What does “show me, don’t tell me” mean?

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Monday musings on writing

Photo by Nong Vang on Unsplash

By Scott Bury

Characters are what stories are about.

Plot is essential—we had to have a story to tell. Something has to happen, something that matters to you, the readers.

But it has to happen to someone we care about, or identify with, or connect to in some way. That connection has to happen on an emotional level.

As readers, we need to feel those emotions. This is where the “show, don’t tell” rule comes in.

It’s easy to write “She was shocked by the news.” It would be slightly better to write “The news shocked her.”

But we feel it more when we read, “Her throat felt dry and she fell back into the chair.” We know what causes that reaction. We feel it in our throats and our knees, too.

In my work in progress, I came upon a situation like this:

Javor unsheathed his dagger and stepped into the stream. Frigid shock traveled up his leg and his back as the water surged over the top of his boot. He clamped his jaw and stepped further, fighting the current that pushed him back.

The character’s reaction to the situation and the sudden wet shock to reveal something about him.

Gae-Lynn Woods does something very similar in the first chapter of The Devil of Light:

She glanced in the rearview mirror and caught the fury in the flat line of her mouth and the contraction of her brow. Again she breathed deeply, forced the tension from her body and felt exhaustion ooze in to fill the void. When she checked her reflection again, her violet eyes were still weary and her creamy skin too pale, but the imprint of anger and fear on her features was gone.

In these few sentences, we learn the character’s (Cass Elliot) mental state and see that not only is she aware of it, she knows some techniques to manage it.

Raine Thomas does even more in Return of the Ascendant:

She hadn’t gone ten feet before she spotted the dorm monitor, Rachel Ferris, stepping off the elevator with a distinct post-coital glow. She wore a self-satisfied smile, an incorrectly buttoned short-sleeved top, and a mussed hairdo. The sight of her had Kyra narrowing her eyes even as she debated whether to talk to her at all.

In this, Thomas tells us a little about Rachel Ferris, but shows us much more—and about the main character, Kyra, as well.

David C. Cassidy is all about showing, not telling. Take this sample from Velvet Rain:

Iowa beckoned, and by the third week in May, Kain crossed the state line. Des Moines he avoided—too many faces—and he worked his way west. He crossed the Little Sioux River, and by the time he arrived in the quaint town of Spencer, he was completely taken by the Hawkeye State. Iowa was like a slice of Heaven, its heart pulsing with gorgeous lakes and seas of fields. And now, climbing out of the back of the pickup he was riding in, the warm sun and the sweet breeze seduced him into thinking he might stay a while.

Don’t fall in love with it, he thought. Don’t you do that.

Toby Neal knows how to use just a few words to tell a lot. Here’s a sample from Bone Hook, her 10th Paradise Crime Mystery:

Lei couldn’t mistake the admiring glint in Thomas’ eye. She reached out and too the suit with her left hand, hoping he’d spot the wedding ring on her finger.

“I’ll yell for a bigger size if I need it.” She turned and went into the boat’s tiny head. She’d grabbed her bikini out of her truck when they’d gotten the call that the body was submerged, so she got into that first. Sure enough, with some hopping, pulling, and cramped gymnastics in the small space, Lei was able to get the rubber suit on.

Those are just a few examples. BestSelling Reads authors are masters at story-telling, at creating fully fleshed characters that readers want to know better.

That’s why our readers keep coming back: for compelling writing that puts them right in the story, where they can not only see, but hear, feel and smell the situation, and where they can feel what the characters are feeling.

So keep coming back. And tell us what you love to read.

We love to hear from you.

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Our favorite secondary characters

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Part 2

Photo by Jed Villejo on Unsplash

Characters are what make readers read stories. If we don’t find characters we can love, hate, despise, fear, identify with and cheer for, the story just won’t hold our attention for long. 

Readers love great characters, and writers love to create memorable characters, too. But it’s not just the hero or protagonist. Every hero needs a villain, every lonely lover needs a love interest. 

