of the fly on the wall. Yes. That's it exactly. And I wish many times that we could make city council minutes as entertaining as the meetings sometimes are. Sometimes. =D

  14. Great tips, Kristen. I took a week-long class with Tim Wynn-Jones this summer (WIFYR) and he was amazing to work with. He had so much knowledge and improved esp. my show vs. tell and dialogue. Working with him for an entire MS sounds like a wonderful experience (we did the 1st 20 pages).

    I'm revising right now and looking for those summary chunks.

    1. Robin - Great to hear you got to work with Tim, too. I haven't met him in person, but his warmth and humor shine through in his critique notes!

  15. Great tip, Kristin. I especially appreciate the visual of looking for chunks of narrative and converting them to scenes. Visualizing it on the page does help.

  16. This was really helpful. I'm thinking seriously of taking the Humber Correspondence course for my current manuscript. Kristin, I may be in touch with a couple of questions for you!

  17. So jealous. I'd love to take a course from Tim Wynne-Jones. I read his articles on writing whenever I can. Thanks for the tip:)

  18. Thank you, Kristin. I had never heard of the program at Humber before. I want to know more.

    Now I have to go look for the "chunky soup" parts of my novel!

  19. What great advice and an even better reminder, Kristin!

  20. SO interesting!!!! What great advice and insight. I tend to do the opposite and need to add in more details and background around the dialogue!

  21. Wow, this hits home for me because I know I do this a lot. I don't want to bore the reader, so I figure I'll wrap it up for them. Wrong! Thanks for the great advice.

  22. Chunks. I'll be looking for them! Thanks.

  23. Awesome tip ;) Thank you both for sharing. <3 Hmm. I do want to write someday :)