Do You Really Know How To Show, Don’t Tell?

Let me preface this post by saying, I found this generator that rates post titles. Which is why this title seems a bit cocky. It rated high and I’m using it as a test. For those of you who are new to my site and don’t know me, I assure you I do not think I’m better than anyone. This is only a test to see if higher rated titles really drive more traffic. Stay tuned for a post on this if it works. If it doesn’t…crickets.

guilty-puppy

Yesterday marked my deadline for completing the pre-edits for Marred. “Pre-edits” seems like it would be an easy task. It wasn’t. Once the track edits begin in two weeks I’m not allowed to change anything other than what the editor points out. So I wanted to go through the manuscript…one…more…time…and improve it to the best of my ability. I went word-by-word, line-by-line, scene-by-scene…and checked scene structure, MRUs, and overall suspense, chose stronger verbs, deleted filler, etc. etc. And I learned something about myself. I am a perfectionist who is never happy until I’ve ripped everything apart, drove myself crazy, pulled out half my hair, beaten myself into exhaustion, and then rebuilt. Now, I’m satisfied…for two weeks…until the cycle begins again.

Is this a flaw? I think so, but it also drives me to improve.

In the pre-edits I looked for writing tics and things that dragged down the writing and/or slowed the pacing. The phrase “Show, Don’t Tell” is some of the oldest and most misunderstood advice in the industry. Show, Don’t Tell does not only mean to show a character’s action instead of naming an emotion; it goes way deeper than that.

When you write in Deep POV, like so many books today, even your narrative must Show, Don’t Tell. It should read as though the character is speaking rather than author intrusion. Years ago, books used an omniscient narrator, but today readers expect more. It is at the editing stage where you can amp your writing to the next level by concentrating on these changes.

Telling words are:

S/he thought

Mused

Wondered

Guessed

Hoped

Realized

Wished

Watched…

These words pull the reader out of the story. Think about it. We don’t think, “I wondered if the windshield could stop a bullet.” Or, “I wished I hadn’t gone down this dark alley alone.” We just think it. As such, our stories need to reflect that.

Instead of the first example “I wondered” we need to write “When I saw the gun I ducked under the dash. Could the glass stop a bullet?”

See how more immediate it sounds? The reader remains in the story.

Let’s take the second example. Which is one of my writing tics by the way.

Instead of: “I wished I hadn’t gone down this dark alley.”

Try: “If only I traveled my regular route home.”

Instead of: “She realized he was a creep.”

Try: “Creep.”

We are in the character’s head. Cut the fluff.

Phrases like Seemed to, Tried to, Began to…are also telling phrases. I once read a blog post where the author was ranting about characters “trying to” do things, and he rambled on and on about “Why is everyone only trying? Just do it already!” The post, comical as it was, always stuck with me. The author also happens to be correct. We can’t have our characters “trying” to do something. They do it.

While editing, I was amazed by how many times I used “tried to” or “started to”. For me, this took time to master.

For instance, in Marred I have a section of scene where the deputy sheriff, Frankie Campanelli, shoves the sheriff while he’s rising from the sofa. My first instinct was to write, “As he started to rise she shoved him back down.” There are several things wrong with this sentence, but let’s concentrate on the action. I rewrote the sentence as “He rose halfway and Frankie shoved him onto the sofa.” Less words, more immediate.

We all have our tics. Lord knows I have many. The trick is acknowledging what they are so we correct them during editing. Preferably before you submit to publishers and/or agents. I never was one to do things the “right way”, but I’m paying for it now. Now, I have a ticking clock. Whereas before I could move at my own pace. This becomes even more important if you decide to go the self-publishing route, because once you push that publish button your book is out there. Well, I shouldn’t say “more important”. You could save yourself headaches from reading rejection letters if you tighten your writing before you submit, but that is an entirely different post.

Here’s a writing tic that always cracks me up: “His eyes shot to her little black book. Was that man’s number in there?”

Body parts cannot move independently from the rest of the body. While working with my critique partner we used to laugh about this all the time. It’s easy to write this way in a first draft. Reading the above sentence makes me envision eyeballs shooting across the room and landing on a little black book. Unless you’re writing science fiction where the protagonist is a lovely robot like Lisa, my friend Craig Boyack’s creation, body parts need someone to move them.

