How to Drive Yourself Insane

Hope everyone in the US had a safe and fun Fourth of July.  Mine was safe, though dull.  As I had nothing to do, I sat on the couch all day sipping tea and pretending I was British and didn’t care.  I didn’t even get in the shower until three in the afternoon.  It was kind of nice, actually.

Except I have been going INSANE.

I’ve gone through all my materials for the Rose’s Hostage sequel–working title An Unsettling Calm (meh)–and the really diabolical plot I wanted to use is falling by the wayside.  I had abandoned the original plot as too sensational, but I reread the beginning and it was GOOD.

I’m going back to it.  It’s like returning to an old lover, one you didn’t date long but who thrilled you for a while anyway, and who still makes your pulse race when you think of him.

Reunions are sweet.  Unless he stole your purse last time. 

Reunions are sweet.  Unless he stole your purse the last time.

 Image:  nuttakit/

I’ll save the diabolical thing for Book Three of the Detective Pierce Chronicles.  I couldn’t tie the villain in with the subplot, no matter how I tried, but Original Plot and I still have some connecting we can do.

The mini-NaNoWriMo may not be a thing, since I wanted to start it on the first of the month and I didn’t get to it (my fault entirely—I’ve been taken up with stupid mental crap).  But I decided I would attempt to write two things at once.  Horrors!

The other book I can’t tell you about at all right now.  But I will be sporadically working on it, with the bulk of the effort going toward Pierce Book Two.  I should be able to get a lot done in the next two-and-a-half months.

Here are some bona fide ways to drive yourself insane and guarantee that you can’t get a project started.

Ambitiously plan to write two books at once when you usually only do one


Put research ahead of the actual writing

This is a bad one.  I’m guilty of this.  I can get so caught up in research that I actually do nothing toward whatever I’m working on.  Example:  I have yet to complete one single dollhouse or room box, but I now have an extensive knowledge of Victorian household gadgetry.

Watch too much TV

Or Netflix.  My shows aren’t on right now (The Walking Dead, Once Upon a Time, Doctor Who), but that doesn’t stop me from consuming every British comedy series my little red online friend has to offer (Little Britain!).  It’s so tempting to schlep home tired from my day job, do a workout, and then go straight to the My List page.  Bad writer.  Bad.

I laughed so hard at this show I almost coughed up a lung. 

I laughed so hard at this show I almost coughed up a lung.


Read too much crap on the internet

Oh, Buzzfeed.  You are such a frenemy.  I love your quizzes, your silly GIF posts, your hacks, and how your UK edition constantly shoves more cool London stuff that I will not possibly have time to do right in my face.

I know there are apps or plugins that block you from the internet so that you can work, but I’m afraid if I try one that I’ll tear a hole in my computer trying to get past it.

Plan a vacation

My UK holiday is almost completely set up, except for train tickets to Cardiff (too early to book yet) and a possible quick jaunt up to Loch Ness in the beautiful West Highlands of Scotland via sleeper train (a bucket list item).  Once that is squared away, I can just STOP PLANNING AND GET TO WORK ALREADY.

Or, I could just trust the email reminders and STOP PLANNING AND GET TO WORK ALREADY.

You did promise me, you know.

You did promise me, you know.


 Yes, sir, I know.

Think way too much about things that in real life will probably not happen but are not impossible because the world is a magical place and the Universe really needs to reconsider and fork it over anyway

The less said about that, the better.


In the coming weeks, I will blog to you as I write, so you can vicariously experience the madness that is me trying to do more than one thing at a time.  In the words of the immortal Bette Davis:


Tunerville Update and Principles of Design

Just a quick dash in to let you know that my friend and first reader Jim Allder finished with his reading of Tunerville.  He liked it!

He said it reminded him of a cross between Michael Crichton and Bruce Joel Rubin (author of the screenplay for Ghost; probably because there are ghosts in it).  High praise indeed.  To be compared to the great Crichton made me squee.

Rest in peace, sir.  You left us too soon.

Rest in peace, sir. You left us too soon.


Next, I will incorporate his suggestions (one was something I was thinking about doing anyway, which tells me it was on track) and then print it out for its first hard copy edit.  D’aww!

