Pitfalls to Avoid: Showing vs. Telling

As a writer, we have many expressions and mantras that both writer and reader alike have heard. Here’s another one you’ve probably heard ad nauseam: 

Show, do not tell.

However, a lot of amateur writers get this concept frequently wrong and why is telling so bad anyway?

Let’s start with an example of telling:

Grim unholstered his six-shot, pointing it at Sylvia. He felt angry and growled his fury.

Sylvia was unperturbed by his weapon, laughing defiantly. “If you plan on intimidating me, you’re sorely mistaken.”

He smiled cruelly, “The bullets in the gun are made from cold iron, demon. You’re finished!”

He opened fire, Slyvia screaming in anguish as each bullet tore through her violet flesh.

Is this bad? Isolated, no, not really, but it’s clearly amateurish and if the entire story is peppered with this style of writing, then it’s bad. The reason why is I’m telling the reader Grim is angry. I am telling the reader Sylvia was unperturbed. I am telling the reader Sylvia not only laughs, but how she laughs. I told the reader how Grim smiled and I told the reader how Sylvia screamed (okay that last part was really bad, but you get the point).

Understand that “show vs. tell” is a reader’s trend. At one point, it was perfectly acceptable for writers to tell the reader of the emotions and actions of the characters instead of showing. Read any 19th Century or early 20th Century literature. And if attention spans continue to get shorter and shorter, this trend may reverse itself and I may be writing a post about “tell, do not show.” I’ve been reading negative reviews of readers wanting just this thing (I’ll get into why in a moment)

So, how to avoid telling? Here are three rules to help you:

  1. Don’t use emotive words in the narrative at all. An easy test on yourself is if you have any emotive words. Angry, happy, sad, etc. Get rid of them.
  2. Use body language to describe the emotion. Instead of writing, He was angry, write, He grimaced, baring his teeth, nearly snarling. But you want the reader to feel a particular kind of rage, you say? Let the readers decide that for themselves. Don’t try to control that part of the process of writing for your reader.
  3. Mitigate or avoid adverbs. Adverbs are like salt. It’s okay to use one sparingly here and there, but overuse ruins the whole meal. A lot of adverbs is lazy writing. She laughed defiantly tells me how she laughed, and on top of it, how do I picture defiance? Instead, let’s go with, She folded her arms and proceeded to laugh, a raucous bellow that shook the room.

So, here’s the caveat of showing vs. telling and this is how I’ve seen this in the form of negative reviews. Showing increases your word count–considerably. It forces you to be more descriptive. Even if you chose a minimalist approach to describe an emotion, you’re still going to have more words than a simple, He was angry. In the example above, that was three words vs. seven. In the other example, that was three words vs. a whopping fifteen. Some readers hate this because you have writers who can literally spend a page and a half describing a gate-opening scene (George R.R. Martin, Game of Thrones, I’m looking at you). It’s beautiful, it’s immersive, but it’s long. So be aware when you’re being descriptive or you’re laying it thick on the purple prose.

Happy writing!

Interview with Author Jo Michaels

Courteously willing to sit down and be interviewed by Dragon Soul Press, please welcome Author Jo Michaels for the blog post this week. You can learn more about her on her website and Amazon page.

 

  1. So when did you realize you wanted to be an author? Have you just always had stories you wanted to tell?

I wrote my first (really scary, according to those who read it) short story when I was in fourth grade. It was about death. I’ve devoured books since I was very young, and when I went to design school, my goal was to end up with a publishing house in the book design department. Writing novels was a logical next step. I’ve always loved to read, write, and draw.

  1. If any, what literary pilgrimages have you gone on? Did you enjoy yourself?

When I went to Chapter.con 2017, my husband and I took a trip over to Paris for a few days. I’ve always wanted to use it in a book, but I wasn’t familiar enough with the city to write about it. Now, I have a book coming that’s set there. It’s truly a beautiful city and made me miss Louisiana. We had a blast!

