Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Revising: Cutting Passive Voice and other Weak Writing Crutches

Something drove me crazy in revisions. Passive voice and weak writing. I’d already been through a few drafts and caught a lot of problems, but still it’d snuck in in a few places. Getting rid of passive voice really shines up the story and makes it much more alive – active, moving quickly. I’ve gotten rid of most of it now and I’ve already noticed it’s not as prevalent in the new novel I’m working on, so I guess something is sinking in, I hope! – ha!

Anyway, in an attempt to possibly help others during their revisions, I’m compiled a list from various sources that helped me pinpoint problem areas/searches to do in a later draft to look for passive words and other instances of plain old weak writing.


Definition of passive voice: A verb form or voice in which the grammatical subject receives the verb's action. Contrast with active voice.

Some searches to do:

Search for all forms of “to be” verb. (are, were, been, being, be, am, is, etc.)

Change the noun to a verb. The sentence, "I am a dancer," uses the passive verb "am." Change the noun "dancer" to an active verb: “I dance." Four words became two.

Look for "by." In, "The paper was written by the girl." uses the passive verb "was." A simple change to “The girl wrote the paper.” solves the sentence structure and makes it more active.

Search for sentences or phrases beginning with "there" or "it" plus a form of the verb "to be." Instead of using the passive verb "are" in a sentence such as "There are things we can do to change her mind," say, "We can change her mind." Again, the change is clear, concise and active.

Look for "ing." Example: "I am climbing," uses the passive verb "are." A stronger and more active sentence is: "I climb." Three words became two, and it moves better, stronger, more alive.

Search for "been." I found a lot of passive phrases hiding behind it. “Your work has been reviewed.” is better as, “We have reviewed your work.”

Search for "felt," "heard," etc. These aren’t as obvious, but a few snuck into my prose. “I felt my heartbeat quicken.” can simply be, “My heartbeat quickened.” OR “I heard his voice change; he was scared.” Can be, “His voice changed; he was scared.”

Search for other problem words
Sentences like: "She began walking" should be changed to "She walked." Or, "The crowd started to part." to, "The crowd parted." I guess in this case you could search for things like began, started or any other problem words/phrases like those, that you find as recurring problems in your manuscript.

These are minor examples but hopefully this compilation will prove useful to someone else during revisions. Or, at the very least it will be a good reference for me whenever I finish the current WIP!

If you have any other advice on the topic, post in the comments and I'll add to the post. Thanks!:)

*reposted from early 2010*

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Author Interview: Elysabeth Williams, Romance Author

Today I had the pleasure of interviewing Elysabeth Williams, Romance author of Devil in a Red Kilt. Read below for Elysabeth’s insights on writing and publishing! If you have any comments or questions for her, leave your info in the comments and she’ll stop by later.

Before we get started with the interview, here’s a bit about Devil in a Red Kilt: Their Happily Ever After Deserved a Second Chance ... For more than twenty years, Evan and Evie MacDonald were the couple "meant to be." Their marriage now in tatters, they throw one final family Halloween party to honor Evie's recently deceased mother. But, as Evan's hand hovers over divorce papers, the ancient Celtic secrets Evie's mother always spoke of spring to life. Transported in flames to thirteenth-century Scotland, Evie and Evan land on opposite sides of the feud raging between Clans MacDonald and McLeod. Dubbed the Red Devil, Evan's skills as a leader and warrior bring him into the enemy camp-and back to Evie. Now, faced with an ancient evil they never imagined, the two must rekindle the "forever and ever" kind of love they once felt, and bargain for a bit of Fae magic to flip the hourglass right side up again-before time runs out.

Hi Elysabeth! Thanks so much for talking with me today. First, I’d like to talk a bit about your debut novel, Devil in a Red Kilt. What was your inspiration for this novel?

Thanks for having me! I’m glad to be here! I thought of this story in bits – I’m a die-hard pantser, in which I don’t outline. I may write down things to write down later, but as for outlines, they make me feel locked in. Devil was done totally off the cuff and pulled from many places. Movies, other books I’ve read, and even World of Warcraft. (Yes, I’m a total geek.) It honestly just “happened” this way.

Evan and Evie are very heartfelt characters. They felt like people I knew and I was rooting for them all along. Authors often pull character traits from real life. How many of their attributes were inspired by yourself or someone you know?

I’d say the mother of this story was similar to my own mother. She was very outspoken and told outlandish stories that people would sometimes look at her weird for. Nothing to do with fairies, but still way-out-there stories about her past. Evie and Evan were just two people doing their daily thing. I think that’s taken from most people nowadays. Too busy to and too stressed out to cope.

I loved your setting in the book – both the present day and historical aspects. What inspired your settings?

I grew up and still live in the South. I’m always in love with the way things are in the fall here. The colors are always so rich and everybody seems to move at a slower pace down here. Scotland is kind of the same to me. I’ve only visited for a short time, but it always seemed to move at a slower pace than the rest of the world. Add the great history in both places and it really does make for a great story base.

The historical aspects of the novel felt very well researched, down to the tiny details. Has this time period always interested you? Was the research fun? Challenging?

The research was fun! I love researching how people lived, what they wore and ate, and how they interacted with each other. It was very educational. The time period has always fascinated me and of course it was the best time to find Highlanders kicking around in their kilts.:)

What was your favorite part of writing Devil in a Red Kilt?