Although that means I have to haul it around in a binder for a few days.  Ick.  Also I better buy some paper.  And revisit my copymarks, most of which I’ve forgotten by now.  I still have my study sheet.

That’s all I have time for right now, since I’m drowning in homework (the four principles of design are:  Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, and Proximity.  Acronym:  C.R.A.P.  Tee hee!).  But I’ll be back soon, when I get my edit finished, and I might even post a wee bit of text.

‘Til next time, people.  Keep your feet warm.

Writing the Novel Synopsis, or I’m Supposed to Tell You How it Ends!?


I got my little car back!  And he’s all well!  He looks as if nothing even happened!

He’s gone from this:

5-28-13 Oliver accident


To this:



Today I did this to him:

Yes, he’s a boy and yes, he likes purple flowers.  Also, I control him.  Muwahaha!

Yes, he’s a boy and yes, he likes purple flowers. Also, I control him. Muwahaha!

Photographs by Elizabeth West

In other news, I have completed another pass through Tunerville, completed a chapter-by-chapter outline, and now I’ve started working on the synopses.   Why am I using the plural?  And what is a synopsis, anyway?

Simply put, it’s a summary of your novel.  Agents and publishers ask for them in manuscript submissions and sometimes in query guidelines.  They tend to ask for something short, in my experience, between one and three pages.  And yes, you have to tell them how it ends.

One page?! How the hell can I summarize my whole novel on only one page?

One page?! How the hell can I summarize my whole novel on only one page?

 Image:  David Castillo Dominici /

Relax, grasshopper; you can do it.  Start by thinking about your story.  What is it about?  Who are the main characters? What happens in the story?  You don’t need huge amounts of detail; just the gist of it will do.

The synopsis should be written in third person, present tense, no matter how your book is written.  Below, I’ve posted the first two paragraphs from the Rose’s Hostage one I sent to Brian.

Bored office worker LIBBY ANN MARSHALL never dreamed a man like JOSHUA ROSE would come into her life.  He is confident, sexy, and adventurous.  He is also the Black Bandit, a former gang member and armed bank robber in the (fictional) city of Ralston, IL who, one hot July day, kidnaps her during a heist. 

The crime inflames harried city police detective STEPHEN PIERCE and the FBI.  Pierce must divide his energy with another major case, prostitute killer JOHN COOK JR., known only as The Motel Shooter.  Cook is furious with Joshua for stealing all his press and launches his own search for the Bandit.  

Capitalize the names of the characters the first time you write them.  (I left out ages in parentheses because I couldn’t fit the whole thing on one page.)

For Rose’s Hostage, I have one, two, four, and seven-page synopses.  I’ve sent the one and two-page ones out.  One-pagers are probably the one you’ll use the most, so work really hard on those.

In addition to this, you should also have an elevator pitch—a short, two or three-sentence summary, sans ending—worked up and memorized, in case anyone asks you what your book is about.


Speaking of Rose’s Hostage, I haven’t received my critique from Brian Keene yet.  He should be finished soon.  Either he was too busy to get to it until today, was waiting for someone to get back to him on it, or it stunk so bad he has to practically rewrite it.  I can just imagine…”Cut this…this sucks…good God, what did you do here…auuughgg!”

  Dolly, in despair over bad reviews of her torrid Ken-Barbie-G.I. Joe love triangle romantic thriller, ended up on the street.

Dolly, in despair over bad reviews of her torrid Ken-Barbie-G.I. Joe love triangle romantic thriller, ended up on the street.

Image:  Theeradech Sanin /

You know I have more work to do on Tunerville, so why am I writing synopses now?  Well, the damn things are helpful to me.  Doing a huge outline—going through every chapter and summarizing it—gives me little bits I can use in my synopses.  It also helps me see where I need to add stuff, and I’ve already used the outline to split a very long chapter.

The synopses will change as the rewrites progress.  I’ll do the short one, so I don’t have much to edit if I move things around.  When I’m ready to submit, I won’t have to cobble one together at the last minute.

If you are finished with your book and you need some advice on writing synopses, check out the following links to start.

