Please Show, Don’t Tell

There is something elusive about writing, and I’ve formed the opinion that this is what makes writing art. Or not art. I don’t mean that in a snooty way, rather as a form of humble appreciation. It’s the difference between riveting writing and writing that is a bit naff, a bit off. The type of book you read until 3am in the morning and the book you get two pages into and then decide to never pick up again.

My mentor Simon describes it as “making the reader ping”. A very scientific explanation.

What is ‘ping’? At the third Te Papa Tupu writers workshop, we had some time to talk about the manuscript. Simon – who presented an awesome workshop on story arc – shared his general contentment with the arc and character development. But there was a hiccup. There were issues at a sentence level. With my writing.

There was no ‘ping’. Parts of it were not quite right. In others, something was missing. Although there are huge battles, blood spattering and the heads of bit-part characters rolling… it still wasn’t engaging as heads rolling really should be.

This was a bit daunting. Everything else was great – except for the writing itself. This is something to grapple with, a challenge right up there with defeating an evil sorcerer. So, Gandalf the Wizard/Simon the Mentor gave me advice that was something like, become the character before writing. Visualise yourself in the character’s body and engage with the five senses. What can Hine or Pakū touch? What can they taste, smell and hear?

Visualise yourself in the character’s body and engage with the five senses. 

I gave this a go. I tried – I really did. I visually imagined myself as the characters in my head. I rode that giant moa, I fought the evil sorcerer, I imagined being kidnapped by an unknown blue-hooded stranger. I made myself vomit with fear. It was better, Simon assured me. But still… not there yet. There was something else. I was telling too much and needed to Show, Don’t Tell. This was the first time I had ever heard of this.

What is Show, Don’t Tell? Well, as far as I know – it’s allowing the reader to experience the story through action, thoughts and senses rather than through description. In her workshop, Paula Morris alluded to Show, Don’t Tell through Point Of View – writing from the POV of the character.

Hine and Pakū face insurmountable evil, cursed and grotesque animals, skeleton people, a scar-faced sorcerer and taiaha wielding men who have “no-eyes”. Because of this, fear is a pretty common emotion in my manuscript. So, instead of saying “Hine was afraid”, if you Show, Don’t Tell, it’s “Hine’s chest tightened”, “Hine froze”, “her mouth was dry”, “her brow was covered in sweat”, “she rubbed her sweaty hands on her skirt”. From this, the reader assumes (if it works) that Hine is under some kind of stress and from the context – that it would be fear.

Show, Don’t Tell through Point Of View – writing from the POV of the character.

Now I’m sure there have to be better examples than that (if you do know of any please share in the comments below so I can steal them haha) but the point is that these are the kinds of things I’ve had to think about.

Confusingly, all writers actually DO tell. I know…right? Confusing. If you look at it this way, it would be pretty hard to write a novel that didn’t tell at all – not once. Especially in the Young Adult genre and with an action-packed storyline.

This is what is so confusing about this concept. You have to Show Don’t Tell, but actually, do tell, but not too much. Give enough information for the reader to understand what is going on, but don’t over prescribe. Otherwise, you are robbing them of the chance to fill in the blanks – to recreate the novel as they see it in their own minds.

Give enough information for the reader to understand what is going on, but don’t over prescribe.

So, I turned to the help that was suggested at the workshop, and on a surprisingly windy day I wandered into Wellington City Library and picked up “Beyond the First Draft: The Art of Fiction” by John Casey. Now this book is not a page-turner by any means. The best way to describe it would be that it hurt my brain. I felt likeI was reading the ancient texts of some religion, or perhaps the oral teachings of Te Papa Tupu mentor “Yoda” (aka Author James George).

An excerpt:

“A common fault among younger writers, especially good ones, is to become enchanted with complex ornamentation…[…]. I once took a writer to the Washington National Cathedral (a good duplication of English gothic). We looked at the vaulting – finer and finer tendrils sprouted. But the bases were as big as a house. You can’t almost seethe way around. You can feel, you can almost hear them as if you were in the engine room of a ship larger than any ever built. You don’t need to explain that you couldn’t get the tendrils way upt here without these roots. Or that the delicate tendrils wouldn’t be as beautiful if they weren’t a culmination of force…”

It’s heavy. It’s wordy. I skim most of the words. My brows furrow. I feel the faintest twinge of a migraine, my brain whirring and I sigh, loudly.

In saying all that, I would still recommend reading it. I don’t know if I understood, but I am always hopeful that subconsciously I absorbed its teachings – through osmosis. Will it help? Will the newly edited manuscript dazzle with ping?

One can only hope.


Ataria Rangipikitia Sharman (Tapuika, Ngāpuhi) loves writing. Sometimes what she writes is good and sometimes it isn’t. But she persists nevertheless, in the form of essays, poetry and articles. Ataria’s writing has been published on E-Tangata and you can follow her poetry on Instagram @atariarangipikitia.

Writing to Catch the Imperfection

Ataria reading Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This journal entry for Te Papa Tupu is a week late. Late, late, late, late. As one of the selected writers for Te Papa Tupu, we have only a few jobs. To work on our manuscript and write one blog post per month. ONE. You might think this is not a lot. That would be a true statement. If I’m perfectly honest with myself, I haven’t been able to write this because I don’t have anything to write about. I haven’t been feeling inspired; lately, no juicy revelation has spurred me on to journal blog writing paradise. Maybe I’ve lost all my enthusiasm. Perhaps I’m just overwhelmed by it all.

I suppose I should write about how amazing it is to be part of Te Papa Tupu. How amazing it would be to be a published writer, or even better, a professional paid-writer. Making a career out of something I love. Except sometimes I wonder, would life be any better if I was paid to write every single day? What if I didn’t feel inspired… like I don’t right now? Would being paid to put pen to page, provide any more impetus than being a part of the Te Papa Tupu does now? Would sitting in an office or shed, every day with my computer provide me with the writing life that I think I want?

Nothing is perfect that much I’ve learnt on this journey. My flight from Wellington to Auckland for the second Te Papa Tupu workshop was cancelled. Cancelled. Eagerly, I was dropped at Wellington airport at 7 am in the morning for an 8 am flight. Sadly, I didn’t arrive into Auckland until 5 pm, missing the entire workshop. A workshop that just happened to be with Indigenous Australian author Dr Anita Heiss and Māori author Dr Paula Morris. This totally sucked. But it happened. No, I didn’t get to meet Anita Heiss. I didn’t get to catch up with my mentor. There was no second Te Papa Tupu workshop (at least for me).

See things aren’t perfect. Life isn’t perfect. The challenge is, how do we keep writing amongst the imperfection? Or is that the point. Are we meant to capture the flaws of life in our writing? Are our lives imperfect and even the perfect writing life incomplete, because without imperfection we wouldn’t have anything to write about, nothing to inspire, nothing to piss off or annoy, get the blood boiling the heart-pumping.

Why do I write? To escape. To create the worlds that I want to live in. Create the worlds that other authors haven’t yet created for me. Do I care if people read my worlds? Not so much as I care that I got to experience it. Maybe that’s what writing is about. Escaping. Escaping the imperfection, the mistakes, the missed workshops, the cancelled flights, the letdowns, the lack of inspiration. Escaping it all into a good book, or even better, into my own writing.


Ataria Rangipikitia Sharman (Tapuika, Ngāpuhi) loves writing. Sometimes what she writes is good and sometimes it isn’t. But she persists nevertheless, in the form of essays, poetry and articles. Ataria’s writing has been published on E-Tangata and you can follow her poetry on Instagram @atariarangipikitia.

The Three Ed’s and a Bit of CD

Editing, editing, editing. The three Ed’s and a bit of character development. You see a month, or so ago, I had finally finished the manuscript to my YA fiction novel. The elation that I felt at that time, it was real. There I was, staring at that beautiful final sentence couched in clouds of are splendent white page.  It was fantastical. It was fabulous. For a week or so.

Then it wore off.