Writing “THE END.” Honestly. It was a great ride but to be able to finish the project after a year was just so satisfying.

Most challenging?

Getting just enough dialect without annoying readers. I wanted to have the flavor of the speech, but not be overwhelming. I hope I got it right.

Devil in a Red Kilt is such a fun story – full of twists and turns, suspense and love. What type of reader are you? What are your favorite books/authors?

I love witty banter, wild accusations and a little fantasy. I love out of place history and pure historical romances. My favorite authors are hard to pin down because I love so many! There are so many wonderfully talented authors.

Since there are probably some aspiring authors that will read this, can you tell us a bit about your road to publication? When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

I don’t think I ever officially decided to be a writer. I just wrote. Then one day I owned the title. I’m a writer. I write.

Tell us about your journey to getting published.

As per the last question. I believe that’s one of the very first steps to publication. Owning it. Then I started to do my homework on what I wanted to do. Where I wanted to see myself in 6 months, a year, etc. Then I just sat on it and wrote. Re-wrote, queried, cried, drank coffee, twittered, facebooked, and waited. And waited. And waited.

What is the best part of the publishing process?

What’s commonly known as, “The Call,” most definitely. The offer of a contract is just so much validation in one tiny email or package. “Yes your story doesn’t suck monkey butt, we’d like to see it on paper or in ebook.”

The worst?

The Waiting. Everything moves at a snail’s pace and you have to build patience or else you’ll go crazy. I would rather get a quick rejection just to know that someone looked at it than wait forever. The longest time I waited for a response was 18 months – for Devil in a Red Kilt, actually! I received the rejection three weeks after it hit shelves. Woops.

Can you give us a hint of what you’re working on now? What can we expect to read from you next?

I’m working on another Victorian Steampunk Romance that will tie in with The Electrifying Exploits of the English Three, which releases with Lyrical Press in January of 2011! It’s not necessarily a sequel, but in the same ‘world’ so to speak. I can’t wait to share more!

Thanks Elysabeth! Looking forward to reading more from you in the future!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Show vs. Tell Part II: Small Ways to Show, and When to Tell

After Monday’s post, Part I of Show vs. Tell, I received a handful of comments and emails insisting, doesn’t Tell also have a place? You can’t possibly always show, right?

I totally agree.

And honestly, perhaps I was too hard on Telling. Telling has feelings too.

Because this is such an important, ongoing conversation, I want to clarify a few things about Showing before I talk about the merits of Telling. Apologies in advance for rambling and tons of examples.:)

First and foremost, while my last post gave examples and focused on how important Showing was, I forgot to stress the most important thing.

Showing isn’t always the answer. It is the preferred solution, yes, but only when it has a purpose.

Like when developing important characters, world building or moving the plot forward. Those are the times you can hold the delete key down on the telling and pump up the showing. But no, there is certainly no need to show every nuance, thought, action, character, setting and idea in your novel in show-worthy detail.

It’s only for the stuff that truly matters to the central story, plot and characters that we need to see and feel and be a part of it. For the rest, a bit of telling is okay. *more on that below.*

Secondly, Showing doesn’t always mean saying more.

My last post covered many ways of showing that flesh out a scene, make it longer, and add tons of story in order to show, but that isn't the only way it can work. Sure there is a huge place in our stories for that type of showing, but it isn't the only way.

This seems to be a big misconception I see and hear all over the place. Showing over telling does not mean you are going to end up with a 200,000 word novel. On the contrary, sometimes it just means saying it in a different way, or by omitting or rearranging.

I gave some big examples in the last post that may have scared readers into thinking every three line paragraph had to become an illustrative pages-long scene. No, no, no. Not the case at all. Sometimes showing is much simpler than that.

For example, in dialogue.


“Why can’t you just drop it?” She said angrily. (telling)


“Why can’t you just drop it?” She slammed her notebook on the table. (showing)

“Why can’t you just drop it?” She scowled. (showing)

“Why can’t you just drop it?” She huffed. (showing)

How simple it is to show the girl being angry rather than saying “said angrily.” (besides which, “said angrily” is just so ugly.) *Also, disclaimer, although the above dialogue tags show better than tell, those types of tags should be used in moderation. A manuscript full of any type of dialogue tags, showing or not, will drive any reader crazy*

Saying it another way

Sometimes just changing the words used shows instead of tells.


They came down the stairs wearing their angriest expressions, the ones tinged with emotion. (telling)


When she came downstairs, Mom’s face was red, her cheeks tear-stained. Dad stomped behind her, obviously in the same foul mood. (showing)


Such as striking big blocks of backstory. Small example below:

I was so upset about breaking up with Frank, I knew I had to talk to my brother. Eric was two years older than me but we were super close. I always told him everything and he’d always done so much for me. He stood up for me when I got picked on at school and he always sided with me when I had fights with mom and dad. He was mom’s favorite and he always got her to give in when I wanted to do something I wasn’t normally allowed to, like go to the movies with my friends. When Grandpa died, it was Eric that held me while I cried.

Okay, that’s obviously long, boring and full of info the reader doesn’t need. It may be good info for the writer to have for character profiles, etc., but it’s the kind of backstory that clogs up a draft. I’d kill the whole thing. Some of the memories/examples are good, so one or two can be worked in at a later time if needed. For now, say it was changed to something like:

I walked into Eric’s room without knocking. He was hunched over his desk doing homework.

“Got a minute?” My voice still trembled with the hurt of Frank dumping me.

“For you? Of course.” Eric smiled and patted the chair next to his. I felt a million times better, like always with my big brother.

See, it's no longer than the original, but keeps the reader engaged and in the moment, rather than the laundry list with no action.

Sometimes, if you just tell the story, slow down and show what’s happening, it will be organic, natural. Let it just… happen, in a realistic way. People don’t walk around thinking about things like that paragraph above. If you’re close to your brother, you interact with him and feel good, you don’t walk around thinking of all the reasons you love him and everything he's ever done for you.

In my last post, I used the example of the boy and girl in class. Apologies for using it again in this post, but to illustrate the point of rearranging, it works.

This first paragraph was omitted:

While waiting for Spanish to start, I turned to Dana. She looked good, sitting there in her black jeans and tee shirt and I thought about that first day we’d hooked up last winter. Six months later, our relationship was still going strong.

The rearranged version:

I shrugged. “You know, I don’t know why she’s agreed to let Leon take the majority of the year book pictures. He’s not even good.”

Dana rolled her eyes. “He is good. And you know it.”
“Give me a break, D.” I shook my head and held back what I really wanted to say.

She raised her eyebrows. “Jealous much?”

“Jealous? Are you even serious? Of that loser?”

“Sounds like jealousy to me.” With that flip of her hair and the sarcastic lilt in her voice, I could have screamed.

“Besides,” she whispered with a sly smile. “You take good pictures, too.”

I laughed louder than I meant to, remembering that winter day in Central Park, how it had started with photos of snowy landmarks and ended with us kissing in Strawberry Fields, the snow practically melting around us. Things hadn’t cooled off much between us since.

Through omitting the first paragraph, and rearranging, by moving his memory of the first kiss to the end of the conversation and giving it a bit more detail, it showed more of what was happening between them. Letting the reader see them interact and react to the memory carries more weight than just being told about the memory upfront in the omitted paragraph.

Those small examples are ways that show how you can use small changes in a big way to Show rather than Tell. Dialogue, omitting, rearranging and simply saying it another way can all work to the story’s advantage without adding tons of words.

Maybe if it was called Show, don’t Explain, it would be easier to understand. Over explaining seems an easier concept than telling, no?

But okay, this was supposed to be a post in Defense of Telling and I’ve spent all this time talking about showing (again).

Anyway, here we go, when Telling is the way to go.

Telling is okay!

The caveat here is that, like showing – and anything else in writing – there are a million possibilities that can and will work. I am merely outlining a very few that come to mind to illustrate the point.

When characters aren’t important.

Telling is fine when you are referring to or mentioning a character that doesn’t play into the central story or plot and isn't a main or supporting character. If they’re going to show up often and/or matter to the mc and plot, we need to see them at least somewhat in action. But for throwaway characters, etc., why not tell?


Justin leaned against the cafeteria doorway, talking to Tina. I swallowed around my turkey sandwich, which had lodged itself in my throat. Tina was the known class slut, and she was mean to all the girls in our grade. She had no friends, except those she’d slept with. My boyfriend, ex or not, had no place talking to her.

Did I do a whole lot of telling about Tina? Sure. Does it matter? No. She’s unimportant. I don’t need to see her sleeping around and being mean. Sometimes, it’s best to leave well enough alone.

Passage of time

This is a big one where telling is more than okay. No one wants to know every second of every day. If the guy and girl have an important conversation before school, and she’s waiting to finish it during lunch, the reader does not need the rest of the morning spelled out.

Something telling like:
My morning classes flew and I didn’t register a thing my teachers said.

I was so distracted all morning. Every class was a blur. My friends looked at me funny and my teachers seemed unhappy, but I couldn’t pay attention. I couldn’t wait for lunch.

These things are telling, but it’s okay, it’s fine. I don’t need to go through each class and see her zoned out and ignoring people. Who cares? Telling is fine.

Bigger passages of time/recap of events/time passed

It’s always awkward to write those in between scenes that cover a lot of ground, time-wise, but telling usually does the trick nicely.


By the time Friday rolled around, I was a wreck. I’d gotten through the entire week without anyone else finding out about me and Trent or the pregnancy. In the week that had passed since we decided to have the baby, the idea had started to settle into me, burrowing in somewhere, making itself at home. I still felt sick when I smelled anything other than bread or popcorn, but I hadn’t thrown up since that one time in Nadine’s car. Thank God.

Trent had hardly spoken to me, our group work and presentation in English the only time we were physically close enough to give me hope, or at least the satisfaction of having my sleeve brush up against his. I hadn’t contacted him once though. I was giving him his space, but it was hard. I wondered how long he would take to come around, and I ignored the part of me that said it might never happen.

I do a lot of telling here. A whole lot. I cover a week’s time, I talk about how the MC has accepted her pregnancy, how she feels, how she and love interest don’t talk. I even recap/gloss over their class together and the little contact they have. But it works, partly because spelling those things out would slow the story down and not add anything additional in terms of character development or moving the plot forward.

This one can go either way. I’ve read many novels lately where authors are amazingly deft at working in memories to build great characters and emotions through them. It can be a really successful tool to bring in the past and show the reader a lot. That said, I think a bit of telling in memories can be okay too. To use the same example from my first post (yes, the same one I reused above, I know, you’re sick of it by now), some telling is okay.