Chuck Sambuchino (Guide to Literary Agents editor, writer, and columnist) gives five tips for writing a synopsis.

Robert J. Sawyer, award-winning science fiction writer, shares his outlines and synopses with us on his website (please, Robert, hire someone to update it!).

Anne Mini’s blog, Author! Author! is a dense read, but worth it.  I learned so much here it’s not even funny.  Check out her Synopsispalooza series of posts.


Places in Your Writing


Yep, and it’s writing/editing related!  I’ll be proofing reports for a local company, along with various administrative duties.  I’m pretty excited about it.  It seems like a very cool place to work.

Sorry for the long delay in posting.  I had to rest my brain after NaNoWriMo.  The space between when I finish and when I can stand to even look at NewBook has been larger than it was for Rose’s Hostage.

Instead, I’ve been reading Robert J. Sawyer, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, and Brian Keene, and absorbing lessons on characterization, chapter structure, and speculative / thriller elements.

There’s a lot to do, and I promised I would share that process with you.  I’ll start with these remarks about setting.

Whether your story takes place in a village, a city or on another planet, your setting has its own identity that may or may not be wrapped up in that of your protagonist.  The right name and some attention to its population, geography and infrastructure provide valuable backstory that will give your place depth and realism, even if you don’t use all the material.

The sounds of the words can tell you something about your setting.   Consider J.R.R. Tolkien‘s hobbits, who live in Hobbiton, the Shire.  Tolkien’s place names are representative of the folks living in them. Shire sounds pastoral, peaceful, like the hobbits themselves.

Looks like it, too.  No wonder Gandalf loved it here.

Looks like it, too. No wonder Gandalf loved it here.


Gondor sounds mighty, as its warrior Boromir was before the Ring tragically unmasked his failings.  And Mordor—the name alone is enough to conjure writhing black spirits in one’s mind.

Batman’s stomping grounds are based on New York, a city that can be dark and looming, although Chris Nolan’s movies are filmed in Chicago.  Gotham, which was a nickname for the Big Apple long before Batman came to be, sounds metropolitan but also gothic in a broody way.  Considering Batman’s tragic origin, it fits.  Metropolis (hello, Captain Obvious) is the bustling city where Superman hangs out.

Sometimes writers use real places in their work, especially ones with which they are very familiar.  Tons of movies and books are set in New York City. .  In Betty Smith’s classic A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, the borough itself is as much a character as the protagonist.

I prefer to make up settings.  Unless I know a place very, very well, I’m liable to get it wrong.  If one of my books happened in Los Angeles, I would have to either do a great deal of research (which sucks – I set something in Spain once and know NOTHING about it) or travel there to get it right (Ha! Not likely with my bank account!).

Rose’s Hostage is set in a fictional city in Illinois called Ralston.  Yes, like the cereal.  To me, it sounded Midwestern, solid, slightly industrial.  I picture a drive into it as close to entering St. Louis–not as factory-infested as Joliet, with rural satellite communities like my small city.   To make it interesting and keep my detective busy, I added:

  • A self-contained rough area downtown, like the Narrows in Gotham City, with lots and lots of bars and hookers.
  • Federal law enforcement and an entrenched Mafia presence.
  • Motorcycle gangs.  Both they and the Mafia are augmented by a reasonable proximity to Chicago, which I can mine for all sorts of criminal goodies.
  • Lots of public areas—parks, a museum, etc. where disaster-ish stuff could happen.

Thinking about where Ralston is, who lives there and what kind of activity they would engage in made a difference in all sorts of details.  The population is mostly descended from Western European immigrants, which affects what names I choose for people.  All this comes together in a flavor for the area.

Most of the places in NewBook are grounded in reality.  Some are speculative.  There are several places where the story happens:

  • Martinsburg (working title)—a nice, middle-sized city, nothing huge, smaller than Ralston, but not rural.  It’s home to a prestigious university that has spawned a pretty good scientific community, central to some elements of the story.
  • A couple of other dimensions.  No, really.
  • Heaven.  Yep, you heard me.
  • Brief visits to Los Angeles and New York.

WTF??  What is this story about, anyway?

You'll find out, youngling.  You'll find out.

