Writers – Fake it to Make it

August 24, 2008 at 4:58 am | Posted in Writers Write | 1 Comment
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Writing is a tough gig. I can certainly understand a writer being tempted to elaborate their resume or exaggerate their experience. However, some authors have done irreparable damage to their reputations and careers by misrepresenting themselves and their work.


Oprah Winfrey has been caught in the middle of two media messes. In 2006 James Frey’s bestselling “A Million Little Pieces” was found to have fictionalized elements and Random House agreed to refund readers over $2 million. Clearly the publisher bears partial responsibility for the misrepresentation, but I wonder how much.

Do writers succumb to pressure from editors or do editors rush through promising manuscripts without due diligence?

According to Samuel Freedman, a professor at Columbia University Journalism School, “Editing is more than just line editing,” he says. “It also requires the editor to ask the writer, ‘Where’s the corroborating evidence? Where are the other documentary sources for this?’”

After the scandal and Oprah’s wrath, you would think other memoirist would stick to truth. And yet…

Misha Defonseca, author of “Misha: A Memoir of the Holocaust Years” confessed that it is “nothing but pure fiction.” How did a story of living with a pack of wolves to escape the Nazis and trekking 1900 miles across Europe not raise a few eyebrows?

Or Laura Albert, who posed as Jeremiah “Terminator” LeRoy. She created a backstory of prostitution, drug addiction and vagrancy, prior to the publication of his first novel in 1999. Albert went so far as to dress for the part to attend press conferences and book readings.

Nasdijj, the Navajo author of “The Blood Runs Like a River Through My Dreams,” a father’s story of his son’s death due to fetal alcohol syndrome; was actually Tim Barrus. In this case, both the author and the child were fictional.

Margaret B. Jones is another author to fool with Mother Oprah. Her memoir, ‘Love and Consequences’ tells the story of a half white, half native American orphan living with a black foster family in South Central LA. Come to find out, Ms Jones was a fictional character created by Margaret B. Selzer; who grew up in Sherman Oaks and graduated from an exclusive private school in the San Fernando Valley.

It was Selzer’s sister who called the publisher, Riverhead, with the truth and the promising book, released to rave reviews was recalled. According to a statement from the publisher, “Prior to publication the author provided a great deal of evidence to support her story: photographs, letters; parts of Peggy’s (i.e., Seltzer’s) life story in another published book; Peggy’s story had been supported by one of her former professors; Peggy even introduced the agent to people who misrepresented themselves as her foster siblings.”

She had to know the truth would come out with publicity. We can only wonder why a talented writer would gamble on a no win situation.

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How to Write a Detective Story

August 17, 2008 at 4:58 am | Posted in Writers Write | 1 Comment
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If you want to write a detective story, you’ll have to begin with a little investigation of your own. There are several different sub genres in this category of mysteries; from hard boiled detectives to amateur sleuths.   Your detective could be anyone, a little old lady, a cynical ex marine, a teen girl with a knack for mischief, a chef, even a couple of cats.

The first detectives of popular fiction were amateurs who solved murders like a parlor game outwitting the incompetent police.  Dashiell Hammett, a former Pinkerton detective, took a more realistic approach to crime solving, with classic detective novels like “The Maltese Falcon” and “The Thin Man.”  Raymond Chandler once said “He (Hammett) put these people down on paper as they were, and he made them talk and think in the language they customarily used for these purposes. He wrote scenes that seemed never to have been written before.”

Chandler’s Philip Marlowe epitomizes the hard boiled private investigator, a incorruptible, hard drinking, tough guy.  Chandler created a feeling of believability with his characters and stories.

Amateur sleuths are usually not held to the same standards. It can be tricky justifying the presence of your  protagonist especially if you intend to serialize the character.  Remember the Angela Lansbury character from Murder She Wrote?  Every where she went a murder was committed.  I would seriousily reconsider a friendship with this type of sleuth.  Your detective has to have a legitimate reason to be involved and something personal at stake.  They may have been accused of a crime or the victim of a crime, they may be protecting someone else or they may have a professional interest in the truth, such as: journalists, lawyers or writers.