Sometimes, readers are more interested in the secondary character than the protagonist. Think of Samwise Gamgee in Lord of the Rings, Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series, Boxer in Animal Farm

And writers love their secondary characters, too. This week, more of your favorite bestselling authors share their favorites among the characters in their own books.

Seb Kirby 

With Matteo Lando in Take No More, I wanted to create a villain who was bad but potentially redeemable.

As the son of crime boss Alfieri, he’s been raised in the expectation of taking over the family business when the time is right. But he’s trapped by the weight of this expectation and never able to justify himself in the eyes of his father or those lower down in the hierarchy who see him as a favoured son. This gives him a vulnerability that underscores the heartlessness of his deeds.

Dawn Torrens

My favourite secondary character is Tristan from Tears of Endurance.

Tristan plays a big role in the novel as he is the brother of the protagonist. He is a good guy with a guilty secret that he must conceal from his brother.

Tristan battles with his feelings a great deal and through loyalty to his brother, he ends up suffering inner pain.

DelSheree Gladden

My favorite secondary character to writer was Oscar Roth from my Someone Wicked This Way Comes series: Wicked Hunger, Wicked Power, Wicked Glory and Wicked Revenge.

I enjoyed writing Oscar because he was out of his mind most of the time and I got to do things with him that I couldn’t with a sane character.

Scott Bury

Two weeks ago, I wrote about my own favorite secondary character, Rowan Fields from Torn Roots.

Then I asked a reader who his favorite secondary character of mine was. After a moment’s thought, he said “The amulet in The Bones of the Earth.”

This both surprised and delighted me. The amulet is an important element of the book, and I revealed is personality gradually over hundreds of pages. To have readers not only recognize that but also love the character just made my day.

Who is your favorite secondary character?

Share with authors and readers: tell us who your favorite secondary character is in any book. What about that person appeals to you? Do you identify with them? Do you love them or hate them? Would you like to read a book where they move from secondary to main character?

Let us know!

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Goober: One of My Favorite Secondary Characters

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By Gae-Lynn Woods

Roseohioresident (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Secondary characters. Rarely do we talk about them, but they’re an important part of the seasoning that livens up any story. Asking me to choose which character I love most is a bit like asking a parent to pick a favorite child. So I’ll just say that for this moment, a sweet secondary character named Goober is my favorite.

He made his debut in The Devil of Light, the first Cass Elliot Crime Novel, and has appeared in each book since. In The Devil of Light and Avengers of Blood, Goober ended up playing important roles by stumbling across dead bodies (in one case a body so very freshly dead that Goober thought it was still moving, zombie-style). In A Case of Sour Grapes, he’s spared from finding bodies and plays a true secondary role, adding color and texture to the story.

Goober’s character is based very loosely on a real-life character who lived in our neck of the East Texas woods. The little town nearest to my grandparents was home to a woman with mild mental challenges who rode a lawn mower as a means of transportation. Although I vividly remember seeing her scooting around town on her red mower, I never learned her name or anything about her past. But her image, and the freedom she found on that mower, never left me.

A Case of Sour Grapes - mystery by Gae-Lynn Woods

As do all my characters, Goober appeared in a story at the exact moment he was needed. He wasn’t fully formed, but a general sketch of who he was – based on the woman from my childhood – arrived with him. In The Devil of Light, we learned that he was abandoned on Forney County’s courthouse lawn when he was a toddler, and was adopted by an elderly widow. Although Goober was a little slow when it came to formal education, he is a talented gardener and handyman, but the intricacies of maintaining his red riding mower escape him. In Avengers of Blood, we find out he possesses a wisdom about people and their capabilities belied by his gentle nature.

I love Goober because there is absolutely no guile about him. My other characters live life on multiple levels, as we all do, but Goober is one of those rare ‘what you see is what you get’ people. He continues to grow through the stories and we’ll learn more about who Goober is, but I don’t think he’ll lose that simple sweetness that makes him so unique.

