The Art of Show vs. Tell

>> Wednesday, April 5, 2017

In a previous blog post in December, I noted that there was a dark side to show don't tell. That's because, if you don't actually spell every little detail out, people could miss it and then complain that they're confused, which is no way to have a reader. Titillated, yes, but not confused or frustrated.

It's not a black and white business and making things full of delightful subtleties to please one audience might lose you one that wants things less obscure, just as a straightforward narrative might bore someone who lives for nuance. Pick the audience you want. That's one of the challenges.

But show vs. tell is ubiquitous advice for a very good reason: it makes reading so much more compelling and interesting. I love it as a writer and strive for it; I don't know a writer that doesn't.

Actually pulling off show don't tell is another thing altogether, though,because showing is more difficult than just saying:

John was a tall boy with red hair, lots of freckles and love of basketball.
However, it doesn't have any personality. It's dull and lifeless and says next to nothing about John. Now, try this:

If Sarah wanted to find John, she knew better than to look for him in the library or studying. Depth of winter or height of summer, she could find him on the outdoor court in the park, his short red hair spiky with sweat, his freckles so numerous he looked like he had a rash. He might not have put any meat on his gangly form, that seemed to shoot up overnight, but he knew how to move it around the basketball court and get that orange ball to do everything but fix him lunch.
Now, what do we know? Well, everything from the first sentence, of course, which makes sense since this one's more than five times longer. But, we also know he has a relationship with Sarah good enough she knows where to find him and where not to find him, that he's not addicted to studying, that his height is a recent thing, and that he not only loves basketball, he's damn good at it. And now there's also a much stronger sense of who he is. He hasn't said anything. He hasn't done anything, really, but I think we'd be speculating about his personality to a much higher degree in the second paragraph than the first. There's also a potential for someone who might be interested in the topic to become interested in where it goes from here. And who's Sarah?

Interactions between people are a great way to enact show vs. tell. What they say to each other, how they react. Dialog between people can provide backstory or explain something complex without just writing it out. You can explain motivations, move the story forward, make sociological points and, the great thing, is it all seems so natural. Like you weren't actually writing it.

Action can be show don't tell. If the character is limping, I don't have to explain  he hurt himself or why he isn't chasing someone. If he punches someone in the face, I don't have to pause and tell the reader: that guy really irritated my character. Actions tell us who someone really is, character-wise, what you stand for, what you won't stand for, what matters.

But, that's why it can be tricky. The more clearly you define your character through dialog and interactions and action, the more careful you have to be not to change course midstream, either to fulfill a plot point or to make things fit. I can't speak for all readers but, for me, since characters are my favorite, I hate when I feel like I've identified with a character and then they do something out of character. At best, it can make the identity and personality of the character murky which isn't what you want. At worst, it can drive a reader away (yes, that's happened to me).

But what does that mean? It means you can't make a protective chivalrous guy rape his girlfriend and keep that image. It means you can't make someone who has proven to be a loyal friend over time sell out his buds for a bit of spending capital. You can't have Quigon Jin accept the notion that a small boy will run a very dangerous race so you can get funds (say what? the space station doesn't take off-world money? How contrived is that?) or that you'll take him away from that mother and leave her as a slave. Unless you like to see Liam Neeson rolling his eyes at his own lines.

More subtly, you can't express how clever someone is without showing it in deed. You can't convince us that someone's an expert if they flub it every time they come up against anything out of the ordinary. They can't be a badass and get their butt whipped every fight. Show your character to be clever or faithful or kind or brutal or whatever they are. Make sure the exceptions have motivations that make sense (we all have exceptions).

In the end, I think it's all about getting to know someone much like their friends and new characters get to know them and finding about them in a natural sort of way.

At least, that's how I see it.


Guest Blog: MIrren Hogan Telling Us About Night Witches

>> Friday, March 24, 2017

Here's a first for me: I'm having a guest post by another author, to tell you all about her freshly released historical drama about a very interesting chapter of history...

Mirren Hogan is celebrating the release of her historical fiction novel Night Witches. Here is some background into these incredible women and their story.