  1. What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

This is one hell of a loaded question! I’m friends with SO many authors that I can’t possibly list them all, but I’m really close with about ten of them. Tia Silverthorne Bach is my best friend and editor, and I’d have to say that she’s the one who keeps me on track with my stories. I’ve co-written with Tia, Kelly Risser, N.L. Greene, and Casey L. Bond, and that experience has brought us all closer together. I live near Bella Roccaforte, S.J. Pierce, S.F. Benson, and a bunch of others, and we all get together for dinner or brunch now and then. They’re AMAZING for bouncing ideas around.

  1. What kind of research do you do, if any, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

Oh my… I really get into my research. Everything you read in my books is plausible (except the magic stuff—and really, who knows?), and everything you read is set in real locations. I’ve either lived in or visited all of them. My characters and worlds are fully fleshed out before I ever begin the story, the characters becoming more like people I know than just words on a page. I spend a ton of time on bios, maps, and loose plots—probably around sixty to eighty hours on each—before I write. So, weeks and weeks can be spent just in prep.

  1. Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?

I read every single review, and I love most of them. There’s only ever been one that ticked me off, and it was only because the person slammed my editor for something perceived as a mistake that was NOT. That detail was intentionally skewed; it brought about questions in the reader that should’ve been there. It’s the moment you realize something isn’t quite right. Ha! Oh well. I feel like good reviews are welcome and needed, but I also like to read the bad ones. They’re honest feedback on what I can improve upon.

  1. Do you believe in writer’s block? If you experience it, how do you deal with it?

I don’t. I think writer’s block is just because the writer has lost where the story is going (maybe that last paragraph needs a rewrite?) or has no motivation to write it. When that happens, a writer needs to think about whether the story actually needs to be told. If it’s boring to the writer, it’ll bore the pants off the reader.

  1. What is your favorite childhood book?

I have three that I love: “The Call of the Wild” by Jack London, “A Dog Called Kitty” by Bill Wallace, and “The Chronicles of Narnia” by C. S. Lewis. I read them all before fourth grade, and they’ve all stuck with me in some way or another.

  1. Who has been your biggest inspiration when it comes to storytelling?

Honestly? Stephen King. I used to read the hell out of his novels and wanted to be just like him, but when I first started really doing this thing, I wrote because I had a story to tell that needed to be told. Achievement one unlocked. Level up! Then, my goal was to change the way ONE person looked at the world. Achievement two unlocked. Now, I write to entertain people and help them escape. Period. It’s fun, and I’m back to my Stephen King days. LOL!

  1. What was your hardest scene to write?

That scene in “I, Zombie” where Jack… Well, I can’t say more. Spoiler. But I can say I sat at my keyboard and sobbed for a full ten minutes after I wrote it. Ugly crying. It was quite the moment.

Introducing Author Phil Penne

Dragon Soul Press is proud to present Author Phil Penne to our avid audience! Debuting through DSP with a non-fiction self-help book for when it comes to technology, more titles are sure to follow. Enjoy our interview with the author below.


 

Does writing energize or exhaust you?

      Hmmm… Going to have to go with “depends” on this one. A lot of factors come into play: my current state of mind and physical health are near the top. It also depends on what I’m writing; Non-fiction, like Geezer Tech don’t affect me one way or the other – I’m just relaying my work experiences. In fiction, writing passages that fit my personality can be energizing; writing about things out of my comfort zone tends to be more exhausting.

What is your writing Kryptonite?Phil Penne Facebook Profile Pic

      Never really thought about it, but considering the technical writing I’ve done, I’d have to say the word ‘deadline’ gives me goose bumps more than anything else.

What one thing would you give up to become a better writer?

      I’d give up my self-doubt in an instant to be a better writer, but I don’t think I’m able to… and there’s the self-doubt again.

How long on average does it take you to write a book?