I do kind of hope he’ll stop finding bodies because it’s a tad traumatic for a soul as gentle as Goober, but on the other hand, he is prone to stumble into the most unusual situations…

Gae-Lynn Woods

is a Texan who has traveled the world, lived overseas, and come back home. She and her husband, British jazz guitarist Martyn Popey, share a ranch in East Texas with a herd of Black Angus cattle, one very cranky donkey, and The Dude, a rescue kitty with attitude.

Gae-Lynn writes the Cass Elliot Crime Series. When she’s not playing the roadie, tending to cows, fixing fences, or digging post holes, Gae-Lynn is working on the next Cass Elliot novel and the next Companion Novel featuring Maxine Leverman, Cass’ best friend, who makes her debut in Avengers of Blood.

Gae-Lynn can be found:

Facebook   |   Twitter   |   Google+   |   Goodreads   |   LinkedIn   |    Website   |    Blog

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Win-a-Book Wednesday: Little Nani’s audiobook

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The Funny Adventures of Little Nani on audiobook

NaniAudioCoverThe beloved, interactive children’s book The Funny Adventures of Little Nani, by Cinta Garcia de la Rosa, is now available in audiobook format, and you could win one of five free copies—if you can follow directions.

  1. Follow Cinta Garcia de la Rosa on Twitter as CintaNani78.
  2. Send her a tweet saying why you should win the audiobook.
  3. Retweet the pinned post on Cinta’s Twitter profile.
  4. Leav a comment below (on the Bestsellingreads.com site) telling us you’ve done all those things.

Cinta will choose five winners from the commenters.

Good luck!

About the book

Little Nani is a little girl who likes helping people. However, when she helps people the results can be a bit unexpected. Why is that? Little Nani is a witch! Or at least she wants to be a witch. With her magic wand, she will try to cast different spells to help her friends, but she won’t be successful all the time.

Follow Little Nani in her funny adventures and meet her extraordinary friends. Funny ostriches, horses that love reading, super-fast turtles, grumpy zombies… Little Nani has lots of friends! You can also draw your own characters!

Little Nani is willing to become a good witch. Will she manage to do it? Who knows? Listen to the stories and discover what happens next!

About the author

CintaBlogCinta Garcia de la Rosa has loved the written word since she was five years old and reads at least one hundred books every year. She has a B.A. in English with minors in Literature, Art, and Creative Writing from Oxford. She is an award-winning author who spends her time in the United States and Spain with her amazing husband. Along with writing, her career encompasses beta-reading, editing, proofreading, and translating Spanish/English. Cinta has published children’s books and contemporary amazonshort stories under her real name, and she also publishes horror stories under the pen name Rosa Storm.

In 2014, the Funny Adventures of Little Nani was a gold medal winner in the Children’s category of the International Readers’ Favorite Book Awards.

Cinta can be found:

Facebook   |   Twitter   |   Tsu   |   Blog   |   Blog   |    Blog

Website   |   Pinterest   |   Tumblr   |   LinkedIn

 

 

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Wordless Wednesday: The Bridge Club by Patricia Sands

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TBC Kindle cover

How far would you go to help a close friend? Is there a place where you might draw the line and simply have to say no?

Eight women. Four decades of friendship. One unimaginable request.

Where can you find a story about friendship, laughter and the good things in life that also touches on alcoholism, infidelity, porn addiction, illness and grief? For many women, it’s often within their own circle of friends. Whether your BFFs are in their twenties or are seniors, everyone has a story.

The Bridge Club reminds us of the complexities of women’s friendships through an entertaining and often moving tale of eight women whose lives intersect once a month initially to play the game of bridge. What began as one night turns into four decades that span the segments of a woman’s journey from youthful optimism to embracing the challenges and opportunities presented in life’s later years.

Based loosely on the author’s own bridge club, the story weaves the reader through a maze of life’s inevitable scenarios.