Once you’ve decided the type of detective story you wish to write, focus on the crime and facts of the case.   More than any other type of story, I believe the detective story will benefit from a detailed outline before you start writing.  There are certain rules you must follow to meet your readers’ expectations

1.  Introduce the crime early on, preferably within the first three chapters. It is the crime and subsequent clues that hook your reader.  The crime should be significant enough that your reader feels invested in the outcome.  Most detective stories involve a murder or kidnapping.

2. Introduce the detective and culprit early on.  You’re not playing fair if you don’t include the antagonist in the line up of suspects.

3.  Provide clues along the way so it is possible, though highly unlikely, that your reader could solve the case themselves.

4.  Don’t provide enough clues along the way so your reader solves the case before your detective.  A detective story is a race between your protagonist and your reader.  If the reader wins, the victory will be bitter sweet.  Your readers want to be challenged, but in the end, they want to be outsmarted.

5.  Wrap up all the loose ends.  Readers will remember every red herring you threw in their direction.  If a clue wasn’t relevant, make sure you provide a reason why it was included.    Each plot point must be plausible, and  the action even paced, without getting bogged down in back stories or subplots.

6.  Your detective must solve the case using logic or scientific means.  CK Chesterton wrote the following oath for all writers of detective stories: “Do you promise that your detectives shall well and truly detect the crimes presented to them using those wits which it may please you to bestow on them and not placing reliance on nor making use of Divine Revelation, Feminine Intuition, Mumbo Jumbo, Jiggery-Pokery, Coincidence, or Act of God?”

Of course, the best way to learn how to write a detective story is to read detective stories.  Pay attention to how clues are revealed, when key characters are introduced and when revelations are made.  Detective stories are fun to read and fun to write, but if you don’t play by the rules, you won’t stay in the game.

How to Write Articles

July 25, 2008 at 7:17 pm | Posted in Writers Write | Leave a comment
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If you want to earn money online, you’ll need to generate traffic to your site.  It’s just that simple.  How do you generate traffic?  Well, that’s where it gets a little more complicated.  When a customer is searching for a specific item, they’ll type in certain key words or a phrase to find that item.  Search engines such as: Yahoo, MSN and Google, use complex algorithms to rank pages according to their relevance.

 

The key to being relevant is to research various terms and then write content targeting these terms.

 

Begin with an article on your site and use the key word or phrase in your title.  You will then build links pointing back to that article from other sites. You build links with supplemental articles and link with the key word or phrase.

 

For example, don’t include a link that says yoursite.com.  Instead, link to your site from the key words, ie: How to Write. 

 

Publish these articles at sites like Peoplefuel, Expurt or WordPress. All of these sites will host your articles or blog for free.  Peoplefuel and Expurt also offer revenue sharing.

 

Here are a few tips on how to write articles

 

1. The more articles you write the better.  Keep them brief and to the point.  You want to provide good information but there’s no need to cause eye strain.  500-600 word count is ideal. 

 

2. Each article should contain relevant, original content.  It is a bit of challenge to write 3 or 4 articles on the same topic and maintain originality but it’s absolutely necessary. Google filters out duplicate content from their search results so it’s a waste of energy to post it.  This is another reason to keep your posts brief – to have something left to say.

 

3. Lists work well.  People who like to get to the bottom line quickly know exactly where to go when they see a numbered list.  The internet is crammed full of information and most of it isn’t worth reading, which is why people skim content. If they can’t find value at a glance, they’ll move on with little time wasted. 

 

4.  Write to your mother.   Keep your language simple and conversational.  You don’t need to be perfectly polished  to post.  Only my 8th grade English teacher cares about perfect punctuation and dangling participles.   Keep your content rated G to PG when you’re writing articles to market your site.  There are obvious exceptions, but for most business ventures slang or foul language just seems unprofessional.

 

5. Always leave them wanting more.  I will follow my own advice and keep this post brief.  Sure, I can think of more tips, but I have 3 or 4 more articles to write on the same subject.  If you want to learn more on how to write articles you’ll have to follow me down the rabbit hole.

Shifting Your Viewpoint

March 26, 2008 at 12:16 am | Posted in Tool Box | Leave a comment
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I have two teenage daughters and I find myself playing referee whenever there is an argument. No matter what the dispute, I hear two sides of the same story and they’re usually wildly different. 