My writing tends to be all over the map in terms of subject, so I can’t really give you a hard number, since different genres take varying amounts of time. “Too long” is probably the closest I can come to an answer; I tend to procrastinate and am always finding excuses to do something other than write. Sometimes the excuses are valid, other times not so much. Considering I.T. tech support was something I had done for over forty years, I finished Geezer Tech quickly, by my standards.

Do you believe in writer’s block? 

      Oh, big time! I even addressed that precise subject in one of the vignettes in my first fiction work, Forty Rabbit Holes: The Book of Daydreams. Being slightly ADD (self-diagnosed, mind you), I tend to think of plots for other books while working on my current book. Once that happens there’s a major log jam and nothing happens until I manage to clear my head. Usually photography is the panacea for that; when I’m behind the lens nothing else exists.

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

      I’m going to include self-published under the umbrella of unpublished, so that would be four, not including two coffee table books and three books of sheet music transcribed for the Native American flute. Half finished? Well, I’m 8,000 words into my next fiction work (out of an anticipated 110,000 words). Two more are in the 2,000 word range (out of an anticipated who-knows-how-many total words). The total number of ideas bouncing around inside my skull? Carl Sagan couldn’t count that high.

What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?

      Hmmm… tough one. Oddly enough, I’d have to say Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Even though it became hugely popular with the release of the movie Blade Runner in 1982, it should have been every bit as popular when it was published in 1968 – it shouldn’t have taken the movie to propel the book to fame.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

      In a nutshell, “Get used to rejection.”

Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?

   Never really thought about it much until recently when I toyed with the idea of writing a trilogy of artfully written books with erotic overtones. The closest I came prior to that was in my book Mama Root: The Old Woman of Loop Road, where I found it necessary to pen a Shakespearean style sonnet as part of the story, and ascribed its authorship to one “Royce Voithem” – which is actually an anagram for “My other voice”.

Where can readers learn more about you?

     Probably my website. There’s a little bit of a bio there, plus insights into my photography, graphic arts, storytelling, etc. That might give people at least a thumbnail sketch of what this Phil Penne character is all about.

I also believe you can tell a lot about a person by asking them what their favorite quote is. Mine? It comes from Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s Ulysses:

I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.


You can also find this author at Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Youtube, and DSP Author Page.

Author Interview with Simon Dillon

Dragon Soul Press sat down to interview Author Simon Dillon for his latest bone-chilling release, The Irresistible Summons. With the tagline of “How far would you go to bring the one you love back from the dead?” how could one resist the temptation? Especially when cutting-edge technology and evil meet.


How long on average does it take you to write a book?

I’d say it takes me about a year, on average, to write something like The Irresistible Summons or Spectre of Springwell Forest, if you include the initial inspiration, preparation and planning, writing the first draft, rewrites, edits, and so on.Irresistible Summons promo 8

Outside my usual psychological drama/supernatural thriller/horror spectrum, I’ve written some novels at record speed (my animal fiction adventure novel Echo and the White Howl, for instance), and others at a snail’s pace. I’ve got a fantasy epic I’ve been working at, on and off, for about twenty years. Still not sure if I’ll ever try and release it.

What was your hardest scene to write?

I can’t reveal that here, because it’s from a thriller/horror novel I’ve not yet published. Suffice to say, the scene in question was so disturbing and upsetting that I had to keep taking breaks every ten minutes to write that chapter. I’m made of pretty stern stuff, but that was fierce, even for me. It really had my stomach in knots.

From novels that are presently published, the finale of The Irresistible Summons was an absolute fiend to get right. Previous versions were either too gruesome, too repetitive, too bizarre, too long, or – incredible though it may seem – too optimistic.

What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?

I’m going to cheat and pick three books – The Bartimaeus Sequence (comprising The Amulet of Samarkand, The Golem’s Eye, and Ptolemy’s Gate). This trilogy, set in a parallel London filled with powerful magicians, is particularly notable for witty first-person sections, told from the point of view of a highly intelligent and cunning demon summoned by the novel’s young protagonist. Highly recommended.