About the author

Patricia SandsPatricia Sands lives in Toronto Canada most of the time, Florida some of the time, and the south of France whenever possible. With a happily blended family of seven adult children and, at last count, six grandchildren, life is full and time is short. Beginning with her first Kodak Brownie camera at the age of six, she has told stories all of her life through photography. She is the author of the award-winning novel, The Bridge Club and her most recent release, The Promise of Provence. The latter is an Amazon best-seller that was also featured on the Movers & Shakers Digital list.  Thanks to reader demand, a sequel to The Promise of Provence in in the works!

Visit Patricia’s

And follow her on Twitter @patricia_sands

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Building Character(s)

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Handsome-Man-ReadingReaders tell me all the time how much they like many of my characters. They say that they feel like people they could know and have as friends. I’m a firm believer in Ray Bradbury’s sage advice to give readers someone to root for—I think that is what makes reading exciting. As Sol Stein always said about reading manuscripts submitted to him for possible publication, “I want to fall in love.” To me that is all you need to remember when setting out on a writing, and thus reading, adventure. I want to fall in love with my characters so much that I want to follow them to see where they are going and to cheer them on along the way.

Lately I’ve read, or started to read, an awful lot of books that feature characters I have a hard time getting interested in. Either they are one dimensional and boring or they are just not the sort of people I want to spend the hours it takes to read a book with. I’m trying to figure out why that is. Are there more authors writing about boring people? Or am I just getting pickier. Last night I started thinking about great characters from books I loved; characters that linger long after the book is over.

Probably the first was Jo March. I don’t remember how old I was when I first read Little Women and it is still one of my favorite books but, more than the actual story, it was Jo that I loved maybe because I identified with her in so many ways. Well, she wanted to be a writer. And sh came from a big family that she loved very much. But more than anything, it was her vulnerability and willingness to go that extra step. I still remember vividly the scene in which she cut off her hair and sold it rather than ask mean old Aunt March for the money so her mother could go take care of her father who had been wounded in the Civil War.

Shortly after that I read Jane Eyre for the first of many times and, again, I loved the story but I also loved Jane. Unlike Jo March she had no family except her horrid aunt and cousins. But Jane was persistent and she had a sense of self-worth that, young as I was, I recognized.

In high school I fell madly in love with Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird. He was everything I thought a man should be: mature, dignified, intelligent, good, plus he was also a crack shot with a rifle. I loved the scene where the town sheriff (Heck Tate, I swear, I didn’t know I remembered that until now) asked Atticus to take the shot needed to kill a rabid dog and the utter astonishment of Atticus’s children when he did it.

Some years back, when I read A.S. Byatt’s Possession, I became quite enthralled by Maud Bailey, the beautiful but quirky professor of feminist literature. Maude fascinated me because she was brilliant but also somewhat wounded by a relationship that she could not quite put behind her. In Kiana Davenport’s Shark Dialogues I loved both Pono, the magnificent matriarch of a large Polynesian family. I loved her fearlessness and her endless love for Duke Kaloha, who was quite memorable as well.

It’s hard to say what it is that makes one character more captivating than another. I have read all of Alice Hoffman’s books and loved them but, of all her characters (and they are wonderful characters) the one that lingers in memory is Julian Cash from Turtle Moon. Why? I’m not sure—he is an interesting mix of strength and emotion, a homely man with a scarred face, who loves his dogs but does not think himself lovable.

A few years back when Donna Tartt’s The Secret History was published it seemed like every woman I know was in love with Henry Winter, myself included. I found this quite fascinating because Henry was such an odd character. He was an intellectual snob, aloof and removed from most company and yet generous and kind with his friends. He saved Richard’s life yet had no compunctions about taking the life of someone else.

I think about these characters—and more—when I am writing because they have qualities that I want to develop in the characters I create. I think the most interesting thing about creating characters is understanding their motivation, they need a personal psychology. That is always at the core of great characters. From Jean-Benoit Aubéry to Harry Potter and from Lady Brett Ashley to Scout Finch, these are people I can think about, love and root for, and keep as friends for a lifetime.

Thanks for reading.

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