So it is Christmas morning and you are excited to open all your presents, except when you get to the Christmas tree you find all the presents unwrapped and just sitting there underneath it.
This is like a story where an author feels compelled to let you know everything that the character is thinking, saying and doing.
I wish sometimes I had just remained a reader being totally clueless to anything but what I liked or didn’t like. In the days before I studied writing I could blissfully read through a book and tell you simple things like “Great plot,” or “It didn’t keep my interest,” or “You should read it too.” Unfortunately this has changed since I slipped to the dark side of writing.
Nowadays, after reading a book, I’m more of a critic. Before I couldn’t have told you why a particular book was boring. I understand now it is because of simple things like the author not trusting their readers to have the ability to figure out what is going on behind the scenes without being told.
I want a story where the characters backstory comes out like a slow strip tease. I enjoy putting together the puzzle piece by piece with a final reveal that makes me think “aha!” Take for instance the book I’m currently reading. There is a pregnancy that has complications and they don’t have the medical set-up for it. So far five different characters have noted this and discussed it.
Or the opening of the last book where the character thinks over their entire childhood and then again, a couple chapters later, repeats certain key points of this very same childhood to their friend.
Then there are the characters that go through a scene reporting in their heads what the other person is probably thinking or feeling and all the reasons for that.
When I first heard the ‘show don’t tell’ mantra, I was frustrated as a writer. It is so much harder to show something than just explain it. But remember, humans are observers. Only 20% of communication is through verbal skills. The rest is observation of the actions, facial expressions or body movements. In order to create a feel closest to the actual experience we must write the other 80% as observation.
As a reader, ‘show don’t tell’ is my medium. I understand a furrowed brow, a wink, or a slap across the face. I want the mystery and the chance to solve the emotions or motives behind these silent communications on my own.
I hate it when I read, “She raised her hand, slapping his face with all of her puny strength, feeling really mad. ‘He deserved that,’ she thought angrily.” I would much prefer, “Her face contorted into an animalistic mask of rage as she swung her open palm at his face, connecting with a resounding clap.”
To write an observation, or a ‘show not tell’ scene is hard. It is so tempting to make sure our reader understands what we are trying to say. As a beginner, I’ve made so many of the mistakes I now read in other’s stories. Information dumps, to many adjectives, and descriptions full of to much prose have been a challenge for me. But I know practice makes perfect so I continue to study, edit, pay attention and read.
The one thing being a reader has taught the author in me, don’t baby your reader. Allow them to go on the journey and feel, hear, see, touch and experience it through your character’s eyes.
The tiny five foot frame of Viola, could not contain her enthusiastic spirit for living. It spilled out in unseen waves and touched anyone she came into contact with. I was blessed to be one of those it touched.
While working together on our Church newsletter we got to know each other. I took in the articles, did the layout on my computer then Viola would edit and get it printed and distributed. During the conversations over proper grammar we also shared our past, dreams and family stories.
We had a lot in common despite the thirty year difference in our ages. Down to earth, fair minded and confident, she had an easy acceptance of her role as a woman. Fiercely independent, she easily raised children, helped her husband in his construction company and faced the inconveniences of living in rural Wyoming.
It was her innocent, fun-loving sense of adventure that drew me most. We traveled together many times to different conventions that held something of interest to us. Through all of this I shared my desire and biggest secret – my passion to write.
Viola was my greatest admirer and critic. She pulled no punches when it came to editing. When I would write an article for the newsletter, she would rave about it yet point out all its flaws. I invited her to a writer’s convention and in her spritely way, she enthusiastically agreed to go. In her seventies, she still traveled by herself quite often and thought nothing of taking off on adventures such as flying up to Alaska to visit family.
Set in the lush grounds of the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, at first we both were impressed and overwhelmed. Surely these authors had some special talent that we lacked. But Viola wanted to learn to write memoirs and in her modest, humble way helped me to gradually become comfortable in the company of the successful.
During luncheons and dinners agents were seated at the tables so we would have access to talk to them. At one lunch we had an editor from a romance press sitting between us. Viola had outgoing social skills, while I was reserved, so it was no surprise to me when she struck up a conversation with the woman. Once the introductions were over she launched into a brag session about my skills and dreams. I blushed profusely explaining I had an idea, but had not yet put pen to paper. In the end, the agent was so impressed with Viola’s sale skills; she asked for my information and gave me her card telling me to contact her when I had a manuscript ready.
On the way home we threw ideas together and created the outline for what would become “Windswept Hearts” five years later. Every Sunday, every time we got together she encouraged me to write. Eventually, as I saw time erode away her vitality, I knew I had to write the story. I wanted her to see it in print before she went home to the Lord.