When their conversation ends with this:

I laughed louder than I meant to, remembering that winter day in Central Park, how it had started with photos of snowy landmarks and ended with us kissing in Strawberry Fields, the snow practically melting around us. Things hadn’t cooled off much between us since.

When he has the memory that tells about their relationship, it does just that – it tells. And that’s okay. Their reaction to the memory showed enough about them, that spelling it out wouldn’t have done any more for their development or the plot. Actually, it would have most likely slowed the scene down considerably considering it was a just a momentary memory.

Wrapping it up, finally!
Bottom line: There are times telling works and times it doesn’t. I know, I know, that’s not exactly helpful advice, but as with everything in this business, it is so subjective and so individualized on a case by case basis. It truly is one of those, "you know it when you see it" things, which I know is so damn aggravating, but true, nonetheless!

It’s one more reason how practice makes perfect. Writing, critiquing and reading trump everything when it comes to understanding these concepts. Beta reading/critiquing is probably the single most effective way I’ve been able to identify my own weaknesses. Having others point them out, of course, shows me, but reading others’ work with a critical eye has also trained me how to read my own manuscripts critically.

And writing. Write, write, write, a million times write. It will only get easier and you will only get better. Only through practice can we grasp the idea of what can stay and what can go, where it’s okay to tell and where you need to show. It’s a never-ending lesson that we’re all undertaking, but hopefully, someday, we’ll graduate with some type of knowledge and understanding.

*If anyone has anything to add, circumstances I’m missing, further examples, etc., please post in the comments and I’ll add to the post. Thanks.:)
Link to Part I of the Show vs. Tell discussion.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Great Unsaid (A Study of Show vs. Tell)

*All examples in this post are my own and purely made up for the sake of the blog.*

Link to Part II of the Show vs. Tell Discussion

Everyone’s heard the old adage: Actions speak louder than words. But we’re writers, and words are what we’ve got. So the key is to make those words count and act.

Show vs. Tell.


*insert collective groans of frustration from writers around the world*

Agents complain about it, beta readers point it out, industry blogs cite is as one of the single, biggest problems with new writer submissions. But damn, can it be a hard concept to grasp. It’s not quite as mystifying as the answers of the universe, but doesn’t it often feel that way? I remember after writing my first novel, a beta reader pointing out that it was too much tell and not enough show in a particular chapter, at which point I stared blankly at the document and thought, “Huh? Where?”

The aim of Showing, one of the Ultimate Important Things in good writing, is to bring the reader along with the characters, to take them through the story, make them feel, see, and experience what the characters are experiencing, to feel like they are right in the middle of the action and a part of the story, watching it all unfold and happen. How else can a reader connect with characters? How else can characters become real to the reader?

But enough of my babble. Let’s get to the good stuff.

The Great Unsaid

“The Great Unsaid” is the way I like to think about Show vs. Tell. The Great Unsaid is more than just not telling. And it’s more than just showing.

It’s taking the roof off your characters’ world and dropping the reader into the middle of it, without a clue of what’s going on.

It’s making the reader look around, listen, watch and figure out what the story is. It’s much more interesting that way. What creates more tension or keeps the pages turning than a reader trying to figure out what’s happening?

It's through what's not said that the reader learns all they need to know.

This applies in great measure to novel openings. Nothing is better than being dropped right in the middle of the scene and having to race to catch up to the characters. No need for lots of telling in the form of backstory, too much information, or just plain boring details (Many of which are on my own list of first draft grievances).

Anyway… You be the judge with the following examples, which show how The Great Unsaid is effective. I’ll start with a teeny, minor example, and work my way up.:

In the following scene, a guy and girl are waiting for class to start. They are in a discussion about their after school yearbook meeting. This is told from the guy’s POV. For argument’s sake, this is the first time the reader is meeting these characters.

I shrugged. “You know, I don’t know why she’s agreed to let Leon take the majority of the year book pictures. He’s not even good.”

Dana rolled her eyes. “He is good. And you know it.”

“Give me a break, D.” I shook my head and held back what I really wanted to say.

She raised her eyebrows. “Jealous much?”

“Jealous? Are you even serious? Of that loser?”

“Sounds like jealousy to me.” With that flip of her hair and the sarcastic lilt in her voice, I could have screamed.

“Besides,” she whispered with a sly smile. “You take good pictures, too.”

I laughed louder than I meant to, remembering that winter day in Central Park, how it had started with photos of snowy landmarks and ended with us kissing in Strawberry Fields, the snow practically melting around us. Things hadn’t cooled off much between us since.

See, a scene like this grabs me more as a reader because when it starts I have no idea these two ever even hooked up. I think they are just a guy and a girl who work on yearbook together and are having an argument. As a matter of fact, I'm not even sure they get along, which makes the reveal of their relationship that much more of a punch. There is no sexual tension, no clue to their history until she makes a flirty comment and he has the memory. Isn’t this much more effective than giving the info before the scene? Let’s say before their conversation I had said something like:

While waiting for Spanish to start, I turned to Dana. She looked good, sitting there in her black jeans and tee shirt and I thought about that first day we’d hooked up last winter. Six months later, our relationship was still going strong.

