Monday, January 27, 2014

Show and Tell

I'm going to say something here, which may cast doubt on my writing ability and the quality of the first two books I've self-published. (Well, the quality of the first book was bad regardless, there's no disputing that.)

I never really got the whole line of "Show, don't tell." until recently.

Now, the phrase "Show, don't tell." is one of the most common pieces of advice any writer is going to get, and while it sounds simple enough, its one of those things that can be very difficult to let fully sink in.

Now, I've understood for a while that as writers, we need to pick our main character and more often than not, show the story through their eyes, feelings, and thoughts. When we're doing that, it works better to immerse the reader if you can engage as many different senses as possible. That means describing what they do, see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. For the most part, that means I was showing, not telling, for a fair portion of my writing, but that doesn't mean I understood the phrase or that I was successfully doing it all the time.

One thing about me, I love using quotes. This one, is what I'm talking about. Many times in the past, when people have given me the advice of "Show, don't tell.", none of them could actually elaborate further on the subject. They've told me things like "You'll just know." or given me long-winded speeches from which I could actually glean very little insight. And, while I was doing it to a degree, and could also explain it to others if they had half an hour to listen to my experience-based anecdotes and contemplations; I could never boil it down to a single, easy, example. 

So, now, when I say it's finally clicked for me. I can give that example. This, is the basic explanation of "Show, don't tell."

Telling: "Anne was pissed off at her mom." 

Showing: "Anne slammed her bedroom door as hard as she could, refusing to come out no matter how many times her mom called to her." 

Now, even as simple an example as that is, it might not click yet for some of you, and that's okay. It's about getting the wheels turning. It's about being intuitive to the words as they're used. Some people just aren't good at inferences, and inference is what "Show, don't tell" is all about. It's about making people realize the idea, without actually telling them in specific language. 

It's Pictionary. 

For those of you not familiar with Pictionary, it's a party game for four or more people. You have a large sketch-board, and a box of cards. You get a card and you have to draw something so that your partner can guess what is on the card. You can give hints, but the rules say no words in the drawing or you automatically lose the round. Like this. 

In my example of Telling and Showing above, the key is to infer what was told, from what was shown. 

Anne slammed the door of her room. - Seems to me like she's upset at the very least, if not fully pissed off. 

She refuses to come out no matter how many times her mom asks. - Hmm. Ignoring her mom, wonder if that might be who she's pissed at. 

"Show, don't tell" is about action. Don't just tell us things like "Anne was pissed off at her mom.". Show us through the things the characters do. Show us what Anne does when she's pissed off. Show us who she is pissed off at by how she treats them. Now, it's very true that some people will read through that and not put two and two together, but more readers will appreciate work which makes them think a little, without being handed the information in straight-out, boring terms. 

Also, showing instead of telling, for those concerned about such a thing, will usually lead to a higher word count. 

And no, I'm not telling you the answer to the Pictionary picture. You'll have to figure it out yourself. 

~ Shaun

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Author Problems: Writer's Block

I just want to let everyone know, if they don't already, that due to my hometown Seattle Seahawks going to face the Denver Bronco's at the "Superbowl", I'm putting up my sci-fi/horror novel Class 5 on sale for $0.99 on Kindle from Monday, January 20th, until the big game. So swoop on over to Amazon and grab a copy!

(Seriously, just try and say this out loud without laughing)

So, otherwise, I have to admit I've had a hard time working on this week's blog post. My depression has lifted it's head a bit and made it difficult to write much of anything. I have an anthology I would like to submit to whose window closes at the end of the month and I've not started on a piece for that yet. I also haven't gotten more than 1000 words done on "Hannah" in the past two weeks. 

Yeah, my NaNoWriMo project is moving on to its fourth month. 

Still, if you spend any amount of time trying to be a serious writer, "writer's block" is something you're going to have to contend with and figure out how to get over. One definition of it which I think puts it in the plainest words, reads like this. 
An inability to begin, or continue, writing due to reasons other than lack of basic skill or commitment. 
The problem I've had with "Hannah" has nothing to do with skill, commitment, creativity, or even energy. It seems to be almost a lack of will to continue with the work. My current problem, however, seems to be stretching outside of that piece and preventing me from working on anything at all.

The causes of Writer's Block can be varied though. It can be due to stress, disenchantment with one's own writing ability, a loss of interest in the subject, general depression, anxiety, or even just writing yourself dry. It can last for weeks, months, or even years. Supposedly, some people's careers have even been killed by interminable cases.

