Many of you know Amy Michelle Wiley – she’s been at FaithWriters for quite a while, and is one of the coordinators for the FaithWriters Conference, among other things. And now she’s written an e-book to help us with that “law” of great prose – “show; don’t tell.” Read on to learn a bit about her, her writing journey, and this great writing resource.
JOANNE: Thanks for agreeing to be here. Tell us a bit about yourself.
AMY: Thanks for having me, Jo! I live in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and am coming up on my thirtieth birthday next month. I have a passion for words and languages, and people and cultures. I’m a freelance writer and editor, plus I work part-time as a professional sign language interpreter at a community college and volunteer interpret at my church.
I have a genetic connective tissue disorder that affects every part of my life, every day. I live with constant pain and fatigue, as well as other symptoms. God has taught me so much about how to choose joy, even if life isn’t ideal. He’s been able to use me to touch other people because of my own struggles, and reach them with true empathy in a way I couldn’t if I were healthy.
Because of my health issues, I live with my parents and sister, who is also disabled. They, my other sister, and my grandparents are wonderfully supportive of both my writing and my health. My three nieces were thrilled when they finally got to read my young adult novel.
I have a darling cat, Leika, and love birdwatching and crafting.
JOANNE: Busy young lady You’ve been an important part of FW for quite a while. Tell us a bit about your involvement with FaithWriters.
AMY: Seven years ago I was coming out of an especially difficult time emotionally and physically. I began writing more in an attempt to find other things to focus on, and started writing fan fiction for the TV show Doc with a group on a message board. They adored my writing and were so encouraging that I decided I should find a place to post some of the short stories I’d written.
When I first found FW through Google, I took one look at the huge number of members and was sure I’d get lost in the crowd and that it wouldn’t be the right fit. But a few days later God brought me back and I decided it wouldn’t hurt to make an account. I immediately began getting lots of encouragement on the message boards and comments on my stories, and then won second place in both of my first two entries in the writing challenge.
From then on my writing became serious. I actually finished the stories I started and submitted to the writing challenge every single week for two or three years. I volunteered occasionally as a judge for the challenge. FW became so much more than a writing group to me—the people became part of my family.
After a couple years, I got tired of hearing everyone talk about maybe having an FW conference some day and decided why not now? I offered to help coordinate it and it actually happened! Since then I have been one of the main coordinators for the four amazing conferences we’ve had, and we’re starting the wheels turning for the 2013 one.
More recently, I’m also the moderator for the Kid’s FW site and a mod on the boards of the main site. I offer a lot of informal critiquing and mentoring to other FW members.
JOANNE: You’ve got your toes in almost every part of the site, don’t you? Tell us a bit about your publishing experiences.
AMY: As I mentioned, I placed high in the challenge the first two times I entered, and then continued to place fairly regularly. I got so much mentoring and critiquing from FW members that my writing grew in leaps and bounds. Soon I was being published in other magazines and anthologies. To date have been published about seventy times.
In 2005 I started an international collaborative fiction group called Peculiar People. I’ve interacted with almost 100 authors from about nine different countries as I direct each project and then publish the final book. We have two published books and two more in progress.
I have one completed YA novel of my own, Reaching Sky, that I have at least one publisher interested in, and I just sent out proposals for a suspense book that is partially written, Voices of the Dark.
JOANNE: And now you’ve published Bring Your Writing To Life. What made you decide to write this book? How can it help people with their writing?
AMY: I work as an editor and story coach (both freelance and for a small publisher) and do a lot of informal mentoring both for general writing and specifically in helping people get published or self publish. I found myself repeating the same tips about how to show and not tell over and over. Then I realized if I wrote it all down, then it would save me a lot of time in the long run, and be a more comprehensive tool for my clients and friends. So that’s how Bring Your Writing to Life came about.
I have a lot of people tell me they hear the term “show; don’t tell” but can’t quite grasp what exactly it means or even how to know whether you are showing or telling. So this workbook has tons of concrete examples of what to do and not to do, and I included worksheets so the writers can try it out themselves. Each section explains a concept and gives the warning signs that indicate you are telling. Then I show you exactly how to fix it.
The basic concept is that if you show the reader what is happening and let them experience it for themselves, then it will be much more powerful and emotional for them than if they are simply told facts about what happened. I’ve gotten great feedback on the finished product.
You can buy the book, Bring Your Writing to Life, in eBook or paperback by following links from this page.
JOANNE: Sounds like a great resource, Amy!What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
AMY: Show; don’t tell. (I asked for that, didn’t I, Amy LOL?)
Along with that is to trust your reader to understand the cues you give them, just as they understand subtle body language and tone of voice to communicate with others in the real world. For example, you don’t need to spell out that someone is angry, but show it by the character’s body language and words. Then the reader is experiencing the effect of the anger instead of just seeing the word “angry.”
JOANNE: Anything else you’d like to add?
AMY: I’d love for everyone to check out my website at www.sparrowsflight.net. They can read lots of my short stories there, find a link to my blog, and see info about my works in progress. People can follow my publishing journeys on my FaceBook author page: www.facebook.com/AmyMichelleWiley
Thanks so much for having me! I’ll end with an excerpt from the book.
When you meet a new person and begin a friendship, typically you know little about them, often only something related to the situation in which you met. Perhaps you are both college students or both writers. As you become better friends, you learn more information about their life as it comes up naturally. Most likely she won’t blurt right off that she had an abusive father, but when you are closer friends and you describe a boyfriend’s behavior, she might mention that he reminds her of her dad.
In the same manner, you’ll want to introduce your characters gradually. At first, only give the most important information. That may be a name or even just a general age and gender. Don’t necessarily spell that all out, but indicate it in some way. I begin my novel like this:
I am invisible. I always have been. As a boy, I learned to blend with the background to avoid flying fists and boiling words. Now, as a young man, I’ve used that skill for a different purpose.
Instantly we know the main character is a young man with an abusive background. After that I just start the story right off.
Information about things that happened before the character’s “right now” is called backstory. Explaining anything from past events to how many siblings the MC has or what their life is like would count as backstory.
JOANNE: Sounds like super stuff, Amy! Be sure you stop by Amy’s website to get to know her better – and pick up this great book!