You’ll find out, youngling. You’ll find out.

Image:  David Castillo Dominici /

There are larger social ramifications to the protagonist’s actions, but I simply could not expand the scope of my settings and still manage the story.   So I’m condensing the majority of it down to Martinsburg.  I’m not sharing just yet because so many things still need work that what I say now may be completely different in a month or two.

Keep an eye out for April’s Blogging from A-Z Challenge.  I’m planning yet again to participate, with more enticing tidbits about how my book is coming together.

NewBook’s settings are still mostly in my head.  It seems kind of back-assward to write them down now, but this book has not followed my usual process, so don’t take it as gospel on how to work.   For most of us, it’s worthwhile to take time and plot your setting before you put your characters there.


National Novel Writing Month – or, That Crazy Writer’s Locked Herself in the Closet Again

Next month is November and the National Novel Writing Month spectacular, aka NaNoWriMo.  Yes, writers are lazy; why type all that shit when we don’t have to?

What is NaNoWriMo?  It’s this crazy idea that in thirty days, you can bang out a 50,000-word novel.  It’s a chance to take that idea swimming around in your head and birth it out into reality.  Not polished perfection, mind you—that takes a much longer commitment.  Since many writers suffer from butt-in-chair deficiency, NaNoWriMo is designed to force you to sit still and write.

To do this, you can formally sign up for the process at the NaNoWriMo site and participate in the contest.  Or you can do it on your own, whatever.   The site has forums, advice, word counters, and much more.

I hate trying to crap out first drafts.  HATE HATE HATE HATE.  I’m considering doing NaNoWriMo informally this year, just to finish something.

I would like to get some voice recognition software and just talk the damn thing out, like “Then Dr. Equate stabs the zombie four times—no, three—and his evil diseased brain cocktail is about to fall into the water supply!  Yeah!  And super spy Dirk Fabulous shows up and forces him to drink it!”  Same process; no hand cramps. I can clean it up later.

The awesomeness of this would be, well, awesome.

Image:  Victor Habbick /

The current WIP is stalled, but I think I finally figured out something that was borking my story.  By borking, I mean it threw up a giant roadblock that effectively killed forward progression.  This has nothing to do with the fact that my life imploded, by the way; it was a glitch in the plot.

If you want to do this, I suggest you take these next couple of weeks to prepare, if you haven’t already.

Do an outline

I get a rough concept of a book and when I’ve thought it out a bit, I write a synopsis and then break it down into scenes.  Later, I use it to organize chapters.  Since I tend to skip around when I write, the outline keeps me on track.

Get your life in order

My writer buddy James Allder recommended that I make sure I’m not interrupted in any way during my NNWM writing time.  He’s got a good point.  A break in concentration can mean death to a writing session.  Shouldn’t be hard, considering I have no life right now.

If you have one, make sure you get extra crap out of the way so you can sit down at the same time every day and work.

Do a few practice sessions

You may already have a set time you write every day.  If so, good for you.

Here’s your trophy, you self-righteous bastard.

Image:  Suat Eman /

If you don’t, I would suggest a practice run.  Take a few days and try it out.  It doesn’t matter if you’re only writing gibberish, just so you get the feel of actually working during that interval.  Mind you, it’s against the rules to work on your NNWM project before the start date.

Remember it’s only a tool

You are not going to produce a complete book in one month.  Let me repeat that, because it’s important:  you are not going to produce a complete book in one frigging month. 

A complete book, ready for publishing, will require at least another few months of editing, rewriting, polishing, submission to first/second/third readers, more editing, more polishing, etc. before you can even think about querying.

Your goal is to finish something, not write a goddamn bestseller.   Use it to get your butt in the chair.  When the month is over, it’s up to you to keep it there.

NaNoWriMo is only a tool.  Its purpose:  to make you WRITE.  In a burst of uncensored, freewriting word diarrhea.   Your brain will open the creativity floodgates and not even the Brain-o-pectate will stop it.  At the end, you will have the bones of a book.

If I do NaNoWriMo—and I think I will—I’ll create a separate category on this blog where I can update my progress and tears.  You may live through the actual process of writing (well, finishing, technically) a book along with me.