Fortunately, there are ways to counter Writer's Block, if you have a good idea of what's holding you back. 
  1. Force it. This is the easy one. Just ignore the block, sit down, and write. It doesn't necessarily have to be part of the story you're working on, or even part of a story at all. Write a blog post, a diary entry, a character study, or just write out a list of what is in the room. A lot of the time, you'll find that once you get started and you've been at it for a while, things will start flowing again, like a clogged pen that you manage to work the blockage out of. 
  2. If the block has to do with a particular scene or story, switch to something else for a bit. Try another story or skip ahead and move on to a different scene if you can. It may be that there's something about that scene that just isn't clicking right in your head and if you step away from it, things might fall back into place. 
  3. If you're having a problem with outright creativity, try brainstorming. Just a list of any ideas at all you can come up with. It doesn't matter what the ideas are for, if they're relevant to the story you're working on, or even whether the ideas are good or not. It can also help to make a list of what has gone on previously in the story. Revisiting what's already done can revitalize your imagination if you've gotten bogged down and lost track of where you are and what comes next. 
  4. Sometimes, you just run out of ink and all you can really do is step away and let it refill on its own. Take a weekend off, go out with friends, go hiking, play video games. Basically, do things that don't put any strain on your creativity. Try not to think about the stories you're working on, keep your mind clear of any ideas that might suddenly pop up. If you must, write them down quickly and then push them to the back of your mind. The whole point here is to let your mind rest and slowly refill. Imagine it like an empty coffee pot. You can probably squeeze a few more drops out of a used filter, but it won't be good and it isn't a good use of your time compared to putting in a fresh filter, grounds, and water, then letting it do what it's supposed to, which is to slowly heat, percolate, and make a fresh pot. 
It really comes down to how well you know yourself and figuring out what it is you need that's missing from your life and dragging you down. After all, you can't fix a problem if you don't know what it is. 

In the meantime, chins up, and keep writing!

~ Shaun 

Space Corps Directive 147: Crew members are expressly forbidden from leaving their vessel except on permission of a permit. Permits can only be issued by the Chief Navigation Officer, who is expressly forbidden from issuing permits except on production of a permit. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Misconceptions in Horror

So, there's this.

Now, I'm all for the re-imagining of the classic monsters. They need to be treated with the respect and reverence they deserve, though, even if they no longer scare or terrify as they once did. I'm not bringing up this trailer for the new movie I, Frankenstein, to pass any kind of judgement on it though. I'm just using it as a lead in to my topic for the day, which is common misconceptions of Horror.

One of the ones that irks me the most being; Frankenstein was the doctor's name, and NOT the monster's. In the original movie, it was called Frankenstein's Monster, or creature depending on translations and subtitles. The sewn-together beast is NOT actually Frankenstein, no matter how many lazy movies have decided to just call it that. So just remember that if you're ever on Jeopardy and they ask for the name of Dr. Frankenstein's creation. It'll likely be The Monster.

"Horror means blood, gore, and death."

Sometimes. That is not always the case though. Horror is based on the things we fear, and as far as things the average person is afraid of, torture and death are pretty high up there. The loss of those important to us, as well. There is a lot of psychological Horror out there as well though. Movies such as Fire in the Sky, Poltergeist, and The Mothman Prophesies may have a scene or two of bloody mess, but that's not what scares us about those movies. The messy parts are what makes them Horror. Horror isn't just a genre, it's an emotion; and the best examples can bring that fear kicking and screaming out of us without resorting to throwing ketchup at your TV screen. Just look at a story like The Exorcist, where there is a fear of death, but worse than that, is the fear of innocence stolen. Slasher flicks, torture porn, those are sub-genres within Horror. They don't define what Horror is though.

"People that like/write Horror have something wrong with them."

I've actually heard it said that many Horror fans are actually more well adjusted than those who abhor the genre. We don't try to live pretending everything is always great in the world. We don't live every day trying to suppress and deny the darker parts of ourselves. For example, who hasn't had a boss that they wish would get hit by a train on the way home? Horror fans are more likely to smirk at the thought, maybe chuckle a little bit, and then move on to the next thing to catch their attention. More repressed people might be mortified at the thought and fret over having had it for the next hour. Which one of those scenarios sounds healthier to you?

"Horror stories are just cheap one-trick ponies."

This goes along with comments like "Horror can't be literary" and "Horror stories try to scare you and that's it". Would anyone try to claim Edgar Allen Poe's work wasn't literary? Does anyone really think that Horror stories can't have something to say about society or the human condition? