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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Thursday teaser: A Case of Sour Grapes

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

This week’s mystery teaser comes from the acclaimed novel

By Gae-Lynn Woods

PARKING AROUND THE SQUARE was a nightmare during business hours, but I managed to slip my Lexus into a spot vacated by the flower shop’s delivery van. The hike up the steps to the agency’s second floor offices seemed much steeper than I remembered from my interview yesterday. Well, interview might be a little strong. I called Aunt Kay to tell her I wanted to be a private detective, and after she stopped laughing and got the hiccups under control, she invited me to come in for a chat. It took a while to convince her that I was serious, that this wasn’t another flight of fancy from her daft niece. She finally relented after I talked non-stop for forty-five minutes. Thank goodness for that. I was going hoarse.

But now that the moment of truth had arrived, standing outside the door with “Lost and Found Investigations — No Job Too Big or Small” written on the frosted glass, nerves fluttered in my stomach. I wasn’t sure I was up for this. I knew for sure I wasn’t up for being a police detective like my best friend. That girl had balls of brass. Mine were more like copper: warm and pretty, but easily dented.

This is it, I told myself. The point of no return. Here’s to finding my rapist.

I shifted my lucky Louis Vuitton bag higher on my shoulder and twisted the doorknob before my Blahnik’s walked me right back down the stairs. Three pairs of green eyes, each a variation of my own, glanced up at me.

Cousin Cindy smirked. “Maxine Leverman finally arrives. Ten bucks, please. Everybody pay up.”

The agency was beautifully designed. Four glassed-in offices opened onto the reception area, one each for Babby and Kay, one for Cindy, and the last for temps or in this case, me. The glass walls were on tracks and remained open unless a meeting demanded privacy. The rest of the walls were a pale blue, and the building’s original hardwood floors were covered by Persian rugs and runners. Morning light fell through the skylights and the sense was of an open, airy space. Except for Cindy’s office, which had an artfully placed Japanese screen hiding her clutter. The rest of the area housed a conference room, storage closets, a fully equipped kitchen, powder room, and a full-sized bathroom.

Aunt Babby scowled as she dug in her purse. “If you’d waited until ten o’clock, Maxine, I’d have won. Five more minutes. If you’re going to be late, do it right girl, and help your aunt win some hard cash.”

I pulled off my over-sized shades and placed the bag of donut holes from The Palace on Babby’s desk, and the large envelope from the bank on Aunt Kay’s desk. “You three had a pool on when I’d get here?”

“Not just the three of us,” Cindy said. “Jake the janitor thought you’d make it by ten after eight. Silly man. But Arty was the real skeptic. He didn’t think you’d get here until noon.”

“Who’s Arty?” I asked.

“The gorgeous lawyer who rented the other half of the floor. Cindy’s been trying to get her talons into him since he arrived,” Kay answered. “He saw you come upstairs yesterday. Cindy filled him in on your less attractive attributes, time-keeping being one of them.”

I sipped my extra large coffee from The Golden Gate and watched as Babby peeked in the bag. She seemed to battle with herself for a moment, but finally picked a donut hole and popped it in her mouth. Her eyes rolled. “Grease, flour, and sugar make up for many a shortcoming, sweetie pie, but next time bring me a cinnamon roll.”

“Be careful what you wish for, Aunt Babs. With Max’s track record, you’ll be eating donuts every day.” Cindy stood and smoothed the black pencil skirt over her shapely hips and sauntered to the door. “For the record, Arty’s into me.” She shook her mane of chestnut colored hair and checked her teeth for lipstick in the mirror near the agency’s door. “Be back in a flash.”

Babby plucked another donut hole from the bag. “I’m off to the post office and bank. Given that it’s hot enough to fry chicken, I’ll be driving. Show Maxine that financial stuff, Kay. See what she can do with it.”

About A Case of Sour Grapes

Wine, women, and song. What could possibly go wrong?

Meet Maxine Leverman, lover of expensive shoes, beautiful handbags, and her lingerie wearing ex-husband’s hush money. When she pleads her way into a job at family run Lost and Found Investigations, Maxine’s only goal is to gain the concealed carry license and PI skills she needs to find the man who attacked her, and then kill him. (Or maybe just put him in jail, that decision can wait.)