Or did you mean my own novels? Some of my children’s adventure novels are definitely under-appreciated, because they are just as much for adults as for children.

Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

Out of what I currently have published, with the notable exception of the George Hughes trilogy (my children’s science fiction novels), all my novels and short stories stand-alone. Even the George Hughes adventures are each stand-alone stories, though they should be read in order, as there are recurring characters and references to previous incidents.

Having said that, my horror/thriller novels do share a certain DNA and express variations on a theme. One reader I know jokes about “Simon Dillon Plot Bingo” (imperilled heroine, religious oppression, big central mystery, haunted locations, supernatural elements, cults and/or secret societies, melodramatic overdrive, big twist ending – apparently). I don’t see this as a bad thing. I think it means I’m getting known for a certain type of story. Just as long as I can keep surprising people within that format, I’m pleased to be stereotyped to a degree.

Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?

That’s a good question, because it follows on from what I said above. Actually, I think there is nothing wrong with following a formula and giving readers what they want. Agatha Christie did it. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did it. JK Rowling did it (all the Harry Potter books follow a very clear formula, except the last one). But within these formulas, the above authors consistently surprised and delighted the reader.

Every writer wants to be original and put their own stamp on the world’s literature. However, that isn’t at the forefront of my mind when I write. Rather, I want to master the form in whatever genre I am working with. To that end, I try to give the reader what they want – but not the way they expect it. That’s the clue to any fine dramatic writing, in my opinion.

Of course, you can’t please everyone. The Irresistible Summons and Spectre of Springwell Forest both have fairly clear-cut conclusions, but one or two readers would have preferred more ambiguity. On the other hand, my next novel Phantom Audition (due out in October) is a much trickier beast. The various ways it can be interpreted may frustrate those who prefer clear-cut endings. As an author, you have to decide what you think is the correct, most satisfying ending, and stick with it. In fact, I always do. I don’t write any story until I know the ending and love it. Then I work backwards from that point.

Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?

I’m not sure why I’ve been so foolhardy as to simply go by my real name, but I don’t really see what I gain by hiding behind a pseudonym. Privacy is the main reason cited, but if JK Rowling didn’t feel the need for one, I’m not sure I can be bothered either. I’d rather be loud and proud about what I put my name to.

What is your writing Kryptonite?

I often lurk on the event horizons of social media black holes and get sucked into vortices of very dark humour. Plus the internet in general is so distracting.

Does writing energize or exhaust you?

A bit of both really. But I can’t not write. It’s like breathing. If I don’t write at least a little each day, I feel like I’m wasting my life.

What is the first book that made you cry?

Watership Down, which I read at the age of nine, just before I read the second book that made me cry, The Lord of the Rings. I find it hard to imagine any intelligent, thoughtful reader coming away from either of those novels unaffected or unchanged. The final chapters of both had an incalculable effect on my young psyche, and the bittersweet truth that in this world at least, all things end.

Both books conclude with death, whether the literal death of Hazel, in Watership Down, or the figurative death of Frodo in The Lord of the Rings (not to mention the passing of the Elves, and the melancholy end of the magical eras of Middle Earth). However, although sad, neither scene is negative. It is simply the way of things, and, as Gandalf puts it, “not all tears are an evil”.

Where can readers learn more about you?

I’ve got a blog,which has regular updates on all my writing projects. It also features film reviews, links to my film podcast The Tangent Tree (which I co-host with Samantha Stephen), and other book/writing related articles. On top of that, I have a Facebook page.

Interview with Author Ava Harper Kent

Dragon Soul Press had the opportunity to interview Author Ava Harper Kent! Enjoy her introduction below and continue reading for the difficult questions we collected for her.

Hello, my name is Ava and I am a book junkie. I love to immerse myself in worlds created by words, whether I am reading or writing them.

I love books that make me think and feel deeply, stories that crackle to life, and characters that stay with me when I close the book. I enjoy most genres—history, memoirs, mysteries, philosophy, poetry, cookbooks, plays . . . and toe-curling, steamy romance novels. It’s the whole human experience! No one fits into one neat category in real life or in successful fiction. My hope is that my varied interests will lead to characters and plots as well-rounded as my reading list.