Instead of: “His eyes shot across the room.”

Try: “His gaze shot across the room.”

Instead of: “Her arm raised and she waved.”

Try: “She waved.”

Which brings me to…

Double action

When someone waves they obviously have their hand “raised”. Same with “reach”.

Instead of: “He reached out and grabbed the candle.”

Try: “He grabbed the candle.”

Better: “He swiped the candle.”

“Grabbed” is so overused. Always better to find a specific action that paints a more vivid picture in the reader’s mind. “Swiped” shows us he moved quickly like he didn’t want to be seen.

Sensory tells

She heard

Felt

Touched

Smelled

Saw

Tasted

Instead of “She heard a van outside her house and froze.”

Try: “A van rumbled outside her window. She froze.”

Instead of: “She saw a dark-haired man slip through the back gate and into the yard.”

Try: “A dark-haired man slipped between the gates, into the backyard.”

Less is more.

Instead of: “She tasted his blood on her tongue and gagged.”

Try: “She gagged, choking on his blood.”

It may not seem like a big deal to use a few telling words, but it is. After you make these changes, read through your manuscript start to finish and you’ll see a marked improvement in your writing.

Honestly, I have never been more proud of my work. Marred is the best story I’ve ever written and I can hardly wait to share it with the world. I’ll let you in on a little secret…a birdie told me that the pre-release price will be 99 cents. If you want a copy of Marred, for yourself or as gift for someone else, take advantage of the sale because a few days after release it goes to full price. Not that it will break your piggy bank even then, but why not get it for a rock-bottom price? The pre-release sale begins the middle of September. I’ll post an announcement when it becomes available.

I should have a cover to show you soon. Hopefully in time for my next post. Until then, happy writing. I’m off to tear apart Timber Point to get it ready for submission. The work never stops, but it’s so much fun!

Have a wonderful week! I’m hoping to catch up on social media over these two weeks too. Why aren’t there more hours in the day? That was rhetorical. My real question to you is this…do you have any tips to share? If you’re a reader, what pulls you out of a story?

Looking for a way to commit murder? Sign up for your FREE copy of 50 Ways To Murder Your Fictional Characters.

Rhythmic Beats… Fiction Writing

You may have noticed I’ve been absent lately. To meet my deadline I’ve had to pull away from social media while I work on my first rounds of edits for Marred, design my cover with the art department, and write my tagline and jacket blurb. It’s an exciting time, but I also had a stark realization that I cannot squeeze forty-eight hours into twenty-four. Which was a little disheartening. Admitting that one is human is never easy. It’s humbling, to say the least.

How self-published authors find time to blog and engage on social media is mind-boggling. Of course I suppose they don’t have a deadline hanging over their head, but still…they have to do everything alone. So before I get into this post I think a round of applause is warranted to all of you who choose this path. You’re very brave, and I commend you for having the guts to walk this path. That’s not to say traditional publishing is easier. In my experience there’s more heartbreak and devastation, but at least you end up with a team to help you once you climb out of the slush pile.

Anyway, back to my point.

While editing I find myself consumed with sentence rhythm, matching the character’s inner emotion to the words on the page. Not only by choosing the correct word, but also by concentrating on the way sentences are constructed.

Perhaps sentence rhythm excites me because I’m an auditory writer, as my last guest, Paul Dale Anderson, clarified for me. If you haven’t read his post What Kind Of Writer Are You? you can find it here.

I’ve always noticed rhythmic beats while reading, the way some authors can captivate me by how they place words on a page. I’m not talking about a writer’s voice, though that also plays a part. No, this is something else, something magical, a certain je né sais quoi. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I discovered this mysterious attraction had a namesentence rhythm.

For some reason there’s not a lot out there about sentence rhythm. Why, I have no idea. Because by assigning it a label we can look at a paragraph, or an entire scene, that’s not working and have another tool to use to fix it. 

Sentence Rhythm

To give you a better understanding of what I’m talking about, let’s talk music for a minute.