Like most writers who are just starting out, I mistakenly believed that finishing a novel is the hardest thing in life. Bashing out those thousands of words day-after-day. Surely there’s nothing harder than that. All I knew was that I had finally joined the league of “extraordinary writers” who’ve finished a BOOK. My ego swelling to hot-air balloon proportions. The Māori J.K Rowling of Aotearoa here I come. After a week or so floating around in “I’m a famous writer already land,” I decided to start editing my “amazing” novel.

Editing is hard work! It literally takes longer than writing the words in the first place.

So, I began by re-reading each sentence line by line and fixing grammatical errors. I also did some more character development and finessed the storyline. It was at this point that I realised how much more work this novel needed. It had seemed so good when I was bashing out words on a keyboard, but now I knew I was staring at just the beginning – the trainer wheels stage – of a truly imaginative and enjoyable book for young adults. During this time, I also learnt something else. Editing is hard work! It literally takes longer than writing the words in the first place. To top things off, editing can sometimes make the writing even worse than it was in the first place.

In my opinion, there’s a fine line between editing and DESTROYING the work.

In the space of a couple of weeks, I edited the first two chapters and emailed them to my Te Papa Tupu mentor. Simon is a freelance editor and an excellent one at that. He knows how to take an average manuscript (unlike mine obvs) and somehow magically turn it into an enjoyable book with interesting characters, and storyline readers will love. Even so, it was a hard pill to swallow receiving his feedback with the central theme being – shock horror – that the characters in the story are too perfect.Too perfect? Too perfect! But they are perfect! “But why?” I ask. “Why can’t the characters be perfect?” Of course, Simon had a readymade answer.

“Perfect characters are boring. Imagine a perfect character.”

I screw my face up in disgust. You know the ones, the beautiful princess in the castle or the stunning model with the to-die-for wardrobe and wealthy parents. A photo of Kate Middleton taken just after she had given birth where she looked like she had played a gentle round of golf, some yoga and then meditated instead of had a baby. Too perfect. Okay, point taken Simon the Wise. I don’t want my characters to be like that. But then, what do I want them to be like?

In search of devious ideas, I turn to those people around me (my whānau) who due to whakapapa have to pretend (sometimes unconvincingly) to care about my book and my questions. I start with my sister and the Studio Ghibli movie My Neighbour Totoro. “What do you think about perfect characters? Do you think Totoro (a furry, cute, giant forest spirit) has flaws?” She suggests that Totoro doesn’t feature enough in the movie to really have flaws. I tell her about my predicament, the perfectness of the Patupaiarehe people in my novel. She reiterates Simon’s conviction about the annoyingness of perfect characters and begins to conjure up her own ideas of how the Patupaiarehe could become more three dimensional. “What if they are shy? What if they hide in the forest and don’t want to come out? They could be scared, terrified of the main evil guy.” I love her ideas, and I gleefully realise something. Corrupting characters is actually quite fun.

The whānau that corrupts imaginary thought forms together stays together.

Next, I ask my mum (Mumma J). Mumma J loves Star Trek so I suggest that the Patupaiarehe might be a more “spiritually advanced” race than humanity and therefore imperfection may not be as necessary. Now one thing about my mum, she doesn’t need any excuses to talk Trek. She launches into a detailed commentary of various characters on the Starship Enterprise and how they too possess their own imperfections. We return back to the task at hand. Corrupting the Patupaiarehe.

“What if they are arrogant because they think they are better than humans” suggests Mumma J. I take this idea and run with it. “The Patupaiarehe could believe they are superior over humans and therefore always choose to put the forest and the animals first… which could lead to them risking the life of Pakū (a human boy) to protect themselves.”

I am mulling over these suggestions in my head when I receive an email from Simon. It reads, “Ngaro is a bit too healthy. Maybe he was tortured or is held by cruel bonds that are magically tied to be as painful as possible. This means Pakū will have to rescue him as well.” To which I respond, “He should be broken both physically and mentally so Pakū has to help piece him back together… ooooooohhhhhh. This is good!” This is so juicy. Together Simon and I have just mentally and physically harmed the imaginary thought-form named Ngaro in this book, allowing Pakū to further develop as a character.