 

“She took my CD.”

“No I didn’t, she let me borrow it.”

 “And now it’s scratched.”

“I never even took it out of the case.”

“She owes me a new one.”

“No I don’t because you’re lying.”

“You’re the liar.”

 

I use my mighty mom senses to discern the truth, finding it somewhere in the middle.

Every situation has many truths, each told from a different viewpoint.  Shifting your perspective can shed a whole new light onto a situation. The same is true with your story.  Most stories are told from the point of view of the main character, the protagonist who moves the action along.  That’s perfectly acceptable, but don’t choose it without considering your options.

 

The Sidekick – Dear Dr. Watson comes to mind: the sidekick who chronicled the amazing powers of observation demonstrated by Sherlock Holmes.  Sherlock wouldn’t be nearly as engaging if he bragged about his great detecting to anyone willing to listen.  Instead, Sherlock enthralled us, but never acknowledged he had an audience, other than Dr Watson that is.

 

The Antagonist – Hey everyone needs a little love. Why not turn a story on its head and tell it from the opposing point of view.  Wicked:  The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire is a brilliant example.  It is the story of Oz, told from the Wicked Witch’s perspective. Bad guys are usually more fun to write because they are bold, outrageous and a bit demented. Telling the story from this viewpoint would be a challenge, but it would be considered bold, outrageous and perhaps, a bit demented too. 

 

The Pet – Tell the story from an animal’s perspective and you’ve got a whole new view of the world.  You book doesn’t need to include singing chipmunks or dancing hippos to incorporate an animal’s point of view.  Trixie Koontz (Dean’s beloved Golden Retriever) gave us Life is Good; Lessons in Joyful Living and George Orwell offered a darker version in Animal Farm.

 

Just remember that every perspective is a valid one. The story will change according to who is telling it.  If you haven’t considered using an alternative perspective, write a scene to see how it plays out. You might just find a better view.    

Writers – Before you mail your manuscript

March 18, 2008 at 8:31 pm | Posted in Writers Write | 1 Comment
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You want to be a writer.  You’ve devoted months, perhaps years to writing your novel.  Now is the time to take a little extra care and prepare it for submission.  It will be well worth your effort to make a positive first impression.

 I highly recommend you seek the services of a professional editor.   No matter how many times you have read your manuscript; searching for misspelled words or grammatical errors; scouring for passive voice, dangling participles and mismatched adjectives; it will benefit from professional services. Sometimes we are just too close to see what is right before our eyes.  An editor will offer a new perspective, unbiased and sincere.

While you wait for feedback, research your market.  Find a list of publishers for your genre.  You can either look at books by your favorite authors; usually the publisher is noted on the first or second page before the Title Page.  Sometimes an author will include acknowledgements, and thank their editors and agents.  There are also several resource books available, with current contact and address information.  Consider the following: 2008 Writer’s Market, Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market 2008 or Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents 2008, which include details regarding specific agents or publishers who are seeking submissions. 

Only when your manuscript is perfectly polished and you’ve done sufficient research on your market, will you be ready to submit your book for consideration.   Most agents / publishers will request a query before asking for the entire manuscript, followed by a cover letter, chapter synopsis, story synopsis and author resume are the second.  Enclose a self addressed stamped envelope (SASE) for a reply.   Once asked, and only when asked, you may submit your complete manuscript.  The first page is a Title Page.  Include your name, address, phone number and email address.  In the upper right corner add word count. Vertically and horizontally center the Book’s Title, double space, Author’s Name.  Your book will begin on Page Two.  Include a header with your last name / book title and footer with page number.  Each page should have at least 1” margin, lines double spaced, font Times New Roman or Arial.  Use good quality paper and print on one side only. 

Pay attention to the spelling (especially your contact’s name!), content and appearance of these “selling” documents.  You are not only selling your manuscript, you are also selling yourself. You need to present yourself in a professional manner. Writing is art and books are business.  Agents and publishers are in business and they will be looking for professional partners to sell books.  If you appear needy, demanding, difficult or unprofessional you’ll lessen your chances of securing a contract.   

Writers Bloggers – Create a Blog

March 5, 2008 at 7:57 pm | Posted in Writers Write | Leave a comment
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I started writing because I loved to read.  It was with equal parts admiration (How do they do it?) and disdain (I could do it better) that I crossed the threshold from reader to writer.  What did I find on the other side?  To my dismay, not a mob of eager agents or publishers clamoring to sell my book.  Instead I found a crowd of cynics:  aspiring authors who had been burned by con artists.  I was burned too, (moderately singed), and so I can certainly understand the need to guard your most precious treasure.

Not your book.

Your HOPE.

You can sell your book, whether self published, e-published or traditionally published, but the key is to SELL your book. Even before it is published, you want to generate buzz about yourself and your work.  You can do this if you create a blog and drive traffic to your site.    

Your blog should be relevant and meaningful to you and to your prospective audience.  Believe it or not even writers lose interested in writing if the topic is boring to them.  I couldn’t write a blog about car maintenance, even if my main character is a super hero welding a wrench.  It may tie into my book, but it has no long term appeal to me as a writer.  Subjects that interest me are Writing, True Crime, Reading, Self Help (motivation, setting goals, positive thinking) and Reality TV.  If it’s relevant to my work as a writer, I’ll post it on Fictionway.  I never run out of things to write about because this interests me.  My target audiences for my books are mystery, suspense and crime readers.   And if they’re like me, they’re also curious about the process of writing. 

Once you know the theme of your blog, you will need to drive traffic to your site.  A good way to do this is to post articles that provide good information and directs your readers to your blog.  Simple right?  The only trick is knowing where to place your articles so you get the most exposure.  There are lots of sites that allow you to post articles with links back to your site, including: Squidoo, HubPages and PeopleFuel.  Some allow revenue sharing, which is icing on the cake.  Explore these different sites and find a few (yes a few) that are easy to use and build links to your site. Without spreading yourself too thin you want to have links back to your web site from multiple sources.    How thin is too thin?   

You should probably try to write 3-4 articles a week for placement outside of your own blog.  You don’t need to add fresh content every week, but it will help you build a readership.  That is in addition to your own blog, which should have a minimum of 1-2 articles a week. This is where you want the bulk of your information.  I started with a couple of WordPress Blogs and then PeopleFuel.  This is enough for me.  There is a lot of information available for creating a blog, optimizing search engines (SEO), targeting key words and creating links. This is just a way to start and I’m sure you’ll get more proficient with time. 

Don’t give up hope.  You dreamed of writing a book, and you achieved it.  You dream of selling your book and you will achieve that too. It just takes belief, perseverance and plenty of patience.

Poltergeists

February 19, 2008 at 7:36 pm | Posted in Ideas | Leave a comment
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Noises and movements caused by ghost, tied to the earthly plane, terrify some and enthrall others.   

Eerily reminiscent of The Shining, a novel by Stephen King, about a haunted hotel, John Stone’s Inn located in Ashland Massachusetts, seems to be the home of a spectral resident. A young girl has been heard, singing, bouncing a ball, or dancing in the hallways. During renovations, locked doors were opened and lights were turned on and off.  Some staff members claim to have seen evidence of the playful poltergeist, levitating cigarettes or blowing out candles. Unlike the apparitions associated with hauntings, poltergeists are phenomena of real life physical activities; noises, vibrations or movements.   

The Walker family moved into a farmhouse and the children immediate sensed a presence.  Local stories told of the former owner haunting the house after he was murdered on the property. Phenomena such as footsteps, faucets, lights or TV turning on and off.  The spirit seemed to have its own agenda, playfully hiding things and helpfully opening locked doors.   

Ghosts have been captured in photographs as orbs or misty cloud.    

ghostly-image.jpg

Children and adolescents can be magnets for poltergeist activity.   

“Poltergeist activity tends to occur around a single person called an agent or a focus.  Foci are often, but not limited to, pubescent children.” (1) 

Experts don’t agree on the reason for this attraction, but some believe it may be the emotional state of the witness.    Skeptics think that the phenomena may be prank, perpetuated by the child themselves.  There maybe mundane explanations for many of the experiences; noisy plumbing, wind creating vibration or the opening and closing of gates and doors.  This doesn’t seem possible in the case of Hanna, as described by her mother:

Hanna, who had a wrought iron canopy bed, was hanging on to the post and levitating in mid-air! She was holding on for her dear life. Black shadows flying around the room quickly gathered and flew out of the window. (Normally, this window needed something to prop it open, but it was staying open by itself.) When the shadows flew out the window, the window crashed shut and Hanna slammed down to her bed. “ (2)

Country singer Bobby Mackey, opened a night club in 1978, and since that time employees and customers have felt a malevolent spirit.  Shortly after renovations began, Bobby’s wife Janet says she was attacked by the spirit when a ladder scuttled across the floor and nearly fell on Janet.  She heard voices demanding that she leave the building and felt hands pushing her down the steps.  Other witnesses report a song playing on the juke box, even though it was unplugged at the time. The Chief of security once heard loud voices in an argument behind the stage. When he went to investigate, there was no one there.  A customer was attacked by a trash can flying across the room. He turned to confront his attacker and saw a man in turn of the century clothing.  He felt as though he were suffocating and fainted.  Mackey tried to squash the ghost rumors, but with so many different stories, he eventually brought in a psychic to communicate with the spirits.  Echo Bodine is a clairvoyant who can see and hear spirits. Echo reported seeing a young woman who committed suicide in the building, Johanna. Scott and Alonso killed Pearl, burying her body on the property and both men were hung for the murder. All three remain in the building.  Echo also feels more evil seeping from a well in the basement. Echo performed a cleansing to exorcise the building of the spirits willing to transcend to the other side. 

“Poltergeists might simply exist, like the “elementals” described by occultists. Another version posits that poltergeists originate after a person dies in a powerful rage at the time of death. According to yet another opinion, ghosts and poltergeists are “recordings.” When there is a powerful emotion, sometimes at death and sometimes not, a recording is believed to be “embedded” in a place or, somehow, in the “fabric of time” itself. This recording will continue to play over and over again until the energy embedded disperses.” (1) Advances are being made with instrumentation used to investigate poltergeist activities, so one day the scientific community may be able to prove the phenomena truly exist.  Dr Colman  hopes one day to prove the existence of poltergeist activity through research and documented evidence.   We may never know the source of the poltergeist energy, but researches must keep an open mind about whether or not the energy exists.  Poltergeist is a genuine experiences, whether they are created in the mind or in some other realm of reality.   

1. Wikipedia: Poltergeist, Updated April 2007, Retrieved December 2007

2. Wagner, Stephen:  Poltergeist Levitation; About .com, Retrieved December 2007

Look Back to Plan Ahead

January 30, 2008 at 7:47 pm | Posted in Writers Write | Leave a comment
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Have you ever heard the saying about the definition of insanity?  Insanity is doing the same over and expecting different results.  I have many times, usually from well meaning motivational gurus who encourage change. We can become so focused on what doesn’t work we may overlook what does.

Just for the sake of this dialogue, let’s assume that everyone has succeeded at some time in their life, at least once. There may be a thousand failures, but there is at least one success.  If the past is the best predicator of the future, rather than looking back on a thousand failures (that’s depressing!) look back on that one success   

What worked?    

I was successful in landing a job.  How did I do that?             

 – I prepared for the interview.  The interviewer told me the interview would be a conducted as an informational interview. These are especially stressful because you’re put on the spot to answer questions that exhibit your skills, like “Tell me about a time you successfully dealt with an irate customer.”  Knowing I’d be faced with these types of questions I wrote a list of accomplishments that I could use for my real world examples.  I then prepared several questions which I thought might be asked, such as “Give me an example of when you were able to lead a difficult individual.” I wrote the questions on index cards and had my husband and kids “interview” me.               

 – I imagined a positive outcome.  I added my new job title and start date to my resume. They didn’t know it yet, but the job was already mine! I visualized the interview; my relaxed demeanor, professional appearance, ready answers and witty banter.  My hands may not have been as steady or my wit as witty as I imagined; but I was much more relaxed having a positive expectation of the interview.             

  – I presented myself to make a good impression, but I was also authentic.  I didn’t try to hide my nerves, but acknowledged them.  I paused to give myself time to think of my answers.  I thanked them for their time and maybe even gushed in my enthusiasm to make a good impression.  No matter how much I want to appear cool, collected and in complete control; my façade would crumble after a few days on the new job.  It’s better they know I’m human right from the start.  In this one example of success in my life, I can see what works for me:  

            Preparation

            Practice

            Positive Visualization

            Presentation

Once you define what works for you, think of how you’ll apply the same strategies in areas where you may have failed in the past.   For example, I was unsuccessful at selling a manuscript.             

 – I wasn’t fully prepared.  When an agent asked what made my book different, I couldn’t think of an answer.  If I couldn’t sell my book, how could I expect someone else to?  I vowed to be prepared in the future.  I read dozens of books on the subject of finding an agent or publisher. I researched the market, identified my audience and my competition.  Why would someone choose my book over Sue Grafton, Patricia Cornwell or Jonathon Kellerman? I had to know the answer to this question and believe it!           

   – Next, I practiced the fine art of convincing others.  You guessed it, my hubby and kids again. While they’re not the toughest judges in the world, I found that the more times I said “My book features a strong heroine unlike any other in the mystery genre. She is a working mother, conflicted with the demands of work and family, yet dedicated to both.” the stronger I felt about it.              

 – It was easy for me to imagine a big fat advance for my manuscript. I imagined what it would be like to be a best selling writer.   I posted a list of the NY Times Bestsellers and replaced the #1 selection with my book’s title.  I wrote a million dollar check to myself so I could get used to seeing that many zeros in my bank account.              

 – Presentation was absolutely critical to my success. I hired an outside editing firm to ensure my manuscript was in tip top shape before I sent one query letter.  I had my query letter, story synopsis, chapter synopsis, sample chapters and resume ready to mail at a moment’s notice.  

There’s no “one size fits all” formula of success. Take the time to look back in order to succeed in the future.

Hearing Your Voice

January 27, 2008 at 7:31 pm | Posted in Writers Write | Leave a comment
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Having your own voice in your writing is critical to your future success. Writers who are able to express their unique view of the world carve a niche for themselves in a crowded marketplace. To find your voice, begin by asking yourself what it is you wish to say.

Writing is about communication.  You are delivering a message regardless of the manner in which you choose to present it.  You may want to write an article on National Health Care; a personal essay about a special relationship; or a short story about cloning in the future.   After you have identified the message you want to communicate, you need to know the audience for whom the message is intended. The best way to understand your audience is to be a member of it.  In other words, if you read horror novels, you should write in the same genre, since you already know your audience. 

Genre is a category of book, whether mystery & crime, suspense & horror, romance, or Sci Fi & Fantasy, the lines may blur, but there are unique characteristics of each.   

Mystery & Crime includes stories of police, private detective or forensic investigations. The stories may be fictional or true crime. As defined by Genrelist “Fictional stories, usually realistic, about a mysterious event which is not explained or a crime that is not solved until the end of the story to keep the reader in suspense.” 

Suspense & horror includes supernatural thrillers, paranormal and the occult.  According to Wikipedia, “Historically, the cause of the “horror” experience has often been the intrusion of an evil —- or, occasionally, misunderstood —- supernatural element into everyday human experience. Since the 1960s, any work of fiction with a morbid, gruesome, surreal, or exceptionally suspenseful or frightening theme has come to be called “horror”. Horror fiction often overlaps science fiction or fantasy, all three of which categories are sometimes placed under the umbrella classification speculative fiction. See also supernatural fiction.” (2) 

Romance can cross any genre, it may be historical, present day or futuristic, but at its core it is a love story. Sci Fi contains “futuristic technology; a blend of scientific fact and fictional elements” whereas Fantasy “contains elements that are NOT realistic, such as talking animals, magical powers, etc. Make-believe is what this genre is all about.” (1)  

There is another voice to consider before you begin; to voice telling the story or Point of View.  Point of View may be first person, second person or third person. First person is the most intimate and limiting POV.Second person is the least common POV usually reserved for non fiction works.Third person may be less intimate, but it allows more flexibility to the author. The person telling the story is a character of the story. Their perspective will influence the reader’s perception of the story, so you should choose wisely. The character’s voice, traits and opinions are not your own, so resist inserting too much of your own      

1. Genrelist: What in the world is Realistic Fiction?

Show AND Tell

January 25, 2008 at 12:33 am | Posted in Writers Write | 4 Comments
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As a writer, I’m sure you’ve heard the mantra “Show Don’t Tell.”  I’ve struggled with this for years: after all, a writer’s medium is words, their canvas a blank page and their art a story worth telling. Last year I took a creative writing class and it finally “clicked” for me.  A writer must “Show and Tell” combining descriptive language to convey emotion and develop character, as well as, action to move the story forward. 