When you hear a love song your breathing relaxes, your pulse rate slows, muscles ease with the flow of the music, your body begins to sway…back and forth…the sweet sounds lulling you into tranquility.

A fast beat makes you want to jump up and dance, fling out your hands, belt out the song.

Hard core rock. Muscles tense. Head bobs. You want to shout, stomp your feet.

It’s the same for writing.

For example:

Following a winding dirt trail, Sarah strolled through the woods near her home. Beauty and nature surrounded her; she loved being alone with her thoughts. Admiring a hawk overhead, she heard sweet serenades of bullfrogs croaking in a nearby pond and squirrels scurrying through pine needles, scattering chestnuts across the forest floor.

Last Saturday she entertained friends. Three couples relaxed on the back deck of her cozy log cabin, laughing at life, basking in the warmth of friendship. The women sipped fine wine and picked on a succulent fruit platter while their husbands inhaled every piece of barbecue chicken on the grill. The men did not know their wives had outsmarted them, with three juicy steaks marinating in the fridge. Suppressing a titter, Sarah nonchalantly wiped steak sauce off her lips before kissing Carl.

As Sarah’s new Nikes swept across the soft soil she hummed a sweet melody that reminded her of a time long ago–the treasured day she first met Carl. A smile spread across her face, her heart overflowing with love.

What a perfect day.

Can you feel her joy, her peacefulness?

Danger loomed ahead. A dark figure craned his neck around the side of a wide ash tree. Piercing black eyes. Long leather coat. Nature concealed the rest of his body.

Sarah’s heart slammed against her ribs.

He pulled back, out of sight. No shadow. No sign of where he went.

Eyes wide, she stopped dead.

A quick glance behind told her she was alone. Except for him, the man who invaded her space. The man who reeked of evil intentions. The man she never expected to see again. What if he lunged from the bushes? No one would know, no one would help.

She gaped left, right. Panic drummed at her ears. She couldn’t move, couldn’t run. Her feet rooted to the soil.

An icy tongue licked up her spine. How did he find me?

The area betrayed her, turned deadly quiet. Animal sounds coiled through her bones. Sticks cracked in half. Leaves shuffled under heavy boots. The hawk squawked short, quick caws…a cry of danger. For those terrified moments everything stopped. The bullfrogs went silent, chipmunks froze in their tracks. Even the wind didn’t dare move.

Can you feel her fear?

I’ve exaggerated both scenes to make my point. You can probably guess what sort of words affect rhythm. For a languid feel we want run-on or complex sentences. Past particles, verbs ending with -ing, give the impression of time passing, a sense of continuation. We can also put descriptive phrases before the subject and verb, like I did in the first sentence of the first paragraph.

When trouble happens sentences fragment. Jerk. Split in two. The reader tenses, her fight or flight response kicks in, eyes narrow on the page. Lots of -ed, hard sounding verbs and sentence fragments increase tension and build suspense. We want our most important word–the verb–in a place of prominence. I like to also break up my paragraphs. The more white space, the faster someone reads. Drag the reader along, force them to continue. If we have huge blocks of words they’re more apt to stop, lose their place, or get thrown out of the story. Not a good thing for us.

Examples of hard sounding verbs are: crash, halt, thunder, thud, screech, explode, bark… Add -ed to any of these and feel your heart race.

Examples of soft sounding verbs are: whisper, swish, snap, patter, drawl, rustle… Add -ing to any of these and feel your breathing slow, your neck muscles ease.

Here is an excellent resource with words broken down by the five senses…sight, touch, hearing, taste, smell: http://fcw.needham.k12.ma.us/~cristina_malinn/S02B36079.0/ for those times when the right word escapes you. I love this list; it’s my go-to place when my brain refuses to cooperate.

When I’m in the “zone” writing with rhythmic beats becomes natural. I even find myself striking the keys during suspenseful moments. Or brushing over them as I write easy-going passages. Perhaps Robert Frost was including sentence rhythm when he wrote his famous quote: no tears“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.”

If we don’t feel our words we cannot expect anyone else to, either.

