Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Five "Show Don't Tell" Danger Zones

Showing is illustrated through actions and interiority rather than the author telling us how the character is reacting and behaving.

Telling often involves adverbs and adjectives. Look for bland descriptive words like: attractive, dumb, embarrassing, fabulous, fascinating, handsome, hilarious, mad, powerful, pretty, smart, stunning, stupid, tired, and ugly. Telling is fertile ground for clichés. Make it fresh. 

Here are five danger zones to watch out for.

1. Action: Don't tell us what a character does; describe what constitutes the action.

Telling: Dick worked hard.

Showing: Dick wiped the sweat from his face with his sleeve. He lifted the axe and swung: thunk, swipe, thunk. The chunk of wood sheared into small pieces. Each blow reverberated through his shoulders and back.

Telling: Jane walked quickly through the aisles, tossing in items without looking at them.

Showing: Jane strode down the aisles, grabbing boxes of cereal and crackers and cans of soup, reaching for familiar colors and logos, more concerned about getting back to the case than her menu plans for the week.

2. Emotions: Show the emotion, don't name it.

Telling: Jane felt sad.

Showing: Jane sat at her desk, staring at the coffee ring on the scarred surface. She traced the stain with her finger as tears slid down her cheek and landed in the faded circle.

Telling: Dick was tired.

Showing: Dick slumped in the recliner, kicked off his loafers, and loosened his tie. He stared at the blank television screen. He didn't bother to turn it on.

3. Character Description: Don't tell us a character is (insert generic adjective - ugly, pretty, fat, thin). Describe the character in a fresh, not cliché, way. What about her is pretty or ugly? What does the point of view character consider pretty or ugly? What is attractive to one person might not be to another.

Telling: The dead hooker looked like a child dressed up for Halloween.

Showing: The victim was slightly built and a smidge over four-foot tall. Her clothes were loose, as if she were playing dress up in her mother's clothes, and the garish makeup was  inexpertly applied. She was more lost little girl than professional woman of the night.

Telling: Dick was a powerfully built man. He drew everyone’s attention when he entered the room.

Showing: Dick strode into the bar. The crowd parted to allow him through. Conversations stopped mid-sentence. His wide shoulders brushed onlookers as he passed, sloshing the beer from their mugs.

5. Description of setting.

Telling: The place was a dump.

Showing: Leftovers, half-empty cups, and discarded food wrappers littered the fifties-era furnishings and orange shag carpet.

Telling: The city was ultra-modern, cold, and austere.

Showing: Mirrored glass buildings rose skyward like jagged icicles. Everything else was gray concrete, even the traffic signs were black and white.The only color came from the occasional tattered billboard, probably relics the city had not yet torn down.

When relating information, it is important to keep in mind which character is narrating the information. Unless you are writing omniscient POV, the scene is being played out in front of a specific character. Use your character's inner voice to describe what is happening in the scene.

For more information on revision and showing versus telling check out:

Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers e-book

Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers paperback

Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit DianaHurwitz.com for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Hero's Journey

Welcome to March, dear readers, and another month of writing adventures. We'll be exploring script writing a bit (who doesn't want their novel to become a movie?) and examining the differences between book and movie plots, which tend to have dissimilar story arcs.

It's perhaps important to first understand the monomyth or hero's journey concept upon which so many modern movies are based. Joseph Campbell held that numerous myths from different times and places share fundamental structures and stages, which he summarized in The Hero with a Thousand Faces. You can read more about it at Wikipedia which has a comprehensive essay on Campbell's work.

There are also many YouTube videos including this TEDx production:


On Thursday, author, artist, and actor, Daniel Donche will share his expertise on how the hero's journey is important to screen writing, and can even improve the plotting in your novel if consciously applied to characters and plots at key points in your book. Please be sure to visit us again.

Are you familiar with the hero's journey in literature? How have you used this road map in your own writing? Please leave us a comment.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Somatic Yoga for Seniors and Writers

Try this gentle exercise to free the muscles surrounding your spine. The result is that you will increase your flexibility, improve your posture, and flush out toxins stored in your muscles so that you can maintain radiant health. Perfect for writers!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Wrules to Liv By


1. Verbs HAS to agree with their subjects.
2. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.
3. And don't start a sentence with a conjunction.
4. It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.
5. Avoid cliches like the plague. (They're old hat.)
6. Also, always avoid annoying alliteration.
7. Be more or less specific.
8. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are (usually) unnecessary.
9. Also too, never, ever use repetitive redundancies.
10. No sentence fragments.
11. Contractions aren't necessary and shouldn't be used.
12. Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.
13. Do not be redundant; do not use more words than necessary; it's highly superfluous.
14. One should NEVER generalize.
15. Comparisons are as bad as cliches.
16. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
17. One-word sentences? Eliminate.
18. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
19. The passive voice is to be ignored.
20. Eliminate commas, that are, not necessary. Parenthetical words however should be enclosed in commas.
21. Never use a big word when a diminutive one would suffice.
22. Use words correctly, irregardless of how others use them.
23. Understatement is always the absolute best way to put forth earth-shaking ideas.
24. Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "I hate quotations. Tell me what you know."
25. If you've heard it once, you've heard it a thousand times: Resist hyperbole; not one writer in a million can use it correctly.
26. Puns are for children, not groan readers.
27. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
28. Even IF a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.
29. Who needs rhetorical questions?
30. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
31. Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.

Author brilliant and, alas, anonymous. Copy this one and post it over your desk.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Money! Money! Money!

The pull is strong. We need more money. We want to be rich and famous, emphasis on rich.  Sometimes I joke that I will do anything for a dollar, but it is just a joke. Honest. Even though I have been tempted to join in the financial success of writers who have embraced the erotica genre, I have not stepped over an ethical line I hold dear.

That line has to do with our responsibility as writers as to what we are contributing to society by what we write.

What prompted this post is the lively discussion online about Fifty Shades of Grey ,and the messages that story gives to young people. I tried to read the book, but I couldn't get past the fact that Grey was an abuser and took advantage of Ana, a vulnerable insecure woman. Instead of empowering her, he overpowers her. Is that the kind of man we want our sons to emulate? I'd rather they become the kind of men that Terry Odell featured here in her post about heroes on Thursday.

Some people are dismissing the social impact of Fifty Shades of Grey by saying it is just fantasy, fiction, not to be taken seriously. Actually, folks, fiction is taken seriously and does have more impact than we might think. Here is what Kristen Lamb had to say in her post Does Fiction Matter? Fiction, Fantasy and Social Change :
To assert that any book that’s sold that many copies is just a story, in my POV, is naive and ignores almost all of human history. Societies have always been defined and redefined by its stories. Fiction IS NOT INERT. Why do you think dictators shoot the writers and burn the books first?
To claim that fiction is mere fantasy is to ignore the impact of every transformative work ever written. “A Christmas Carol” was not merely a sweet tale of a redeemed miser at Christmas.
It was a scathing piece of literature that eventually led to the establishment of children’s rights advocacy organizations and protection for children in the legal system (and also impacted the treatment of the poor and infirm).
During the time Dickens wrote this, children were considered property. The government regularly imprisoned and hanged small children, many of whom were orphans, for relatively small offenses from vagrancy to begging to petty theft.
In the early 90s I wrote a book about violence for a series Rosen Publishing was doing called “Coping With”. The books are aimed for teens to help them deal with social issues they face, and one of my books is Coping With Weapons and Violence in School and on Your Streets.  The first edition came out before Columbine, and the book has been revised twice since, as school violence and mass shootings continue to escalate.

During my initial research, I interviewed a criminology professor, and he pointed out the influence of all the violence kids are exposed to through film and television. As an example, he said there was a real danger of kids being desensitized to death and murder and violence after watching slasher film after slasher film. He believed that a young person who was immersed in violent games and movies could too easily begin to see that violence as normal.

To me, what that professor said back then is no different from the cautions being spoken today by people who are concerned about the messages in stories like Fifty Shades.