You can not reasonably “Show” everything or the narrative will be bogged down with minutia.  You can not “Tell” everything or the narrative may be detached and read like a textbook.  Only you can decide how much is enough and where the story or characters benefit from showing or telling. The mix is where the magic happens.  I can’t give you a recipe with precise measures of showing and telling.  A great deal depends on what you’re  planning to dish up, a gory horror story ala Stephen King will probably have more showing whereas a tough talking PI will tell it like is. 

Here are a few examples that may help you find the right mix for you.

Telling Showing
He was mad. His mouth clamped shut, lips drawn in a bloodless gash.
She was a shy girl, who blushed whenever Charlie passed by.  She could feel her cheeks burning with embarrassment.  She ducked her head so Charlie wouldn’t notice the affect he had on her.
He was out of shape. He heaved and puffed climbing a single flight of stairs.  His face was covered with white blossoms of oxygen deprived cells.
Mary was sad when her father died. Tears swelled and rolled from her eyes unchecked. She couldn’t breathe for the weight of grief sitting on her chest.  The world disappeared for a moment as she realized she was truly and forever alone.
He said quietly. He whispered.  He muttered.
The door squeaked. The sound was at once familiar and frightening; an un-oiled hinge that betrayed those who entered. Someone else was in the room with her.
She was nervous. Her fingers tapped a steady rhythm.

Do the following exercise to reinforce your habit of showing.

1.  Did you know that only 7% of communication occurs through words?  55% of the communication consists of body language and 38% is expressed through tone of voice. As a writer, you’re limited to how much you can convey, but your characters AREN’T.  Your characters are still interacting (presumably) and communication through body language and tone of voice. Let those “clues” guide your audience.   It will be more satisfying if they can discover a character for themselves.

            – How does a person look if they’re happy? 

 

            – How does a person look when they’re annoyed? Angry? Disappointed?

 

            – How does a person act when they are ashamed? Guilty? Regretful?

 

            – How does a person act when they are confident? Shy? Outgoing?

 

            – How does a dumb person look? What about a smart person?

 

 

 

 

 Ok, this is a bit of a trick question but you need to challenge your stereotypes. You may not even know you have them but they’ll show up wherever you’ve copped out on character development.  Do you recognize any of these characters in your work?

A. A Country Bumpkin – Also shows up as a good ole’ boy; a hillbilly; a hayseed or a redneck

B. The Gold Digger

C. Hooker with a heart of gold – Really anyone with a heart of gold should be avoided – bad boys included.

D.  The Workaholic – Also shows up as the Type A, anal retentive; an ambitious corporate climber; the slimy “Yes” man or the greedy Banker/CEO/Executive.

2.  What do emotions feel like in your body?  Avoid clichés, those overused phrases that don’t describe how YOU feel.  Think about a time when you really felt the emotion and remember the physiological symptoms that occurred. 

For example, if I think about anxiety, I would remember my palms were sweaty; my heart was beating so hard I could see it thumping in my chest and hear it inside my head, dun-da, dun-da, dun-da;  I felt disassociated from my body and everything was happening in slow motion….

            – What does sad feel like? 

            – What does fear feel like?

            – What does love feel like?

 

3.  Assume your reader doesn’t know the meaning of an adjective; how would you convey your meaning?   Try to describe the following with the underlined adjective, without inserting another adjective.

            – The pillow was fluffy.

            – She smiled sadly.

            – He greeted her warmly.

 

 

 

I hope this has helped you. Remember you don’t have to show everything, just enough to take your audience on a journey with you, rather then dragging them along.  

 

(1) Dick Mooney, Often, actions really do speak louder than words. Knoxville, TN: ACA Communicator, 2002 

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