I am currently being entertained by the voices of the Whiskey and Wildfire series, and they are pushing and shoving inside my head to make their way onto paper . . . or the monitor, as the case may be!

Each of my stories starts with a woman finding her inner strength to blaze her own path. I’m a proponent of real love as a partnership of equals; a supportive relationship that is greater than the sum of its parts. This is the kind of love I’ve shared with my husband for over 20 years, and I know that it is a rare and precious gift. You’ll find life lessons we’ve learned in each story I write, and a little bit of my sexy beast in all of my men.


Have you always wanted to be a writer?

My dad used to make up the best bedtime stories for us off the cuff, weaving in plenty of personal details. I remember copying him, making up my own stories and songs before I could write, and I took every opportunity to write in school—newspaper, creative writing, you name it! I even loved writing papers. For some reason, I lost touch with my creative side in all the day-to-day busyness of being an adult, but I eventually found my way back!

How do you handle writer’s block?

I try to work on another project or see if another scene in the current project is speaking to me. If not, I step away and look for something to inspire creativity—reading, music, tinkering with spices and seasonings in the kitchen, or discussing deep subjects with my husband. I keep engaged in the book by looking at some of my stream-of-consciousness notes sketching out the book, listening to the playlists I have for each book, or researching a topic I’ll address later in the book.

How do you come up with the titles to your books?

The first one in this series? It just came to me. I knew I would have a reason to explain Whiskey and Wildfire at some point, but I didn’t know what it was at first. About half of the way through writing, I was sorting out some character motivation one day at work. Out of nowhere, the main male character’s father piped up in my head and had a heart to heart about his background and he showed me what the title meant.

As for the rest of the series titles (I have five sketched out, with a few potential short stories or novellas), I planned to name them all Whiskey and “something that starts with a W.” However, contrary to popular belief, there aren’t a lot of meaningful W options! I like the alliteration, so I decided to use a different liquor for each title. I’m currently working on book two in the series, Vodka and Vertigo. Book one has a self-contained HEA for Grant and Kat, and book two continues with Nate and Grace (whom we met in book one).

What does success mean to you? What is the definition of success?

Having a sense of purpose, loving deeply, and finding ways (great and small) to help others.

Where do you get your inspiration?

First, I have been happily married for over twenty years to the love of my life. I’m surrounded by long and happy marriages in both of our families, and they are all different. I also have many strong women to draw characteristics from. Although I am much more of an introvert than the rest of my family, their legions of friends have provided me with many hours of people watching, entertaining stories, and lively discussions where I learned to appreciate other points of view.

Who is your favorite author and why?

I have two. I had a loss, and after the brief time I felt it was socially acceptable to express my grief, I bottled it up. I let myself escape by reading during long baths with candles and lots of wine. I circled back to Jordan’s Savage Brothers MC series for a reread, and I fixated on Saving Dancer. This tragic man was falling apart over something that happened to him through no fault of his own, and he was lashing out at everyone around him like a wounded animal. He couldn’t admit what was wrong or express his emotions about it, and I couldn’t help but cry for him. I have no idea how many times I reread that book before it finally occurred to me that I was crying for my own loss I hadn’t fully grieved. Our situations were totally different, but it’s like Jordan wrote that specifically to give me permission to express my emotions and begin to heal. Not long afterward, I began writing as an additional avenue for this, and it has been therapeutic as well.

The other author is MariaLisa deMora. I love her characters, her stories, her worlds, but also her skill. She doesn’t just put words on the page. She has natural talent, but she also works at her craft without allowing her day job, injuries, or the things that inspire her (cross-country solo bike trip, anyone?) to be an excuse. She isn’t afraid to tackle important issues like substance abuse, sexual assault, and a wide range of sexuality. If I had my way, her standalone novel Hard Focus would be required reading for everyone, but particularly every woman. She interacts with her fans with kindness and compassion, and she has been gracious with advice to a newbie author on several occasions. (And if you’re reading this, MariaLisa, I’m still not over Hoss or Watcher.)