My eyes glimmers lightly as I imagine having this much power in the real world. Mwahahaha.

But what this really blog highlights is the unexpected tedium of editing, challenges of character development and power of collective brainstorming to solve all problems. Which leads me into the single-handedly best thing about being part of Te Papa Tupu. Your mentor.Someone who gives a fuck about your book other than the ones that literally birthed you or are forced to care due to whānau/societal expectations.

Because to be honest, no one really gives a fuck about my book, or your book, or anyone else’s book as much as I do/the writer does.

Unless perhaps, you are Māori J.K Rowling of Aotearoa. So, to have someone – an editor no less – who are giving their time to me and the book I wrote? Straight privilege.

Thanks, Te Papa Tupu.


Ataria Rangipikitia Sharman (Tapuika, Ngāpuhi) loves writing. Sometimes what she writes is good and sometimes it isn’t. But she persists nevertheless, in the form of essays, poetry and articles. Ataria’s writing has been published on E-Tangata and you can follow her poetry on Instagram @atariarangipikitia.

Creating is a Wonderful Thing

It’s 12 pm on Saturday night. I am ecstatic, my cheeks red with exhaustion and exhilaration at the same time. No, I am not clubbing or at a party with friends. Here I am, sitting alone at the wooden dining room table, my heart pumping in my chest. I’ve decided that being a writer is isolating. It’s just you and the keyboard of your computer. Except perhaps for the friends I’ve discovered in the magical worlds I create through the use of words. Mōrena Pēpi Kiore (cute baby mouse). Kia ora Keatangata (cute baby Kea). As you can see, I like cute native animals in my storylines.

“I’ve been reading books written by writers on their creative process,”

I’ve spent five months and too many days to count, writing this novel. Waking up early every morning, my laptop open and the unnatural light of the screen searing my sleepy eyes. I’m lucky I have the flexibility of being a university student, as this week I’ve spent two entire days writing. My weight has increased as the amount of exercise I do has decreased to zilch, zero, nothing. If I could show it to you on a line graph (I can’t. I’m a writer.), you would see the line representing my level of physical exercise plummet dramatically. My natural tan has become steadily more vampire-like. Sometimes when I arrive at university for ‘mahi’, I go straight to the postgraduate student cafe and order a herbal tea. There I sit with my laptop and write for a couple of hours before I get into my Master’s thesis (also an imminently approaching deadline). Shoot me now.

I’ve been reading books written by writers on their creative process, including Terry Brooks Sometimes the Magic Works and Elizabeth Gilberts Big Magic. From Talisman Terry, I’ve learnt that taking the time to draft an outline for your novel is a good idea. I realise I might have been over-estimating my writing abilities by creating my plot on the run. As Terry says, “now on top of that you want to mess around with trying to figure out your plot? Who do you think you are – Houdini?” Ouch, that one hurt Terry. So, I write a quick outline for this novel and then find my writing output increases tenfold because when I sit down to write, I now know where I am going and how far I have to go.

“… if inspiration is allowed to unexpectedly enter you it is also allowed to unexpectedly exit you.”

From Eat, Pray, Love Elizabeth, I’ve learnt that sometimes ideas magically ascend to those of us with living a creative life and therefore must be grasped fully with two consistent hands. Otherwise, it may flutter over to someone else who cares for it more deeply, “because this is the other side of the contract with creativity: if inspiration is allowed to unexpectedly enter you it is also allowed to unexpectedly exit you.” I am thankful I cared deeply enough about this story, so it didn’t leave me for someone else. Two-timing manuscript.

I binge-watch two documentaries on the creative process of Hayao Miyazaki, the celebrated Japanese film director and co-owner of the fantastical Studio Ghibli. I learn about work ethic from koro Hayao of Spirited Away, and Princess Mononoke fame, who even at the age of 72 was still working on his movie The Wind Rises from 11am-9pm Monday to Saturday. As a writer, those long and consistent hours would seriously churn out some big books and fast.