Not only did she help edit it, but she was my greatest support and encourager during the process. When I gave her the first signed copy, she beamed through a myriad of wrinkles, and ordered ten more copies for her family.
Last month, as I attended her lively, peaceful memorial, I realized what gifts she had given me. The world was less bright, my dreams of writing a little dimmer as I realized I was now on my own in my journey.
Viola’s impish spirit continues to peer over my shoulder at times when I type and I take the confidence she helped me build to go out and continue to pursue my passion for writing. That same spirit will most likely appear in a character or two, being immortalized forever. I can see her now, giggling and telling me, “Oh, that’s not like me at all and by the way, there are several missing commas!”
But there are certain things it does not give us the right to do. First and foremost, it doesn’t give us the right to think we are right. Just because I have the right to voice my opinion, doesn’t mean my opinion is the only one that is ‘right.’ It is simply that, an opinion. And just because it is my opinion, doesn’t mean you have to have the same one or it makes you my enemy.
It does not give me the right to disrespect your opinion, or your choice to believe differently. It doesn’t give me the right to ostracize you, belittle you, hound you, kill you, close you out, make fun of you, or in any other way treat you poorly. It does not give me the right to make others take sides, or claim exclusivity to a group that you are not part of.
I don’t have to embrace your opinion, but we should be able to agree to disagree in a gentlemanly fashion. I should live my life in such a way as to prove my beliefs, but not demand you to live as I do.
For instance, let’s say I believe in a religion and what it stands for. I should live my life according to those beliefs. Hopefully I’ve chosen one that shows respect for my fellow man, and should live it well enough that it should attract others to want to believe the same thing. The fruits of that lifestyle should only better this world, not destroy it.
Government should be separate and about the laws of the land. These should be based on fairness and equality for everyone, not a privileged few. Of course, world peace would be a good thing also, but let’s get real, our opinions get in the way.
So it is just my humble opinion (take it or leave it) that speech in any form, whether spoken or written, should not bully people. Bullying is not a freedom of speech issue, but a social wrong. I’m no better than anyone else, nor should I force my views on anyone else. I am all for sharing opinions and ideas because many times I find another’s view has more clarity than mine but I need to do it in a respectful manner, not bashing, demeaning or being downright vulgar.
So let’s quit abusing our right to Freedom of Speech and considering listening to each other. We might find we are all on the same page, just on different lines.
I met Chryse Wymer on a site called “BookRix.” What caught my attention was a comment she left about grammar. I enjoyed her feisty outspokenness and I realized she was right about the grammar issues being discussed. Being grammar challenged, I found myself seeking her advice. Slowly I began to know the person behind the comments. I fondly call her the “Yoda of Grammar.” I’m so excited to host her blog here today.
Thank you, Robynn Gabel, for allowing me to guest post on what I know to be of particular interest to you: commas. For those of you keeping track, this is part three of my comma series. If you are interested in reading part one, visit A.B Shepherd’s blog at: http://www.abshepherd.net/, and part two can be read on John Abramowitz’s blog at: http://onthebird.blogspot.com/
This month, I’ll be hopping along from blog to blog to share my knowledge on the nuts and bolts of great writing. I am a copy editor, proofreader, and author—published both traditionally and independently. I’m also raffling off Amazon gift cards to get you started on your editing bookshelves. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or, for more information, visit: http://ocdeditor.weebly.com/ So here goes:
COMMAS – PART THREE
I want to reiterate that the basic function of a comma is to separate.
The fifth function of a comma is to separate adjectives that each qualify a noun in the same way < Next to a few odds and ends, she found a small[,] red leather-bound book.> There are a couple of tricks to help decide if a comma is necessary: one is whether or not you can use and between the adjectives. If you can, you need a comma. My preferred method is the switcheroo. If you can switch the adjectives out, then you need a comma, e.g.: Next to a few odds and ends, she found a red[,] small leather-bound book.
The sixth function of a comma is separate a direct quotation from its attribution <“Blue. I like the color blue,” she said.>
The seventh function of a comma is to separate a participial phrase, a verbless phrase (group of verbless words that make sense but do not form a complete sentence), or a vocative (direct address)—e.g.: “Having had coffee[,] she made her son breakfast.”/ “Anna, you’re so rotten!”
The eighth function of a comma is marking the end of a salutation in an informal letter <Dear Ms. Gabel,> <Dear Chryse,> and the close <Yours sincerely,>
Finally, the comma separates parts of a physical address <258 Monkey Butt Drive, Macon, WV> or a date <October 21, 2013>
Stay tuned as I continue my grammar and style tour 30 Days of Linguistic Love with . . . semicolons, one of the most-often misused punctuation marks. Visit me tomorrow on Dionne Lister’s blog at http://dionnelisterwriter.com/ to find out more about semicolons.