Lock and load.

Image:  vudhikrai /


Helpful links:

25 Things You Should Know about NaNoWriMo”  by Chuck Wendig

Chuck is no-holds barred.   If you don’t like me saying goddamn and shit, you’ll hate him.  But he knows what he’s talking about, goddamn it.

Getting Ready for NaNoWriMo” by Steve Shepard

Some decent tips, even if it’s kind of an ad for the Storyist software.  I prefer PageFour myself.  Plain old Word is fine; you don’t have to buy anything to do NNWM.

History, rules, and more.


More Annoying Online Errors

Surfing around the ‘net, I found another 79,352,863 so-called professional articles online this week with ridiculous errors. Most are homophones, words that sound the same but are spelled differently.

I already covered common punctuation errors here, in The Most Annoying Online Errors (formerly called “All Those Eyes.”  Editing is fun!)

Below are more goofs I keep running across, in no particular order.

Horde vs. hoard

A horde is a large group.  A hoard is an accumulation.  ”But,” you cry, “the definitions are similar!”  Tricky? Yes, except a hoard can be small.

Teh vs. the

In LOLcat speak, teh is usually deliberate. The email to your boss is not LOLcat speak.  Often this error is a typo that careful proofreading would have caught.  I see it more in blog posts and comments.


Thx vs. thanks

Unless texting your BFF, write it out!  The more you get in the habit of writing carefully and properly, the better your overall presentation will be.  Save the textspeak for casual encounters.  Or just learn to type faster.

Bare vs. bear

(Naked vs. a large carnivorous land mammal)

I hate this one.

The pain was more than I could bare.

Don’t wear shoulder-bearing shirts in the office.

Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear (not a bare).  Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair.  Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn’t very fuzzy, was he?

If you tell me this is a bair, I can’t help you.

Image:  APF/Getty

Isle vs. aisle

You were not married on a tropical aisle; it was a tropical isle.  Your grocery cart didn’t lose a wheel in the middle of the isle; you lost it in the aisle.

Gage vs. gauge

A gage is a pledge or the token of a challenge, like the glove a knight throws down to an opponent.  A gauge is an instrument for measuring something.  Guage is just plain wrong.

Hair vs. hare

Come on.  Really?  You can’t tell the difference between an aggregate of keratinous filaments growing through the skin, and a long-eared, rodentlike mammal of the genus Lepus?

What an ultra-maroon!


Juggler vein

Your veins can juggle! Call the news channel! Call Ripley’s Believe it or Not!  We got a medical miracle here!

Leach vs. leech

NO:  The trash leeched chemicals into the groundwater when it rained.

To leach *VERB* means to dissolve out something by percolation.

A leech *NOUN* is a bloodsucking freshwater worm, or that ex-boyfriend who hung around constantly and ate all your roommate’s food.

Accept vs. except

To accept is to receive something—an object, criticism, etc.   Except is a preposition, which leads to an exclusion.

“I’d accept your challenge,” the Doctor said to the Sontaran, “except we are not both armed with sonic screwdrivers.  Wouldn’t be quite fair, would it?”

Run-on sentences

Run-on sentences go on and on they don’t have any punctuation between them and they are very very long the person writing them doesn’t know or care about punctuation oh my God that drives me nuts.

I see these in comments or forum posts the most.   Many times, they lead to an impenetrable wall of text my eyes cannot fathom.

Than vs. then

NO:  He was more handsome thenthe first man we saw.

YES:  He was more handsome than the first man we saw.

Than is a conjunction.  It sets apart two unequal subjects of comparison.

Then is an adverb (modifies a verb, typically) used to denote time and place.

Gandalf leaned over, set the confused Pippin on his feet, then brushed him off roughly. “Fool of a Took,” he muttered, not without affection. 

Subject/verb agreement

Plural vs. singular

The cops ate their donut.

One cop, one doughnut.  His doughnut, her doughnut.   More than one cop, more doughnuts.


Donut vs. doughnut.  Did you catch that one?

Separate, not seperate.

Mischievous.  not mischievious. Also pronounced wrong:  it’s MIS-cheh-vus, not mis-CHEE-vee-ous.