I am astonished to find out that koro Hayao draws the entire storyboard of his movie by hand. Every single, painstaking second of his movie, drawn by hand. Sheesh, writing is an easy gig compared to old-school animating. He makes up the storyline as he goes. Often the entire studio doesn’t know the outcome until the completion of the entire storyboard. What I find most impressive about this is the faith that the million dollar financiers of his movies must have in his abilities. I imagine a conversation between koro Hayao and his investors.

“Will you spend millions financing my movie?”

“Sure what is the storyline? Who are the characters?”

“I don’t know; I make it up as I go.”

“Please take my money.”

I read online articles on the creators of manga that inspire me, like Rumiko Takahashi and her Japanese mythological tale Inuyasha. All this so that my mind and body can be enthused with the kind of magical creative energy that will help me to complete this novel, or so I fervently hope.

So here we are. The first book I have ever attempted to write and the first book I have ever completed, all in one fell swoop. All 74,250 words, 343 pages and 35 chapters of it. I can see my characters Hine and Pakū in my head, or maybe they are in my heart. I wonder about the second book of the series that I hope to be able to write and how it might tie into the first. My eyes tear up as I reread the last chapter. I know this book is good. The ending worked out well, the characters grow and develop as they should in a coming of age YA novel.

“I realise that I’ve become someone who contributes creatively to literature rather than just another reader who takes without giving back.”

It feels almost sad like the magical, hair-raising, exhilarating, awe-inspiring journey is over. But then I’m also proud that I wrote my own magical story, rather than just reading someone else’s. I realise that I’ve become someone who contributes creatively to literature rather than just another reader who takes without giving back. Like Terry, Elizabeth, koro Hayao and Rumiko. But perhaps what I am most excited about is the story that I’ve written for me.

It is true; this story is the one I wish I could have read when I was a child. All aspects of it, the Māori goddesses, the wars, the animals, the battles, the beautiful and glorious nature. All of it is exactly what I like in a novel. A compilation, an accumulation of the favoured preferences of the lifetime (so far) lived by one precocious adult. It’s magical; it’s special, it’s loving. I realise what this feeling is. It’s pride. Like the pride, one feels when their child learns a new skill. This book is my baby. And my baby has grown into a teenager. She’s still got a way to go, a bit of editing, a lot of re-writing, moving things from here to there. But she’s on track.

I hope my bubble of happiness won’t be burst when I receive feedback on the completed transcript from my mentor. But for now, I feel proud. I thank my mentors Terry, Elizabeth, koro Hayao, Rumiko and of course my Te Papa Tupu mentor Simon. I pat myself on the back (figuratively) and go to bed, my mind still racing from the adventure I created solely from the colourful recesses of my mind. Which in itself is amazing.

Creating is a wonderful thing.


Ataria Rangipikitia Sharman (Tapuika, Ngāpuhi) loves writing. Sometimes what she writes is good and sometimes it isn’t. But she persists nevertheless, in the form of essays, poetry and articles. Ataria’s writing has been published on E-Tangata and you can follow her poetry on Instagram @atariarangipikitia.

Tangiweto

My name is Ataria Rangipikitia Sharman and I am one of six Māori writers who has been selected for Te Papa Tupu.

I am also a tangiweto.

How do I know this? Well… I cry. A LOT. But how is this related to the writing journey that I am so excited to be a part of?

The story that got me selected for Te Papa Tupu (and therefore really wants to be written) is a fantasy-adventure about young Hine and her brother Pakū who are transported to a magical realm where the ātua, giant moa, patupaiarehe and fearsome taniwha still exist.

It all started when the news release was sent out announcing the six writers’ names for Te Papa Tupu. This very quickly went viral on Facebook. I opened my Facebook one morning and had 30 notifications. So, I did what all normal people do (not) and immediately closed my Facebook and chose not to look at it for the rest of the day.

Picture the Ostrich with its head in the sand. Always a good way of dealing with things.

A few minutes later I receive a phone call from the lovely Waimatua at Huia Publishers.