As I go through Marred I remember how I felt when I wrote the words. And, in turn, the passages evoke the same visceral responses in me. It’s wonderful, like reuniting with family members I haven’t seen for a while. I’d forgotten how much I loved this story. I poured a lot of myself into this book. Not the plot, not even the main conflict. Little things in each character, but real, sometimes raw, pieces of my soul. I think all writers do that to a certain extent. Don’t you?

Your turn. Do you like to use sentence rhythm in your writing? What attracts you to certain authors? How much of yourself are in your stories and/or characters?

 

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It’s Official… I Did It!

The last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind of excitement, fear, anxiety, angst, and overwhelming joy all rolled into one enormous feeling of upheaval. Why? Because I landed a publishing deal for my novel MARRED!!!

happydance

Now that the legal issues are out-of-the-way, the contract signed and sent back, I can finally share the news. MARRED will be released this fall.

And it terrifies me.

The world will see my words, experience my story.

What if no one likes it? What if readers shred me in reviews? What if it doesn’t sell?

These are real fears, albeit probably foolish ones. I have to wonder if other authors feel this way, too. Not many talk about this aspect of publishing. Perhaps it’s because they don’t want potential readers to know. Whatever the reason, I believe admitting that I’m human with real fears about failure is just being honest. How can that be a bad thing? Actually, I feel a little better saying it out loud writing it.

victims

When I started taking my writing seriously I had one specific goal in mind, to find an agent and get traditionally published by a large house. I stuck to that goal until it blinded me. Because when you have your heart set on one specific way to get published you tend to shut out other opportunities. Looking back, I realize how one-sided this line of thinking was. In today’s publishing world there are many ways to turn your dreams into reality. Don’t be like me and waste years on only one path. Branch out, consider your options.

Which is exactly what I did this year. Instead of querying agents I decided to go direct to publishers, a frightening venture indeed. I sent my manuscript to four publishers. If you decide to go this route here’s what you need to keep in mind: agents do NOT want a manuscript that’s been “shopped around”. Meaning, if you send your manuscript to every small and medium press and then get rejected, you’ve effectively tied their hands. Very few debuts get picked up by one of the Big Five. I think the statistics show 1% out of 100. You have a better shot of winning the lottery. Which is why agents look at these small to medium presses as great alternatives.

Does this mean you shouldn’t try? Absolutely not. Just don’t close your eyes to other options, like I did.

I sent my manuscript to my top three choices and to one imprint I’d never heard of (still don’t know who they are). And then — BAM, an offer. By email. As I read and reread the email I kept waiting for the word “unfortunately” to pop up, certain I had missed it along the way.

Hearing about a team of editors who LOVED my story nearly knocked me off my chair.

I glanced up at my husband, Bob, who was on his way upstairs. “Honey, I think I just scored a publishing deal.”

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He twirled back to me. “What? How?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Remember when I told you I was sending out a few submissions to test the waters? Well, one of them already wrote back. They said they loved my story. A whole team of editors loved my story.”

“What do we do? Ask for a contract?”

“It’s here. Now. Along with all kinds of other stuff, including a sheet for the Cover Art Department asking me for my input; how I want the cover to look.”

Bob didn’t move, shock registering on his face. A pause. And then his brow furrowed with confusion. “But I thought you’d get a call.”

“Me too. And fireworks, a marching band, a plane skywriting the news above our house.”

“Maybe you should read the contract before we get too excited.”

He was right. And so I did.

Moments later, an unintentional shriek escaped from somewhere deep inside me. “It’s true! I’m officially a published author!”

Hooping and hollering ensued.

Next, came the writing of emails to ask advice from other authors I respect who’ve been through this process, followed by running outside to tell the neighbors (we live on a mountain with two other houses so we’re all extremely close).

I then buckled down, went over all the material my new publisher sent and wrote letters to the other houses thanking them for their time. I was now committed. This was it. My dream was becoming a reality right before my eyes.

Sue Coletta, Published Author.

It seemed too good to be true. Something must be wrong… that little bugger self-doubt creeping in, again.