It’s leviOsa, not levioSA, you bloody idiot.



When your name goes on that article, you want it to be your best work, right?  Even if you’re posting anonymously, your online writing represents you, in comments, posts, and even tweets.  Take a little time to check words you’re not sure of.

I’m far from perfect, and if you spot a mistake in one of my posts, please let me know in the comments.  They come to me in email, so I’ll see it. I’ll gladly correct it, publish your rebuttal to something I said (following my Comment Policy, of course), or change it if needed.

Proofreading Your Work

Fact-checking and proofreading seem to have taken a vacation lately.  I’ve seen so-called professional news sites and even books with goofs that made my mouth hang open so long, a wren could have built a nest in it.

A few judicious checks can help you avoid making a big fat mistake in your posts, reports, and other documents.  You can’t afford not to.  Here are some ways to make sure you’re not posting what amounts to a first draft.

Spell Check

This handy gadget in your word processing program (Microsoft Word and Open Office’s text document feature have it) will automatically check your document for spelling and grammar errors, if you have that feature turned on.  It underlines misspellings in red.

If you launch the checker under Review in Word, it will go through and recheck everything.  You then have the option to correct.  Make sure you’re picking the right word!

Spell Check is a first line of defense.  The feature won’t catch everything.  If I typed “Proofreding Your Wok,” it marks Proofreding but not Wok.  The last one is a real word.

A typo I make frequently is form instead of from.  I actually have to search for that one in manuscripts to make sure I didn’t do it.

When you go through your document on the first pass, try to remember what errors you make on a regular basis.  It helps to make a list and keep it handy.  You can also use the Find feature in Word to search for your most common goofs.

Look at it in hard copy

Anne Mini is a stickler for proper formatting.  As she points out repeatedly, the best way to find mistakes is to read your manuscript, OUT LOUD, from a hard copy before you even think about sending it to anyone.

The eye gets tired reading off a computer screen.  It’s much easier to miss errors than when reading a page.  E-readers are a hit because their interface resembles a real page in a book, and it doesn’t give you eyestrain like your laptop.

I recommend printing your copy out, putting it down and walking away from it for a while, the longer the better.  I can’t stay away from a manuscript for more than a week myself.  If you’re on a deadline, try to aim for at least thirty minutes.  Then come back and read it, blue pencil at the ready.

Have someone else look at it

This is especially good for novels.   Once you’ve spent six months with your nose in a manuscript, you don’t see individual words anymore.  You know it too well.  It’s like ceasing to notice that freckle on your lover’s hip.

Make sure you pick someone who can get it done fairly quickly, and is adept at giving feedback rather than criticism.

Watch for unintentionally silly turns of phrase, too.  I saw this sign at the grocery store today:

Juvenile of me to giggle throughout my shopping trip, but it really was funny.


Now that you’ve checked your text, you’ll have to make sure your facts / names / etc.  are correct.

Google it

Ever notice that when you enter something in Google’s search bar it corrects your spelling?  When I typed “evylin woug” it automatically pulled up English writer Evelyn Waugh’s Wikipedia page first thing.  That’s pretty damn good.

Of course, sometimes it gets it wrong.  Try Chrome’s Google page.  If you click the little microphone, you can use your voice to look up stuff.  Your laptop will probably have a mike.   Mumble a bit; the results are hysterical.

Look it up in the dictionary

 Most references are online now, at pages like,, and more.  However, maybe someone gave you a dictionary to use in college.  You may still have it.  Keep it around for when the modem goes out or you just want to feel scholarly.

Use the library

 If you can’t find something online, you can try the library.   There’s bound to be a book or periodical about your subject.  University libraries are often open to residents of the town, or if you’re an alumnus, you may have library privileges.

Haven’t been in the library since grade school?  Did you use the Dewey Decimal system on index cards as a kid?  Never fear, little boomer.  The nice people at the information desk are there to help you.

Check and recheck your work.  You’ll be glad you made it a habit.  It will help you appear more professional, and your readers will struggle less.