But when she secretly takes a missing husband case on her first day at the agency, she stumbles into a high-stakes game of blackmail and murder. Maxine must unravel the links between a forgotten folk punk band, an international drug cartel, and the tangled history of the missing husband to keep the women in his life alive.

Fans of the early Stephanie Plum novels and Stuart Woods’ Holly Barker series will love Maxine’s tenacity, grit, and lust for life.

Meet the author

mystery author Gae-Lynn Woods

Gae-Lynn Woods is a Texan mystery writer 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.

Visit Gae-Lynn’s

BestSelling Reads page   |   Amazon author page   |   Facebook   |   Twitter   |   Google+   |   Goodreads   |   LinkedIn   |    Website   |    Blog

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Why that genre?

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Photo by Wes Hicks on Unsplash

Monday musings by your favorite bestselling authors

Readers often associate their favorite writers with a genre: romance, mystery, thriller, science-fiction or fantasy, to name just a few.

Why did the author choose that genre? Your favorite bestsellers answer that question this week.

Alan McDermott

Action thrillers

When I pick up a book I want it to keep me gripped from start to finish and be something I can relate to. I couldn’t see myself delivering that with a science-fiction or romance novel. I could try, but I know I would soon get bored with it. If the subject matter doesn’t interest me, I can hardly expect my readers to become engrossed. I think it is important that you write about what you love.

D.G. Torrens

Romance, memoir and poetry

I write about what interests me personally. If I won’t read it then I certainly will not write about it. It is important for me to love what I do. Therefore, I apply it to what genre I write in.

Samreen Ahsan

Historical fantasy and paranormal romance

I write what I enjoy writing most, keep the readers busy. Someday, when I itch to write science fiction, I’d love to write that. Regardless of what genre it is, I want my readers to keep guessing.

Mary Doyle

Mystery, fantasy and erotica

If I were traditionally published, my biggest fear would be a publisher that insisted that I write in only one genre. That would be the end of my writing career. I’ve written mystery, urban fantasy, erotica and memoir and someday soon I’m going to write some dystopian fiction … maybe zombie stuff, maybe some other end of the world thing. I won’t write in one genre and you can’t make me!

Raine Thomas

Young adult and new adult fiction

I write romance across multiple sub-genres (YA, contemporary, sports, Sci-Fi, fantasy). I’ve always been a romantic, so my writing will always reflect that part of me. I also love diversity and exploring new things, so branching into the sub-genres allows me to explore that too. Who knows where the Muse will lead me next?

Toby Neal

Mystery, thriller and romance

I think characters are most important in writing, because no matter what genre you are in, people want to follow a heroine’s journey as they develop. So while I mostly write mystery/thriller because I love puzzles and surprises and a lot of tension, I am always writing that character arc of development. Over and over, whether it’s a thriller, a romance, or my own memoir. Riveting characters in a process of growth is what keeps readers coming back.

Gae-Lynn Woods

Mystery

I’ve always been drawn to stories with multiple layers and characters who grow and change. I love the challenge of figuring out “who done it” in another writer’s work, and seeing if I can keep the reader guessing in my own. I end up creating the characters I want to know more about and writing the stories I’d want to read.

DelSheree Gladden

Young adult, new adult, romance, fantasy and more

I write in multiple genres because I read just about every genre and like to try new things in my writing. When an idea comes to me, I go with whatever genre seems to fit that story and let it develop organically. The character’s journey is more important to me than following genre conventions.

Caleb Pirtle III

Thriller, literary fiction and memoir

I generally write historical thrillers or historical mysteries because I prefer living in the past. There is a certain feeling of the unknown and unexplained in an earlier time, especially when my stories have a World War II backdrop. Evil has a face. And the night holds suspense with every tick of the clock. It’s difficult for me to write suspense when all my hero has to do is pull out a cell phone can dial 9-11 if he’s in trouble. I can research the 1930s and 1940s, and every incident I find hides a mystery just waiting to be found and told.

Next week: more authors on why they chose their genre, including David C. Cassidy, Scott Bury, Seb Kirby and more!

And happy Canada Day to all our Canadian readers!

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Thursday teaser: Avengers of Blood

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This week’s mystery excerpt comes from the bestselling novel

By Gae-Lynn Woods

CASS WORKED STEADILY, PAUSING only to haul broken sections of cabinet to the backyard and toss them on a growing burn pile. The air conditioner had been off since she and Bruce started work early this morning, and the summer heat built as the day wore on, bringing a sticky humidity that caused the dust and grit from their demolition project to hang nearly motionless in the air. Cass stopped to wipe the sweat from her face and take a swig of cold water. It had taken the better part of the day to remove most of the wall and base cabinets from the kitchen, leaving only one cabinet squatting in the corner.

She had no complaint; sweat was her salvation. The physical work cleared her mind and her fears about the future wept out through her pores. She could forget about Mitch Stone and the pain she’d endured since that devastating night in the spring. Her dreams were still riddled with the image of his face as she’d seen it through the small window in the ICU door — pale, motionless, devoid of life. The phantom scent of a burning building caught her at the most improbable of times and alternate outcomes to that night played continuously through her mind. It had been over six weeks since she’d been suspended — the banishment, she called it — from the police department, and even though she’d found solace in hard labor and power tools, doubt over the outcome of the Firearm Discharge Board review had taken a toll.

Cass finished her water and slid the crowbar between the countertop and cabinet, jammed it home, and levered the top up. It sprang free with a shriek. Cass turned at a giggle to find a tiny ballerina watching.

“Hey, Auntie Cass.”

Cass put the crowbar inside the cabinet and smiled at her niece. Phoebe was swathed in pink, from her ballet slippers and seashell pale tights and tutu, to her fuchsia leotard. Cass wiped the dust from a seat at the scuffed kitchen table and lifted the five-year-old to the chair. “You look gorgeous. What are you up to?”

“Going to jazz class.”

“Why are you wearing your ballet outfit?”

“I’m a princess, Auntie Cass, and this is my gown.”

“Oh,” Cass said, as Harry entered, guilt on his face.

“Can you take her?”

“Sure. What’s up?”

Harry pulled gingerly on the refrigerator’s duct-taped handle. He removed a pitcher of orange juice and poured glasses for them. “Do you remember the Martins?”

“Of course.”

“We’re working for them and they’re not happy with what the interior designer is planning.” He glanced down at Phoebe, but the little girl was bobbing her head to an internal rhythm, oblivious to the fact that the interior designer was her mother.

“Why don’t they talk to her?”

“Drama.”

“Ah.” Harry and his estranged wife Carly shared an architectural and design business and were known for their innovation. Carly also had a well-deserved reputation as a diva, and the firm had lost several clients over her refusal to change her designs to suit the client’s wishes.

“I need to smooth things over and knock the designer off her high horse. Can you take Feebs to town?”

“Sure,” Cass said, glancing down at her filthy clothes. “When?”

“Class starts at seven-thirty.” Harry leaned down to kiss his daughter’s head. “I’ll pick her up. Thanks, Cass.”

She looked at the dusty kitchen clock as the screen door slammed shut. An hour and a half to go. “Okay Feebs, what’s next?”

“Supper.”

“Right.” Cass ran a finger along the stove top and looked at the grit it gathered. “I’m not cooking tonight.”

“Uncle Bruce always cooks.”

“Good point. How about a burger from Chubby’s?”

“And a chocolate shake?”

Cass considered the fallout that would arise from the inevitable spatter on Phoebe’s pink ballet outfit, and decided that Carly’s wrath was well worth the price of retaining favorite aunt status. Even if it cost Cass a new leotard and tutu. “It’s not Chubby’s without a shake.” She touched her tangled hair. “I need a shower. Want to come upstairs and watch TV while I get ready?”

The little girl nodded and pulled a sparkling tiara from behind her back. “Mommy won’t let me wear it outside ’cause I might lose it. But it’s okay if I’m with you, right Auntie Cass?”