If I launched into the conversation at that point, wouldn’t it be more blah, knowing exactly where the characters stood with each other? Isn’t it more fun to try and figure out where it’s going and learn something new about the characters? Doesn’t the NOT saying it upfront make it more powerful when it is revealed?

Another example of show vs. tell via The Great Unsaid:

Told from the POV of a girl on her way to school:

Glancing at the clock on my dashboard, I pulled into the same spot I always parked in. I realized I had to hurry. I was meeting my boyfriend before homeroom, like I had every morning for the past year. He didn’t like when I was late and we’d had one too many fights over it already. I hated disappointing him.


I took the turn into the parking lot faster than I should have. With barely a glance at myself in the mirror, I hopped out of the car and hurried across the parking lot. A chill cut through the air, but I was sweating.

Josh waited at my locker, his jaw clenched. “You’re late.”

“Sorry, babe.” I stretched on my toes to kiss him but he turned away.

“Seriously, can’t you ever be on time?” When he crossed his arms over his chest, I felt something tighten in mine.

“I said I was sorry.” My voice was barely a whisper.

The first example is not only straight up boring, but it tells us too much off the bat. It tells everything, actually, and doesn't show a thing. In the second example, we read along to find out where she is going and what’s going on. Watching her rush from her car makes me ask, what’s the rush, where is she going, why is she in a hurry? It makes me want to know what happens next. I don’t need her to tell us this guy is her boyfriend. By showing her kissing him, I see they are in some type of relationship. I don’t need her to tell how she hates disappointing him, I can feel it in the tightening of her chest, in her barely whispered response. I don’t need to be told how angry he gets, I can see it in his clenched jaw, in the turning of his head, his crossed arms.

An example of a little more traditional show vs. tell is below. This is a typical case of where a tell-y scene can sneak into a story and how it can be fleshed out for more character development and action.

This scene is from the point of view of a guy observing Jeffrey, his best friend, making conversation with a couple from their high school that they don’t know during a basketball game.

She leaned over, shook Jeffrey’s hand. “I’m Teresa, this is my boyfriend Phil.” Phil nodded another hello, looking Jeffrey up and down.

Jeffrey stuck out his hand with a big smile. “What’s up, man?”

Phil smiled. “Hey. How’s it going?” He nodded to the court and said something about our team I didn’t quite hear, his posture relaxed. Jeffrey nodded and grinned.

The conversation rolled into something about the game and the team we were playing. Phil glanced over Jeffrey’s shoulder a few times, toward a group of girls huddled by the gym’s back doors. Teresa didn’t seem to notice, or didn’t care if she did. I tried to follow the conversation, but I was lost.


She leaned over, shook Jeffrey’s hand. “I’m Teresa, this is my boyfriend Phil.” Phil nodded another hello, looking Jeffrey up and down.

Jeffrey stuck out his hand with a big smile. “What’s up, man?”

Phil smiled. “Hey. How’s it going?” He nodded to the court and said something about our team I didn’t quite hear, his posture relaxed. Jeffrey nodded and grinned.

“So what’s up with these clowns?” Jeffrey chin nodded to the visiting team.

Phil snorted. “They don’t have a prayer. They’ve only won one game the whole season and it was against Southtown.

Jeffrey grimaced and laughed. “Southtown? I didn’t even know they were allowed to play anymore. After awhile it just gets embarrassing for a team like that, you know?”

I stared at him, amazed. How did he know about this shit? And who was Southtown?

“Yeah, right?” Phil laughed too, looking over Jeffrey’s shoulder. I followed his glance to a group of freshman girls. He stared for a long moment, his eyes roaming the whole group of them, almost drinking their bodies in with his eyes. Teresa, still hanging on his arm, didn’t seem to notice.

“We’re only up by ten though.” Jeffrey looked up at the scoreboard. “You’d think if they were that bad, we’d be killing.”

Phil nodded, and as much as I tried to follow along, I was lost.

Again, not much commentary needed. Same as the other examples. Don’t we learn more about the two guys’ personalities by seeing their conversation rather than the first example that just tells the reader they had a conversation? And don’t we get a creeptastic impression of Phil as he’s ogling the freshman girls? And a clue about the girlfriend who doesn't notice or care? And something about the MC too, in his reactions to what he sees and hears?

Even if it is just a boring conversation about a basketball game, glossing over it, as I did in the first example, makes the reader feel rushed and like they’re missing something. It pulls them right out of the story and makes those characters feel flat and unreal.

Show vs. Tell, The Great Unsaid, whatever you want to call it, is nearly impossible to put your finger on, yet one of the simplest things in the world. It’s difficult to learn, but once you get it, you get it, and it becomes part of your "writing toolbox," to borrow a term from Stephen King.

The bad thing is, getting it seems to only come through tons of practice. The more we write and the more we read, the better we get at showing vs. telling, but I do think it’s something all writers probably struggle with throughout their careers, especially in first drafts when we are trying to just get the story out. I’ve written a handful of novels and even though I feel I’m able to see it easier than I used to, it still sneaks in all over my drafts. I’m sure it always will.

Link to Part II of the Show vs. Tell Discussion

Monday, October 4, 2010

Author Interview: Dee Garretson, Middle Grade Author

Today I had the pleasure of interviewing Dee Garretson, Middle Grade author of Wildfire Run. Read below for Dee’s insights on writing and publishing! Also, Dee was kind enough to offer a free giveaway of Wildfire run, so if you’d like to enter, or if you have any comments or questions for her, leave your info in the comments and she’ll stop by later. Thanks, Dee!