Before I took classes, online webinars, writing conferences and other educational pursuits to become an author, I was and still remain an avid reader. The world of Indie writers has been a delightful journey of new and interesting material and with the ability to speed read; I devour daily the written word.
Of course, I would like to selfishly believe this makes me a connoisseur of fine writing. In reality, I’m just an average person who has a few pet peeves about how stories are written.
For instance, never name your primary characters with similar names, like Jack and Jace, or Miranda and Miriam, or Jonathan and John. It is bad enough if two characters have names that start with the same letter, but when the second letter or the first three are similar, even a slow reader is going to get confused. It interrupts the flow of reading. I have to go back to figure out who is speaking or interacting in the scene, especially if both characters are in the scene together.
*** “We need to be at the pick-up point by nine,” Jace said.
Jack’s tawny hair swayed as he whipped around to face Jace. “Why did we move up the time?”
Jace shrugged his shoulder. “I don’t know.” Jack’s eyes narrowed, suspicion lurking in the blue depths.***
Confused? Try a whole chapter like that! Another pet peeve is when an author inserts a seemingly innocuous moment or item. As a mystery reader, I’ve learned to look for clues as to what will be important later on in the story. The following is an example of that.
***** Her hands shook as she continued to dig through the moldy cloth. Her fingers hit something cold, small and square. As she pulled it out the burnished gleam of gold caught her eye. The little box was plain, no ornaments or carvings to mar its smooth surface. Her finger traced over the tiny lock keeping its secrets secure. Impatient to find the key, she turned back to the ancient cloth covering the contents of the old wood chest. Clawing at it she discovered gold coins, a golden goblet and a few twinkling gems.******
So is it just me or would you go crazy wondering what was in the box? If this was at the very beginning of the story and yet, we never hear about that gold box again, wouldn’t you continue to wonder why it was mentioned? I would keep waiting for it to reappear and make some sense as to why it was even in the story.
It’s like settling down for a long movie. You have wrapped yourself in your favorite blanket with popcorn and soda pop within reach. You are deeply involved in the story unfolding before you and then you have to go to the bathroom. Do you put the movie on pause now, or wait until the intense scene is over while your bladder pleads for mercy? It interrupts your enjoyment, your interest and the storyline as you dash for the bathroom. For a second you have to come back to the real world.
It is irritating to be reading a scene you are so engrossed in, only to be jarred into the present by bad grammar, incorrect punctuation, dialogue that is off, a scene that ends too abruptly, or my most unfavorite, a cliff hanger ending with no resolution. As if the author tired of writing and decided to let you decide how it would end. Or how about an ending where suddenly you are in the height of action and it ends, leaving a myriad of loose ends begging to be explained or resolved.
I love stories that are like a fine dessert. Where the ingredients are blended so well together it is like heaven on my palate. This makes me eager to order that dessert again and again. Like waiting for a favorite author’s work to be released so I can enjoy another great story.. It is artwork at its best when it all comes together and I can leave this earthly plane for a while to exist in another world.
So when you dezign your word desert please think of you’re rea;ders. It well help you in your search for that aphid reeder.
Staring out the window, you contemplate your next scene and come up blank. Frustrated, you are stumped at what comes next. . A moment lost as the story line goes cold can put a writer into panic. This is called a ‘writer’s block’.
There are many fixes like taking a walk, a hot shower, listening to your favorite music or just taking a break for a few days. The list of cures is endless. But the most insidious writer’s block is sometimes not even recognized by a writer.
Recently someone asked me to read their work. They were concerned about their grammar. I found the story to be quite different as it was written laced with prose. Unfortunately some of the words used were not in proper context. After some quick emails back and forth, it finally boiled down to the author still only being concerned with grammar. They thought their ‘prose’ style was unique and the reader would figure out what they meant by using words out of context.
I understand. I do. It takes a lot of work to create art. We are proud of our creations, but the worse block is not being able to see where the weaknesses are, even when pointed out to us. The refusal to edit is a death knell for our work.
Read any author’s autobiography and you will find again and again the editing process was the hardest part, but necessary for all writers. We are blind when it comes to our own work. The block we put up, using the excuse it is ‘our art’ and should not be changed, puts us in the dark. Readers are educated. Usually they have read oceans of words and demand a smooth flow, proper usage of the English language, a developed story plot, and understandable dialogue.
I’m not saying that you cannot be artistic, but be realistic. If you are just starting out and haven’t developed your ‘brand’ yet, it is better to be safe. Every established author will tell you that their first work is not as polished as what follows.
Listen to your friends, family and readers. If you are not selling, if more than one person has told you something needs to be changed, consider it. Get an editor. I can’t say this enough. Get an editor!
Don’t be blinded by the worst ‘writer’s block’ of all. An over-inflated sense of how great your writing is.