“Te Arawa FM want to interview you as one of the selected writers of Te Papa Tupu.”

This time my heart jumps into my throat. Immediately I begin to muse about how as a writer, I prefer to communicate through writing. Talking or speaking is not my favourite thing to do. The shield of a written piece of work is so comforting.

There is no shield in a live-radio interview!!!!! However, being a sucker for punishment as well as annoyingly accepting of the well-known fact that it is good to go beyond the (extremely) comfortable boundaries of my comfort zone, I nervously agree to talk to Rawiri. Rawiri the kind and charismatic host of Te Arawa FM. The interview is scheduled for tomorrow.

TOMORROW. Dun. Dun. Dun.

Skip to the next day and I am waiting anxiously by the phone for a call from Te Arawa FM. My partner is on his computer next to me. He has chosen today to work from home. To thoroughly set the scene – I am a complete and utter mess. I have this innermost feeling that I am going to cry on the phone call.

I know that if Rawiri asks me about my connection to Te Arawa I will have to talk about my great-nanny Rangipikitia who grew up in Te Puke. The thing about nanny Rangipikitia is that I am named after her and I literally cry instantly whenever I talk about her because of the aroha I feel for her. This is so not good.

Unfortunately, this creates extra nervousness because literally WHO THE F*** CRIES ON A RADIO INTERVIEW ABOUT THEIR SUCCESS??

So, I decide to have a pre-cry, pre-radio interview. I jump under the covers of my bed, curl into a ball and attempt to cry. My thinking at the time was if I just get it all out then I won’t choke up on the radio. In his singular, laser-like, man-focus skills Te Piha doesn’t seem to notice that I am hiding under the covers of the bed like a mole. Or maybe situations like this are normal for him.

I manage to swallow my heart back into my chest and do the interview, which goes well. I always was a good actor in drama at school. I knew school was good for something. Then after I hang up the phone call – I break down.

It goes like this. I throw the phone dramatically across the room where it hits the wall and forgivingly flops onto the bed. Then I take a run up and jump into the arms of Te Piha (who is sitting in his computer chair trying to get his mahi done) and I begin to sob into his manly-man chest. The fear of speaking about my success and then subsequent relief at having done it had completely and utterly overwhelmed me.

Was this to the end of Ataria the tangiweto? No.

Fast forward to our first workshop. It’s an amazing experience and we are all going around the brightly-lit white room and introducing ourselves. The lovely and amazing Robyn Bargh is there as well as Brian and Eboni from Huia Publishers. Our mentors are also in attendance as well as my fellow writers-in-crime. We (the writers-in-crime) are here because our creations were selected by two judges who saw huge potential in each and every one of them. We go around the tables to introduce ourselves and I can feel in the pit of my stomach… not again… this feeling that I am going to cry.

The thing is it’s normally not a sad cry. In fact, most of the time it is a feeling that comes up when I am feeling full of gratitude and aroha. Complete gratitude for being given this opportunity and aroha for those who will be with me sharing that journey. It wells up into my body.

It’s my turn. I stand up nervously and introduce myself. “Ko Ataria Sharman tōku ingoa, ko Ngāpuhi me Tapuika ōku iwi…” Then I get to the end of my kōrero and say something about how I feel like already we are a whānau. Ohhh the cheesiness of that sentence and yet I mean every word. The gratitude and aroha of it all overwhelms me, but I manage to hold it together. I awkwardly finish my kōrero as I begin to choke up a bit with emotion. I sit down. I didn’t cry. But I did feel the feels.

Does more crying await Ataria the tangiweto on this epic Te Papa Tupu journey? Who knows… I certainly don’t. You’ll have to read the next journal to find out. Maybe the next one will be about writing.


AtariaAtaria Rangipikitia Sharman (Tapuika, Ngāpuhi) loves writing. Sometimes what she writes is good and sometimes it isn’t. But she persists nevertheless, in the form of essays, poetry and articles. Ataria’s writing has been published on E-Tangata and you can follow her poetry on Instagram @atariarangipikitia.