Now came the hard part… I couldn’t tell anyone. Not until I had signed the contract, the deal official. Although, if someone happened to cross paths with me during that period, virtually or in person, I felt compelled to share my news, but swore them to secrecy. A few friends who’d been fighting along with me, down this road called “the traditional path into publishing”, got an email too.

awesome

A release this fall is extremely quick, even for a small press. For some reason, that I am trying very hard not to question, the publisher had a few spots open for their fall release and want to include MARRED. To complete everything in time will be a lot of hard work, but hey, that’s nothing new. I worked three straight years without ever taking time off, even a half-day. That’s how focused I was in achieving my dream; it meant everything to me. Still does.

Without missing a beat, I set a new goal, a new dream, one I will work just as hard for, if not harder. In my opinion, this is one of the many aspects that’s so great about this whole writing gig. You never know everything; there’s always more to learn, strive for, look forward to, a focal point to zero in on. I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it a gazillion more times. Set a goal and then rejoice when you accomplish it. The more small goals you achieve along the way to your big dream the more confidence you build. In theory.

This is a huge win for me. Now it’s time to work toward my next goal, and the next, and the next. It’s a never-ending cycle that ebbs and flows as your craft reaches new heights.

No other business that I’m aware of can say that, just as no other group is as supportive as the writing community. Without all of you, I could never have made it this far. You’ve been my rock when rejections stung, my cheering section when I achieved small successes, and my inspiration when I felt like I should hang up my keyboard. Writers are the most caring, generous people in the world, and I feel blessed to be part of this community.

brill

Before I let you go enjoy the rest of your weekend, I wanted to also let you know that I bought a new domain for this site: http://www.suecoletta.com. Crimewriterblog.com will still work too. I’ve heard horror stories about successful authors who couldn’t buy their own name because others bought all the sites to profit on their success, writing posts, selling books, basically posing as that author. So before I ever sell one book I wanted to make sure this could never happen to me.

I’m sure I’ll share what I learn as I work with the editors, artists, etc., and show you my cover once it’s available. This is such an exciting time in my life. I never thought I’d be so happy to do the little things, like updating my PayPal to a business account to sell books at signings, conferences, and the like. If you haven’t experienced it yet — it’s awesome!

I’m riding this high for as long as possible. I even took most of the day off yesterday. It felt so weird being away from my keyboard.

happy ny

Ready or not, here I come!

3 Tips To Strengthen Your Fictional Story

In a recent post, 3 Tips To Amp Up Your Writing, I spoke about narrative voice and how to use it. Today I have 3 more tips to strengthen your stories.

Tip #1:  Grounding your reader when switching POV

When you alternate POVs you need to ground your reader in the first sentence so there is no question who’s narrating. Keep in mind, you should limit your POV characters to three so you don’t confuse your readers.

How do we ground our readers? By making sure our first sentence uses the POV character’s name or “I” (for first person) to show who’s narrating. You can show what your character is looking at or what he/she is thinking/feeling as long as you show whose view it is.

Here are two examples below. The first is straight forward, the second a little trickier, but in both there is no question whose scene it is.

On his way to another crime scene Sheriff Niko Quintano listened to the radio as he drove down Bailey Road in Alexandria. 

Five months after the discovery of Ms. Lambert’s body Detective Manson retired, which made Niko question how hard he had worked the homicide, if he was just biding time or if this case was the reason he’d left the job.

If you want to set the scene by showing the milieu then you need to relate it to the POV character. Example…

A light shot out from a basement window, screamed across the hauntingly quiet forest floor, and Sage’s pulse quickened from the thought of who or what was in that basement.

Castle

Tip #2:  Grounding your reader in a flashback

Many new writers think by just saying, “She thought back to a time when…” that is enough to show the reader they are in a flashback. It isn’t. Which is why some readers hate flashbacks. By using this trick you will ensure your reader is never confused by what is a flashback and what is present time.

This little trick is so simple some of you will kick yourself for not knowing this.

When your POV character flashes back to an event add “had” to the first and last sentence of the flashback. That’s it. Just a tiny three-letter word makes your flashback perfectly clear.

Here’s an example so you can see what I mean:

Her mind spiraled back in time, to when she was seventeen years old and her mother had just told her her father was dead. Nikki felt her chest tighten, her mind buzzing with images of what could have transpired in the short few hours since he left the house. She sobbed, keening over her loss. A second later she quieted, noticing the look on her mother’s face. It wasn’t sadness she saw, or grief, Mom had a gleam in her eye as though she was happy about the news. Nikki stepped back, away from her mother, not recognizing the woman in front of her.