Before we get started with the interview, here’s a bit about Wildfire Run: The president's retreat, Camp David, is one of the safest places in the United States. So why can't the President's son, Luke, and his friends Theo and Callie stay there without Secret Service agents constantly hovering over them, watching their every move? And yet, when an earthquake sets off a raging wildfire, causing a chain reaction that wreaks havoc at Camp David, they are suddenly on their own.

Now Luke needs a plan:

• To override the security systems

• To save those who were supposed to save him

• To get through an impassable gate

• To escape Camp David

Hi Dee! Thanks so much for talking with me today. First, I’d like to talk a bit about your debut novel, Wildfire Run. What was your inspiration for this novel?

Way back when Jimmie Carter was president, I remember hearing all the criticism of his daughter, Amy, for reading a book during a state dinner. All I could think of at the time was that would have been me. It made me aware of the strange lives presidential children lead. I didn’t think much about it again until the presidential primary races in 2008. There were several candidates with younger children or grandchildren, and it led me to again wonder what life would be like for children in that situation.

Luke and his friends are pretty cool characters. Authors often pull character traits from themselves or someone they know. How many of Luke, Theo or Callie’s attributes were inspired by your own family?

Luke’s inventiveness is pulled directly from my father. I had a fascinating but odd childhood, because my father was an inventor with his own small company. It was his hobby as well, so we were always using things he made. We used to canoe down rivers for fun, and he didn’t like the fact that once we were done canoeing, going back to get our car was a real problem. His solution was to cut a canoe in half, weld a panel on the cut part of the half to make it waterproof, then tow it behind us with a very small motorcycle in it, so he could ride the motorcycle back to the car. The motorcycle was very tiny. It looked like it belonged in a circus and my father wasn’t a small man. You can get the picture. Anyway, it was easy to write Luke’s quirkiness using my father as inspiration.

Other than that, all the characters are melded from non-family people I’ve observed over time. As one of the moms who are always chauffeuring kids and friends, I’ve listened in on many conversations and that’s been a great help.

I know Wildfire Run is the first of a series. Can you give us at least a little hint about the sequel? What can we expect more of? Less?

Wildfire Run is part of a non-traditional series. The second book, Wolf Storm, is an outdoor adventure as well, but it has different characters in it. It’s about kid actors on location filming a blockbuster sci fi movie. They get trapped in a blizzard and have to figure out how to survive all the things I throw at them. It was great fun to write. I’m a big movie fan, so I watched quite a few behind-the-scenes DVDs about popular movies, to get an accurate feel for the setting and the characters. That book will be released 09/01/2011.

Camp David is such a fun setting for a middle grade book. I’m sure most Americans have at one time or another wondered about the Presidential Retreat. Your setting felt very real to me. How much of it was learned through research versus how much is purely fictional?

Researching Camp David and the Secret Service was extremely difficult because I wanted an accurate feel to the book, yet for security reasons there is not much factual information available, particularly since 9/11. I read every nonfiction book I could find that had mentions of the place and of the Secret Service. I purposely stayed away from any fiction, because I didn’t want to be influenced by other writers’ imaginations. The rest of it just came from me thinking about what would make sense in a place like that, and then I let my imagination really go on the defense weapons. Interestingly, the part about the pool being built over the old bomb shelter is true, according to one of the nonfiction books I read. Richard Nixon really wanted the pool in a particular site, and it cost quite a bit of money to reinforce the roof of the old bomb shelter so the weight of the water wouldn’t collapse it.

Are there any particular themes you write to/readers you want to reach?

Basically, I wanted this to be a very fun book for readers. I did use aspects of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey to map out how the plot would progress, because I knew that would strengthen Luke’s character arc. All of that is cleverly hidden, I hope, within the story, so that when kids are actually reading the book, the themes are there without kids feeling like they are being taught a lesson.

What was your favorite part of writing Wildfire Run?

The best part of writing it was the research, and you can probably see why from my answer above. I also liked figuring out how the kids would interact with each other, and trying to get the dialogue to sound like kidspeak.

Most challenging?

The most challenging was trying to find the right balance between action and character development. Writing this type of middle grade book was an exercise in seeing just how lean I could go in my writing. It’s supposed to be a real page turner, so I couldn’t let the action slow down much.

Luke and Theo love to get techy with their robotics. What are some of your favorite hobbies?

My hobbies right now mostly involve things I can do with my family. I’m very conscious of time passing, and of my children growing up, so I want to take advantage of spending as much time with them as possible. We like to see movies, work on art and craft projects, cook together, things like that. We also love to travel. For myself, I love to read, of course, and so that’s what I do when I need some escape time.

Wildfire Run is a great adventure story for middle grade readers. It’s so much fun to read and figure out! What type of young reader were you? What were your favorite books/authors?

I read anything adventure, history or mystery-oriented. I loved books like Little House on the Prairie, Nancy Drew, and A Wrinkle in Time. I also loved animal stories, but only if no animals died. I didn’t like sad books, and I still don’t. I don’t want to cry when I read something. When I got older, I was very into science fiction and fantasy. I loved the Lord of the Rings, and Dune, particularly.