Nadia Valinsky is a young female pilot and university education student from Moscow. When the Germans invade the Soviet Union in 1941, she wants to fight to defend her country. In October of 1941 Marina Raskova, a famous female aviator, asks for volunteers, Nadia signs up. She is accepted for an interview and offered a place in the training regiment as a navigator.

Following rigorous training at Engles Air Force base, Nadia is assigned to the Night Bomber regiment. She and her crew fly multiple missions on the front lines and are regularly under fire from anti-aircraft guns. The Germans give them the nickname Night Witches, because of the sound their aircraft make as they sweep overhead.

The Night Witches flew in planes made from canvas and balsawood. For the majority of the war, they had no radios, or parachutes. The latter was considered to take up too much space needed to carry bombs. Of three women's regiments, theirs was the only one who consisted entirely of women through the duration of the war.

They lived together, fought together and died together.

            Searchlights lit up the sky, but they were looking where we had been. Antonina had restarted the engine and nimbly avoided them every time they moved.
            "This is too close," she declared, sounding breathless herself. Another couple of minutes and we'd be safely away. I swallowed hard and tried to force my heart to slow. I didn't want to come that close again.
            A second later, one of our bombs exploded, earlier than it should have. We used bombs with delayed fuses, deliberately set to go off once we were safely clear. We flew so low we could easily have been caught in the blast from our own bomb and blown out of the sky.
            As it was, the shockwaves from the explosion rocked the Po-2, making it shudder violently. Pieces of shrapnel flew up at us from below, tearing several small holes in the wings and a large one in the cockpit floor beside my feet.
            I felt a searing pain in my arm and leg and realised I'd been hit. A sudden burst of wet heat at the back of my left leg told me I was bleeding. I tugged off one of my gloves and reached down to feel a shard of metal sticking out of the underside of my calf. Although it hurt like nothing I'd ever experienced, I didn't dare to pull it out in case I bled even more.
            "Are you all right back there?" Antonina asked, so at least I knew she was alive.
            "Yes," I lied. "You?"
            "I'm fine, but Valentina is going to be busy."
            That was true. The Po-2 could fly as normal, but the poor thing was going to need some patching up, as was I.

Buy Night Witches from:

About Mirren Hogan

Mirren Hogan lives in NSW Australia with her husband, two daughters, dog, cat, rabbits and countless birds. She has a Bachelor of Arts (English/ history), a Graduate Diploma of Arts (writing) and a couple of degrees in education. She writes fantasy, urban fantasy and science fiction, as well as historical fiction.

Her debut novel —Crimson Fire— was released in October 2016.

Burning Willow Press will be releasing Nightmares Rise – co-authored by Erin Yoshikawa – on April 8.

Mirren also had several short stories published and has co-edited two charity anthologies; for breast cancer research and Plan Australia.

Follow on Twitter: @MirrenHogan
Official website:


Reasons NOT to Read My Books

>> Wednesday, March 15, 2017

So, I'm at this SF and Fantasy virtual Faire today (lots of fun and I'll be hosting an hour tomorrow [3/16/2017], 11:30am CST) and Author Gibson pulls up a blog post where he has a placard of reasons not to read his book. It's brilliant. It's so brilliant I immediately by his book (sold me when it said it had math and science in it). There are three other books with different authors that did the same thing (already had two of those books or I'd been tempted to buy more and I'll probably get the third one for completeness).

I am not only the sort of person who would shamelessly steal this idea and make up placards for every freaking one of my books, I'd brag about doing it (and will tomorrow at the faire). And here now. But showing is so much better than telling, don't you know...



It's All About the Story

>> Tuesday, March 7, 2017

I love writing. I might have mentioned that a time or two along the way.

But, much more than that, I love telling stories. I love imagining situations that demonstrate points I want to make, imagining characters that people can understand, can feel for and with, and can identify with, and having them make mistakes and smart moves, learn and grow.

If you ever have a one-on-one conversation with me (it could happen), you'll realize that I'm always tossing out anecdotes, either of things that happened to me, things that happened to people I know, or situations I concocted to make the point I'm trying to make. Because, hey, I love telling stories.