What do you like to do when you are not writing?

My husband and I are foodies, and we enjoy finding new local spots in Nashville for good food and cocktails. We love music, so we are always sharing new artists or songs we’ve discovered. We travel when we can, and I’ve incorporated book research into some of our travels—poking around Glasgow and Bowling Green, bourbon tastings, and planning a trip that will include research for book three! I’m starting to do signings, but for now, I don’t travel far from my adopted hometown (Nashville, Tennessee) to keep expenses and travel time reasonable. I enjoy reading, but I prefer to read new titles on breaks between my writing. If I’m working on a scene with a specific requirement, such as confrontation that doesn’t sound like a preteen argument, I reread a book that does that well. Our families are within driving distance, but far enough away that we have to plan visits. I suppose it’s a family version of that saying “good fences make good neighbors,” because we are able to enjoy the time we have with them…then return to our own lives. I have a day job with some great people (and a few annoying ones, but don’t we all?), and a couple of kitties with strong personalities who demand chin scratches, tuna juice, and open windows.

If you could choose three people to invite for a dinner party, who would they be and why?

Justice Earl Warren, because his time as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court produced so many landmark decisions and put the spotlight on civil liberties. I’d like to talk about the climate of the time, and how they addressed concerns that they were overstepping their mandate.

Jim Thorpe, because he was arguably the greatest athlete of his time, despite having his Olympic medals stripped from him for a technicality that applied to many other Olympians. His first marriage failed before the Great Depression, and his early professional successes faltered shortly thereafter. He tasted such extremes of success and failure.

Hedy Lamarr, who was known both for portraying the first female orgasm onscreen and for inventing and patenting technology that allowed missiles to go undetected. This later laid the groundwork for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and cellular technology. Most of her life was spent in notoriety while her intelligence was overlooked, but she pursued this research and invention while her life was signed over to Hollywood studios. This was her side gig!

Do you write listening to music? If so, what music inspired or accompanied this current book? (If not, what music inspires you to write?)

I listen to New Age type instrumental music to write. I get too distracted by lyrics and distinct melodies, so even some classical is out. But I do make playlists of music that I hear that fits specific scenes or the relationships and listen to them when I’m not writing. For some reason, I never did one for Whiskey and Wildfire, but Kat’s ex first demanded his time in the spotlight by collecting songs for his playlists. He has three or four going now, I think! He was supposed to be a throwaway character in a couple of scenes at most, and now he has his own book in the works.

Back to the music, though! It started with heartbreak songs like Drink You Away (Justin Timberlake), Tequila (Dan + Shea), Ain’t No Sunshine (Bill Withers), I Can’t Make You Love Me (Bonnie Raitt), Stay With Me (Sam Smith), Not Over You (Gavin DeGraw), and Breakeven (The Script). Then it moved on to love songs that spoke to me about the relationships these characters have. Shape of You (Ed Sheeran), At Last and Sunday Kind of Love (Etta James), Say You Won’t Let Go (James Arthur), I Like Me Better (Lauv), First Try (JOHNNYSWIM), Rather Be (Clean Bandit Ft. Jess Glynn), Life IS Better with You (Michael Franti & Spearhead), Chasing Cars (Snow Patrol), Speakers (Sam Hunt), Mind Candy (Walker Hayes), Take Me to Church (Hozier), Gorgeous and Naked by X Ambassadors, Glory Box (Portishead), Wonderful Tonight (Eric Clapton), Moondance (Van Morrison), All of Me (John Legend), and the Amazon Acoustics version of lights down low (Max).

Where can readers find out more about you and your books?

You can find me on Amazon, Goodreads, my website, on my Facebook page and group, or on Instagram.

Thank you for investing your time in the world I’ve created. I hope to see you again!