Since there are probably some aspiring authors that will read this, can you tell us a bit about your road to publication? When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

I wrote as a child and as a teenager, but then I made the mistake of giving it up after I got discouraged by the criticism from a college English teacher. Now looking back on it, I understand he was just doing his job, but I was ridiculously oversensitive. I started writing again when my now fifteen year old son was a baby. Since then, I wrote sporadically over the years, even stopped for a couple of years when we adopted our daughter from China, and then really started again when she started kindergarten. I’m always amazed at writers who manage to get anything written with toddlers. My brain is too fried by the end of a day of keeping up with a toddler, that it turns to mush.

Tell us about your journey to getting an agent.

I tried for several years to get an agent for a historical mystery I had written and rewritten. I had a great query, but I couldn’t get much interest at all, and I think it was because at the time, the cozy mystery market had really dropped off. It’s coming back now, but I heard an agent speak at a conference then who said even her current clients were struggling to find new types of books to write, because she couldn’t sell their mysteries.

I almost gave up, and then my son starting begging me to read some of his middle grade books. He loved books by Anthony Horowitz and Eoin Colfer. I read several, and thought, why not? There was no harm in trying. I also went to an extensive writer’s workshop that really stressed picking a concept to make an agent take notice. The overriding message was ‘Don’t be too quiet.’ I wrote the book, then called Escape from Camp David, and sent out two trial queries. I had one request for a full, but that agent rejected the book because he said it was too improbable. I tweaked the manuscript a bit, sent out four more queries and got two more requests for fulls. After all the years I struggled, that was an amazing feeling. One of those led to me signing with an agent.

And how about finding your publisher?

My agent has a strategy of only submitting to only a few publishers at a time, so if there is something in the manuscript that needs to be fixed, you don’t burn through all your possibilities without the opportunity for revising. We were lucky enough to get a revise and resubmit offer from one of the first three she submitted to. One other turned us down, and the remaining one offered a revise and resubmit after we already had a firm offer from the original R&R. There’s no way I was going to turn down a sure thing, so that’s how the book ended up with HarperCollins.

What is the best part of the publishing process?

Finally seeing the book on the shelf in a bookstore. I know that’s kind of a lame, boring thing to say, but it’s true.

The worst?

The worst part is the lack of control writers have over most elements in the process, from the title to the cover to the marketing. Suddenly, your work is in the hands of other people, who may have a completely different vision for it than you do.

Thanks Dee! Looking forward to reading more exciting middle grade adventures from you in the future!

Make sure to check out the trailer for Wildfire Run!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Summer Issue of the Meadowland Review Now Live (and more!)

The Summer 2010 issue of The Meadowland Review is now available. Check it out!

The Meadowland Review is now reading submissions for Fall 2010.

Also, The Unbreakable Child by the very awesome Kim Richardson is now available for pre-order from Amazon. A large percentage of proceeds from sales goes to the residential treatment home to help severely abused teens.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Author Interview: Lisa Brackmann, Suspense Author

Today I had the pleasure of interviewing
Lisa Brackmann, author of Rock Paper Tiger. Read below for Lisa’s insights on writing, publishing and Rock Paper Tiger. Also, Lisa was kind enough to offer to answer any reader questions, so if you have anything to ask her, leave it in the comments and she'll stop by later to answer them!

Before we get started with the interview, here’s a bit about Rock Paper Tiger: Iraq vet Ellie McEnroe is down and out in China, trying to lose herself in the alien worlds of performance artists and online gamers. When a chance encounter with a Uighur fugitive drops her down a rabbit hole of conspiracies, Ellie must decide who to trust among the artists, dealers, collectors and operatives claiming to be on her side – in particular, a mysterious organization operating within a popular online game.

Hi Lisa! Thanks so much for talking with me today. First, I’d like to talk a bit about your debut novel, Rock Paper Tiger. What was your inspiration for RPT?

I had two basic inspirations. The first was that I was interested in setting a novel in today’s China, which I think has been underutilized in Western fiction. If you do see China as a setting, it tends to be period pieces, and while I like to read about China in the past, it’s such a vital, fascinating place today. I’ve been traveling to China for about thirty years, and I wanted to share some of what I’ve experienced.

My second inspiration was the Iraq War and the “War on Terror,” specifically the prisoner abuse scandals and the policy of indefinite detention, both of which in my opinion violate some of our most fundamental Constitutional principles. To me, torture disguised as “enhanced interrogation” and imprisoning people without allowing them their day in court betray the best values of our country.

Ellie is pretty amazing. She’s one of the most honest characters I’ve read in recent fiction. Authors often pull character traits from themselves or someone they know. How much of yourself is in Ellie?

This is a hard question for me to answer, because I didn’t really think that much about her character per se; the voice just more or less popped into my head when I started writing. I knew that she had served in Iraq and had some traumatic experiences there, that she’d been injured, but that was all I knew. I quickly decided that she’d joined the National Guard because of an unstable family situation and economic insecurity, both of which told me something about her as well. I knew that she needed a specialty in the military, and I did give her a skill set that I have – a number of years ago I certified as an EMT, and though it’s been a long time and I don’t remember many details, I felt that I could handle that with more credibility than say, making her a Humvee mechanic. But when I did that I had no idea that her medic background would play so heavily into the story. Mostly I thought about what it would be like to be young, female and thrown into a war that you’d hadn’t planned on fighting.
There’s a lot of betrayal going on with Ellie, by her husband, by her country, and I think in part she’s a reflection of my own anger at the betrayal of our country by our leaders.