Show vs. Tell Revisited

Show vs. tell is one of the toughest things for beginning writers to grasp.   You’d think that exposition would be easy.  It is, when you’re explaining something.  But you can’t do that through a whole book, or your reader will get tired.

To show readers something takes more time and more words, but it brings your prose to life.  Would you rather see a movie, or have your friend tell you about it like “And then the Brad Pitt guy took this thing, and he shot this other guy with it, and then the villain—I can’t remember his name, but you would know him—blew up the bridge and they flew through the air—“ et al.

A while ago, I wrote a post trying to explain the difference between show and tell in writing.  Well, I was reading back through some old entries and realized my examples were WRONG WRONG WRONG.

I think I finally get it (let’s hope so).  After doing rewrites of certain bits of my book Rose’s Hostage and forcing myself to take time to read more, I was able to see the concept more clearly.

Telling is just like it says, telling.

Buffy and Xander were terrified of the Powder Demon and its deadly spray, which rendered its victims immobile before their skin dissolved from their flesh.

Yeah, okay, but it’s dull.   Try this instead:

Buffy’s chest tightened, a fist squeezing her throat shut.  Her legs wobbled and she halted.  The Powder Demon hadn’t seen them yet.  She glanced at Xander and saw his eyes roll back in his head, and caught him as he fainted.  Her skin itched as she thought of the poor cop, dissolving like a piece of soap coated with the Demon’s spray.

Nowhere in here do I tell you Buffy and Xander are scared, but you figure it out from the way they are acting.

Please don’t do it with Hollywood dialogue, like this example where Joker tells Batman the incredibly obvious:

“Why, look, it’s the Batman,” Joker whispered, his foul breath drifting into the captured hero’s face.  “You thought you could keep your secret identity a secret, didn’t you? But then you crashed your Batcycle on the slippery oil I poured on the roadway.  And then your wallet fell out of your cape!  Sloppy, sloppy.  I’ve got you now, Bruce Wayne!”


Skipping a scene entirely and telling about it later also works for transitions when:

  • Your character is doing something tedious that you don’t want to waste time on before the next scene. Your scenes should advance the plot, not describe someone’s bathroom routine, unless you’re establishing character.
  • You’re starting a new book or new episode and want to review (re Harry at the Dursleys house in each subsequent Harry Potter book).

In Rose’s Hostage,  I originally had the bank robber musing about his lost money like this:

Joshua had been surprised and shocked when he showed up at Stefano Barbieri’s dry cleaners, one of the front businesses for the money laundering operation and his preferred pickup point, and Stefano told him it was gone.  He and Stefano had gone out back and had a little argument about not checking with him first.  In fact, his knuckles were still scraped raw. 

Dull, boring and blah.

In revision, that ended up as a really fun scene by itself.  I was able to establish a motive for Barbieri to later ID the bank robber and tie up a loose end from an earlier cut.

Heh heh.  Revision is fun.

The best cinematic example I know of show vs. tell is George Lucas’ 1971 science fiction film TXH 1138, starring Robert Duvall and Donald Pleasance.  A dystopian society is revealed to us not through voice-over narration, but through the daily activities of the title character, everyday-type dialogue (no exposition) and setting.  Gradually we come to realize how these people are living.

Showing is easy in film but not so much with prose.  Practice with some of your own work.  Look for examples where you’ve told your readers what you want them to know, and see if you can’t expand a little and show them instead.

A Crisis Can Test Your Characters

The huge, lumbering machine of healthcare has let us down yet again.   At work, we switched over to a new insurance company.  Our old insurance was set to expire, and we were supposed to be in the new system with our cards in the mail within two weeks.

You guessed it:  no cards, no policy number, nothing.   And now no insurance.

In today’s economy, paying out of pocket for healthcare is detrimental to most people’s budgets.  I’m lucky; all I’ll be out is a couple of prescriptions and one of them is only $4.00 anyway.  Unless this nasty cold I have turns into something worse, I should be okay.

Whether it’s a health crisis or something else, adversity reveals character.  People who ordinarily are pretty sweet-tempered can lose their minds over a budget snafu or customer service issue.

Your characters are no exception.  How would they react to the following scenarios?