Her brother Todd burst through the door, his excitement palpable– and she wondered if she was living with a bunch of psychopaths. Nikki gave her mother a spiteful glare and then stomped up the stairs, slammed the door to her room and slid a wooden chair under the knob. Her legs went weak, backing away with short, jerky steps. Later that night, her head propped up on pillows, she had gazed out the window at the night sky and prayed she’d find a way to escape.

As you can see HAD is in my first and last sentence, showing when the reader enters the flashback and when they exit. This technique becomes even more crucial when your flashback continues for several paragraphs. But regardless of length if you use this trick your reader will never be confused.

becket

Tip #3:  Remember that your characters do not live in a bubble.

Life happens around us. Thus, the same applies for our fictional characters. Whether they are in places such as restaurants, cafes or busy shopping malls, or at home or alone in the car by utilizing outside stimuli you’re adding depth to your scene, thereby further drawing your reader into your story.

Let me show you what I mean. This excerpt is from MARRED, where Sage is alone in her SUV.

The sun drained from the afternoon sky and the area around me darkened. The slivered moon rose and offered a feeble attempt at brightening the area. Trees soughed on the hauntingly quiet back road and pebbles crunched under my tires’ thick treads. A low rumble sounded in the distance and became louder as it approached. A man on a Harley sped toward me, his long mustache flattened across his cheeks. When he sailed by my window he gave me a nod and revved his engine, his loud pipes saying hello. The twin engines roared as he gunned it up the dirt road. A puff of smoky gravel trailed behind him, and the ends of his bandana skullcap and gray ponytail flapped in the wake of his escape.

And then I was alone again.

Castle&Becket

As you can see if I had only mentioned her thoughts the scene would become static. Just because your character is alone in her/his vehicle does not mean the world around her/him disappears. Let your words do the work for you. By showing only one motorcycle speed by I’ve also showed the reader that the back road is deserted. Thus, creating an image in the reader’s mind and subtly foreshadowing that something creepy is about to happen.

In another example let’s say your character is unloading a dishwasher when her husband enters the kitchen. Break up your dialogue by showing her taking a glass from the top shelf of the dishwasher and setting in the cabinet, or wiping a soap spot off a wineglass, or uttering a complaint that one of the forks still has crusty food on it.

Remember: Just because someone else enters the room does not mean the action stops for your character. Take the dishwasher example. When a wife is unloading dishes she doesn’t stop to chat with her husband, she chats while she continues to unload the dishes. By showing the continuing action you make your scene more realistic.

If you’ve been following me for a while you know I am a huge fan of Karin Slaughter. She is a master at this technique. Her scenes are so rich with tiny details that you can’t help but be glued to the pages. She had me on the first book and I keep coming back for more. Why? Because I am living these books right along with her characters. I’m in the scenes. Her characters are as real to me as you are. That is great storytelling.

Before I let you go my family and I would like to wish you a happy holiday season… Enjoy!

dashing through the snow

If you have anything to add to one of these tips please do so in the comment section below.

If you enjoyed this post please share it on your favorite social media site. It’s only a click or two. And shares are greatly appreciated.

Thank YOU! And A Sneak Peek of MARRED

Because I’m a bit of a nonconformist I’m not going to write a Thanksgiving post. There are plenty out there for you to enjoy. I will say, however, that I am thankful for my blogging community, in other words YOU, my followers on Twitter, tribe mates on Triberr, friends on Facebook, Goodreads and all the other sites I’m on. The writing community is a force to be reckoned with. The solidarity still amazes me. I am also thankful for my family, friends, and that my dog, Gideon (you met him in a previous post: My Sweet Boys), is finally feeling better today. For a while it was looking like we might lose him. But today, I woke up to a shiny new version of him. Prayer is so powerful. And I’m thankful for winning a spot in another pitch contest. More on that later in the post.

UPDATE: I just found out I’m going to be a grandmother again! This day cannot get any better!

dancing dog

Getting very excited…

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