Rock Paper Tiger has such a wonderful and unique setting. Set part in China and part in wartime Iraq. What inspired you to write a novel in these settings?

See above.

What was your favorite part of writing RPT?

A lot of it was fun to write. I liked thinking of all those little details to make China come alive. I like the humor that’s threaded throughout the book (I totally crack myself up, to be honest!). As I remarked in another interview, writing the really intense, disturbing stuff is fun in a weird way, even if it does lead me to question my own mental health for thinking of it and writing about it.

Most challenging?

Truthfully, it was a hard book to write overall. Weaving the flashback Iraq plot with the “present day” plot was tough, because you have to maintain the tension in both plot threads. I also did a ton of research on the Iraq setting and the war, and after a while reading all of this really disturbing stuff was pretty depressing. Plus, I was concerned about presenting both major settings accurately, especially Iraq, given that I’ve never been there. Some of the most meaningful compliments I’ve gotten on this book came from vets who asked me if I’d been in the Army. That made me feel really good, because I wanted to do a credible job. I am also super-happy about the response I’ve gotten from China-based people – even though I have a lot of experience there and go on average once a year, I haven’t lived in China for a long time. It’s just very important to me to get the little things right.

Reading RPT, I often felt myself wanting a nice cold beer. Ellie’s favorite beer is Yanjing. What’s yours?:)

Well, I am a native San Diegan, and we have a micro-brewing culture down there that can compete with anyplace in the world – awesome handmade beer and ales. I’m a big fan of everything Stone Brewery does, for example. And Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale. Yum! When I’m in Beijing, I do drink quite a lot of Yanjing, and I really do like it.

Rock Paper Tiger was such a gripping, exciting novel. What can we expect from you in the future. Any projects underway?

Right now I’m working on another novel of “existential suspense” set in Mexico, that deals with the intersection of drug cartels, political power and another woman in over her head (although she’s a very different character than Ellie). I’m through a few drafts and into the heavy revisions right now. After that, I plan on returning to China, and I already have a pretty good start on a story that I’m really enthusiastic about.

Since there are probably some aspiring authors that will read this, can you tell us a bit about your road to publication? When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve been writing since I first learned that there were these things called “words” that you could put on paper to tell a story. It’s surprising in a way that it took me so long to seriously pursue publication, because writing is the thing that I have always done, that I’ve always been passionate about, and I think a part of me has always known that it’s the thing I’m meant to be doing. I just circled around it for a number of years! I’ve always written with seriousness, but RPT is the first novel that I set out to write with the intention of getting an agent and selling it.

Tell us about your journey to getting an agent.

It was actually a relatively short journey! Nathan Bransford was about the sixth agent I queried. I was already pretty discouraged about the book and ready to throw it in a metaphoric drawer – as mentioned, I’d set out to write something I could sell, and I still ended up with a pretty weird novel that I wasn’t at all sure was sellable. One of my writing group members (Purgatory’s own Redzilla) suggested I query Nathan: “He likes novels set in foreign countries, and he has a blog.” I figured I might as well give it a shot. I studied up on his blog and tried to get a sense of what he liked. I read some books by one of his clients. Like just about every writer out there, I’d had a lot of trouble coming up with a decent query, so one night after a really large glass of wine, I stayed up late and rewrote mine for the umpteenth time. Then I shrugged and hit “send,” not really expecting anything to come of it.
The next morning I had a request for the partial, and later that day, for the full.

And how about finding your publisher?

Before I get to that, I should tell you that I revised the MS for seven months with Nathan before going out on submission. It was actually pretty fun because Nathan is a really good reader/editor, and we worked well together. And I’m really glad that I did all that work on the front end, before going out on submission, because ultimately when Soho did offer on the book, I had very little to do in the way of editorial revisions. I’d much rather work that way than be under contract and under all that pressure to revise. I don’t have any illusions that it will be the same for every book that I write, but I am always going to strive for getting the book as absolutely good as I can get it before subbing.
RPT went out on submission during one of the most challenging periods in publishing since the Depression. My timing could not have worse. There were deals that might have happened in a better economic time that didn’t happen. Ultimately I really feel that it worked out for the best, because I don’t think RPT could have found a better home than Soho. They are a dream to work with – they have a creative vision, they really get behind their books; they support their authors – it’s been a blast.

What is the best part of the publishing process?

Boy, it’s all been so much better than I expected it would be. I’ve gotten to work with some great people at Soho. I ended up with an awesome-looking book – getting that cover felt like winning the lottery. I’ve traveled to bookstores for events and signings – bookstore people are wonderful. The response to the book has been really gratifying overall. The whole gig of being a professional author – I like it, and I love the community around it.

The worst?

There’s definitely increased pressure and the worry that I won’t be able to live up to my first book. I don’t want to repeat myself, but I worry that people will want a second book that’s like the first one. I worry about the quality of what I’m doing, mostly, and now people are paying attention to what I write. Before, I just wrote what I felt like and I could choose to share it or not. Now, I have people who expect things from me. It’s a little daunting!

Thanks Lisa! I’m looking forward to reading more exciting books from you in the future!