I am certainly not calling for censorship. We do have the right to free speech and free expression, and if you want to read, and write, erotica, that is your choice. What I am suggesting is that you consider that with the right to free speech, comes an ethical responsibility.  I join Kristen Lamb in encouraging writers to "Appreciate and RESPECT the power of art. Handle with care."

Posted by Maryann Miller - novelist, screenwriter, editor and sometimes actress. Her most recent mystery, Doubletake, was chosen as the Best Mystery for 2015 by the Texas Association of Authors. She also writes the critically acclaimed Seasons Mystery Series. All of her books are available as e-books and as paperbacks, and a complete listing can be found on the books page of her website. For information about her editing services, visit her website. When not working, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

What's Your Answer? Today's Topic Is Social Media

Facebook Twitter Google+ LinkedIn Addthis

We haven't played this game in a while, so it's time to start it up again. I present a topic, ask some questions, and offer my answers. You pick one or more questions to also answer. If you only choose one, please expand. If more, please shorten. You're allowed to include one website URL or blog link of your own. Okay, here goes:

Which social media sites do you visit? (not including blogs or Yahoo groups)
In the order of how often I visit them: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google Plus, and Goodreads.

Which do you find most relaxing?
Hands down, that would be Pinterest. I can't resist all the pretty pictures. I wish I had more time to play there. 

Which do you find most stressful?
Facebook is definitely the most stressful. People are not bashful about expressing opinions there, which don't always coincide with mine. Trying to offer a differing opinion, even politely, gets me into trouble, so I don't try too often.  LinkedIn and Goodreads are mildly stressful, but for a different reason. I tend to muddle along on them, because I haven't completely figured them out.

Which do you find most useful to sell or find a book:
Posting an Event on Facebook helps during a promotion, which can spur sales afterward. However, regular posting on Twitter works best for me. When I'm looking for a book, I find plenty likely choices by visiting Facebook groups.

Now, it's your turn. Please offer your answers in the comment section.

Experience the diversity and versatility of Morgan Mandel. Romantic Comedies: Her Handyman, its sequel, A Perfect Angelstandalone reality show romance; Girl of My Dreams.  Thriller: Forever Young: Blessing or Curse,its sequel: the Blessing or Curse CollectionRomantic suspense: Killer CareerMystery:Two Wrongs. Short  and Sweet   Romance: Christmas   Carol.  Twitter:@MorganMandel Websites: Morgan Mandel.Com    Morgan Does Chick Lit.Com.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Are You Limiting Yourself?

Photo by Peter Dutton, via Flickr
When it comes to fiction, rules and limits almost always inspire me. And I’m not talking about grammar rules.

My first manuscripts were crime novels written for adults, and I wrote without restriction, free to pepper my dialogue with swear words exactly as I heard them spray from my characters’ mouths.

Then I rediscovered tween/teen and young adult fiction. And, before I knew it, a bubbly teenager stepped into my writer’s brain and rattled off a fantastic story I couldn’t wait to get down on screen. But I’d have to curb the curses if I was writing a book for kids. Easy enough, surely? Except, sixteen-year-old boys don’t go around saying “drat” and “darn” when something goes wrong. It was an interesting writing challenge to imply, but not actually specify, strong language.

Another (self-imposed) limit was that none of the main characters could die. Again, it sounds simple enough – but it removes a lot of easy tension and conflict. More creative writing followed.

This year I have a new challenge. My chosen genre is Steampunk. Setting: Victorian England. That means researching the time period and checking even the smallest detail – would X have been possible/plausible in Victorian times? And the science part of the fiction needs to centre around clockwork or steam power. My mind absolutely churns with the plot possibilities offered by such specific limits.

Because, when you eliminate a vast number of options, you’re left with highly concentrated material to work with. And there’s nothing like concentration to sharpen your focus and stimulate your creative plotting.

Have you tried limiting yourself?

Elle Carter Neal is the author of Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin, a science-fantasy for tweens and teens. She blogs about the craft of writing at HearWriteNow.com


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