Cass recognized the crown Carly had received when she was named Fire Ant Queen years ago. It was a tacky thing made of paste jewels that formed hearts and something meant to resemble a fire ant. Her heart warmed at Phoebe’s transcendent grin as she settled the shiny crescent on her niece’s head, and she wondered only briefly how much a new tiara would cost.

About Avengers of Blood

A deadly game of cat and mouse is playing out in Forney County…

Detective Cass Elliot is still on suspension after killing a fellow officer and Sheriff Hoffner refuses to sign her release papers. But when four people are murdered in one night, one with the exceptional brutality of a lynching, the Medical Examiner side-steps Hoffner to hire Cass and loan her to Forney County’s overstretched police department.

As Cass and her partner investigate, they realize that three of the murders were committed by the same person but find no connection between the victims. Their frustration intensifies when another victim survives and disappears instead of coming to the police.

Sheriff Hoffner is frantic about anonymous letters claiming one of his star officers is dirty, and Cass suspects a link to the current crimes. The pieces fall together when she uncovers the true identity of the man who was lynched, revealing connections between the victims, the killer, and an unpunished crime committed nearly fifty years ago.

Meet the author

mystery author Gae-Lynn Woods

Gae-Lynn Woods is a Texan mystery writer 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.

Visit Gae-Lynn’s

BestSelling Reads page   |   Amazon author page   |   Facebook   |   Twitter   |   Google+   |   Goodreads   |   LinkedIn   |    Website   |    Blog

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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:

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The Curious Incident of the Deer in the Nighttime

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Memorable musings

By Gae-Lynn Woods

Do personal memories ever find their way into my writing? Indeed they do. It’s a hazard of the job, cataloging every noteworthy occurrence and trying to find a home for it in a novel. (If you’re a friend or relative of a writer, rest assured, your personal life is constantly under scrutiny for future use.) In fairness, everyone defines “noteworthy” in different ways.

But take a gander at the following elements of an actual event, and tell me if you don’t also find them noteworthy:

  • a hand-me-down 1977 burnt orange Chevy Vega
  • two sixteen year old boys who share the privilege of squeezing behind the wheel of the Vega, and
  • one deer with a very bad sense of timing.
1977 Chevy Vega
1977 Chevy Vega

Maybe not so exciting when taken on their own, but when you combine them on a lonely country road after dark, things get a little more interesting.

The boys are my twin brothers, who at 6′ 4″ barely fit into that Vega. Even with the driver’s seat pushed all the way back, their knees still cradled the steering wheel. They were coming home from basketball practice one evening, minding their own business, when a deer dashed out of the brush and smacked into the side of the car. The poor thing hit the car hard enough to knock itself out and leave a dent in a fender. My brothers, good Samaritans and smart enough to know that there was no way our mom would believe that they weren’t responsible for denting the car, hoisted the unconscious deer into the Vega’s hatch area, and then one of my 6′ 4″ brothers folded himself in half, climbed into the tiny hatch area with the deer, and held its feet just in case it woke up on the drive home.

Alas, Mom did not believe them despite the presence of an unconscious deer in her car and reassurance from her husband and her Sheriff’s deputy brother that yes indeed, deer do occasionally get the timing wrong and run into a car instead of in front of it. My brothers suffered mightily for the damage that deer did to the poor little Vega.

Until, that is, the same thing happened to my mom in her big ol’ honkin’ brown Oldsmobile.

Same road. Same time of day. Same spot on the fender. Different deer, one hopes.

Mom did not bring the deer home as proof of how the big ol’ Olds got dented, but she forgave my brothers. Grudgingly.

Did I use all this in a story? Oh yes. In The Devil of Light, after my fictitious Grove twins hit the deer, they got distracted by a glow off in the forest and go to investigate. That leads them to a fire pit where a human foot has just been burned. Toward the end of the book, their mother gets hit by a deer (on a different road), and ends up being held captive by a cult.

I’m not sure it’s possible to keep our memories and our writing separate. And I think that’s a good thing. A touch of reality adds flavor and more often than not a little hilarity. Who couldn’t do with more of that?

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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