I have a good reputation for communicating with people and perhaps that story telling is part of it, according to this article ("The Science of Storytelling: Why Telling a Story Is the Most Effective Way to Activate Our Brains") that talks about studies that scientifically demonstrate what I've always instinctively known.

In the article, they delve into the physical reasons of why, the genetic usefulness of the story, but I, personally (and with no science backing) think it's easy to explain.

The intent of a story is to allow you to live something vicariously. I don't have to have a child out of wedlock to feel sympathy and understanding for someone in that plight. It is possible for a very sympathetic person to feel that way with a bullet point, but a story, were we're put in her shoes, where we come to terms with parents that disown us, with a workplace world that certainly doesn't want us, with societal norms that make us into monsters, tell us we can't abort the children that will change (possibly disastrously) our futures, but then treat us as pariahs indefinitely for doing so. Juno is an excellent example of a story that doesn't preach, but tells us a whole host of important truths.

Stories, well-told stories, make abstract notions alive, where we can taste the bitter bile of despair or the frothy sweetness of "innocent love," we can itch with the sweat of determination and futility and feel the totally badass thrill of slicing through the enemies that threaten us. We have the opportunities to see things from perspectives we never knew or find comfort in relationships with loved ones, with pets, with friends long gone, relived through someone else's similar story.

That emotional response, in my opinion, comes from it becoming real for you, hearing the various vernaculars in James Herriot's stories, feeling the wuthering wind of desolation in Wuthering Heights,  wondering what it really would be like to find you had power you didn't know about like Harry Potter. That's why so many people (including myself) become passionate about characters and worlds that never existed. That's why nonfiction that pulls out examples that demonstrate the impact of  political decisions or historical facts or scientific discoveries are far more compelling than just description, no matter how erudite the language.

Because, stories make people, situations, facts, history, philosophy come alive.

And once something you've read or heard some story, have absorbed and lived that story, it becomes a part of you and created an emotional response in you. Your memory of reading/hearing it because an episode of you living it as if it's your own memory and affects how you see the world, how you see people, what matters to you. Not because the point was hammered over and over -- in fact, don't do that; people don't respond to that unless they're already believers--but because the lessons are part and parcel of the story. I don't have to hammer a point if it comes as part of a story, intrinsic. It helps, of course, if the contrivance for the story is not obvious and--please, please-the writer took the effort to make it entertaining, too. And if you think you can't have both, you really have been indoctrinated.

Few examples leap to mind like M*A*S*H. I loved that show and I know, for a fact, much of the philosophy and mindset "preached" by that show, most often through example, shapes my views on war and people even today. Some of it got a bit heavyhanded toward the end, but, for the most part, they took characters we cared about and made them deal with things that people really shouldn't have to deal with--without forgetting the humor or the humanity.

So, writing for me--storytelling for me--is about communicating, telling you how I see the world, how I want to see it, what I want to strive for built in, part and parcel, with stories with people I hope you can enjoy and situations that stir the imagination, perspectives that might be different than you expected.

And, with luck, you'll have a great time at the same time.


So, some actual BLOG news for a change

>> Sunday, March 5, 2017

First, let's talk blog. For those of you hardy souls still following this blog, you're probably wondering why I still have it. Well, it's because I haven't actually given up on it. And I'm going to prove it by getting back in gear and writing blog posts. I like writing blog posts and interacting with those that get on my blog and comment back. So, though it's been languishing for far longer than I like to think about, expect to see me talking about writing again, right here.

And, yeah, that will still involve new releases, but also chatting about works in progress and what I think makes good writing  and the like, just like always. Only, hopefully in the future, not identical to what I did in the past. You know what I mean. I won't be posting daily--got three blogs and a girl's gotta sleep--but I'll try to post something at least weekly.

For those who are still deeply interested in the writing itself, but don't like checking back on blogs and stuff, I'm starting a monthly newsletter. You can sign up on the right.

You'll get notifications of new releases and the single monthly newsletter and that's IT, but only to people who signed up, who actually want to know all that.

The newsletter will include some insight into my writing, why I love it, what I think about it and what I like or don't like, a handy reference for all my existing books and news about forthcoming events, and an original short story so my "fans" can get a first look on my stories. I want it to be fun and hope it will be because, though I hate "marketing" I love interacting with people and sharing things I hope they'll like.

If you're one of the people interested, sign up. I will not be using your email for any other purpose.

First Newsletter will go on next Friday, March 10.


Saving Tessa: Now it's Science Fiction!

>> Thursday, February 9, 2017

I have reworked Saving Tessa to be a science fiction YA adventure (though it was close to that already).

In the year 2045, smart tech is everywhere, much of it devised by the teenage prodigy Dylan Chroz. But being at the top of the technical world means being in demand. Sometimes, by people who should be looking out for you. Sometimes, by people who won't take no for an answer.

Tessa alone makes Dylan's life more than schematics and computers, a spot of vibrant color and irrepressible life in a dreary world of users and frauds. 

So what do you do when someone steals your girl to make you perform your technical wizardry on their sketchy hardware? Do you curl up and cry? Do what they want? Defy them? Or do you outsmart them and do your damnedest to smoke out every one of them so they never can do this again?

That is, if Tessa doesn't beat you to it.
Also, as with Curse of the Jenri, I'm going to make it available in book form. Proof is on it's way to me now and I'll announce it when it's available. Eventually, I'll do this with all my books, but I'm excited about this one because I have a character frighteningly like me there.

Thanks for the gorgeous cover by Ryn Katryn.



One of the things I did with this story when I moved it to 2045 is work on a post-Trumpian recovery. I found it therapeutic.


Curse of the Jenri Is OUT!

>> Saturday, February 4, 2017

Curse of the Jenri is now OUT, out in ebook and, for the first time, I'm going to be putting it out in print as well. I got the proof, my first ever, today! I'm so excited (so no print now but soon; I'll keep you posted). You can find it on amazon and smashwords and it should soon be available at Barnes and Nobles, Kobo and the iStore. Links for Amazon and Smashwords are available now


Finally, a Sword & Sorcery epic like it ought to be: manly hero who swings a massive sword and stumbles into spells, lovely wife who can kick his ass, a fleet of fiery and fierce compatriots, dastardly villains with vile intents, even griffons, all that and a dragonet. Oh, and six kittens. Because every manly man needs kittens, right?


Or, alternatively,

The world of the Jenri is a dangerous, primitive world, where women are prized as chattel, but the Jenri women, every one from the eldest archivist to the smallest babe, strike fear into battle-hardened mercenary hearts. It is a world where battle steeds are mythical beasts and magic is as deadly a weapon as a sword. Those who wield both are doubly dangerous and those who cross them are thrice damned. The Jenri are mistresses of all these things. If you love one of these marvelous women, you must best her in a contest of her choosing to win her love in return.

These were women who needed no one to take care of them. Until now.

It wasn’t enough that Jenri women had been stolen, including his wife, Layla It wasn't enough that those who had stolen them had nefarious plans. And phenomenal magic powers. And could escape in seconds. And an underground fortress in the midst of frozen mountains so cold Tander was afraid he’d shatter if he stumbled one more time. It wasn’t enough that he was surrounded by angry husbands worried about their wives and willing to take their tempers out on him if he was leading them in the wrong direction. It wasn’t enough that he was also surrounded by the remaining women from his tribe who were equally angry and more than capable of kicking his butt.

No, on top of all those little issues, he discovered he's no longer “just” an extraordinary swordsman, but also a great and powerful sorcerer with absolutely no idea how to use his powers. He was not just any sorcerer, either, but one chosen by six tiny kitten familiars who did know how to use his powers and who had no problem telling him. All the time. While they demanded to be carried all over his person, purring and taking inopportune naps. He didn’t want these powers or a flock of noisy but helpful kittens, but he was going to need them. He'd need all the skills and talents he and his companions possess in order to save their women—and Layla.

But we love you, Tander! Solace insisted, purring and licking his neck.

Things have got to get better soon.



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