  • Susan’s insurance expired (ha!) and the new healthcare company hasn’t sent her policy number yet.  Both her prescriptions need refilling and her son just fell off his skateboard and broke a wrist.
  • Gary’s mother shows up at his front door, the same day his new internet girlfriend is supposed to visit from out of state.
  • Thomas gets the wrong food order after waiting nearly 45 minutes, and he is late for an important meeting.
  • Nina’s unreasonable boss puts six big fat folders on her desk at 4:50 pm and asks her to stay late, but she has a critical theater audition in an hour.

What they do next will depend on what kind of story you’re writing.  All of these situations are annoying, and at least one has comedy potential.

Take Gary, for example.  He could try to manage the situation by introducing his mother to the girlfriend.  The fact that he barely knows her himself sets him up for another crisis, because she might be a total nutjob.

Or, he could try to hide the two from each other.  Plenty of room for slapstick here.  He better learn something from this.

If characters don’t grow or change, they fall flat.  They trudge through a story while everything happens around them.

  • The character could have an extreme reaction:  external, or internal.  If internal, the other characters might be puzzled by his failure to acknowledge a stressor.  The story conflict could then come from their frustration with him.
  • You’ll have to establish a new trait in order for the character to deal with the crisis.  Someone dropped into a remote wilderness will adapt, or die.
  • If the situation requires heroics, the aftermath can change your character.  Whether for better or worse is your decision.

No one will react rationally to every situation, no matter how self-possessed.  Have some fun with your characters.  Give them more to deal with and you might be surprised at what bravery or cowardice emerges.


X-rated! Is your content suitable for all your readers?

I bet you thought I was gonna write a sex scene here, didn’t you?  Sorry!  Maybe next time!

The Internet is rife with all types of content, some of which is kind of raw for kids.  If you’ve got a wide range of readers, how do you keep your content from offending one or more of them?

Does double-take; is apparently not offended.

The MPAA uses X as a rating for films meant to be seen only by adults.  This is not a designation purely for sex, but also for exploitive or extremely violent content, unsuitable for minors.  The reason people think of it as a sex thing is its heavy use in the pornography industry.  Now they use NC-17 to rate non-porn films that are still too heavy on adult content.

You can use some of their guidelines for your own material.  In books, hey, anything goes.  I wouldn’t expect a nine-year-old to read Rose’s Hostage if (When! When! Not if!) it gets published, so I feel comparatively safe putting some of the old ultra-violence and a bit of in-out in there.

On a blog? Not so much.  Here are my own versions for bloggery.

G rated

A little kid could read the post and not freak out, get upset or go “Mommy, what does ‘in-out’ mean?”  It might be about Hello Kitty. Or my kitty!

PG rated

Using the term “in-out”  makes it PG.  I might run naked through the post, but it would only be played for laughs and my naughty bits would be covered.

PG-13 rated

There will be talk of violence.  I might hit someone.  There may be a slight slippage of my coverage and a flash of nipple.  The subject matter will be controversial, but still okay for people old enough to be thinking about their first prom.  One use of the F-bomb in a suggestive manner would catapult me into an R rating, if I were a film.

R rated

Now we’re getting into the good stuff.  *evilly dry-washes hands*  My post about sex scenes could theoretically be rated R for content, even though the worst thing I said was H-E-double hockey sticks.  If I posted a knife murder scene as an example (and I have two that are very graphic I could show you), I’d have to put a little warning at the top.

NC-17 rated

My niece would not be reading any of these posts.  Think Cannibal Holocaust, Trainspotting, The Exorcist.

X rated

The dreaded X.  Bane of non-porn filmmakers who would like to at least make their money back.

Don’t be afraid to voice your opinion on hard topics.  But before you delve into the waters of controversy, make sure you’re doing it for a good reason.  Is it just to drive traffic to your site, a la shock value, or are you actually contributing a legitimate opinion to the subject?

Take a look at your readership and see who is there.  You might want to warn them if you’re going to do something like review a questionable film or book, discuss something divisive, or run free and naked through your post.

A well-defined and prominently-posted comments code comes in handy.  On most blogging platforms, you can set your comments for approval before they show up so you can weed out people who are obviously trolling or get out of control.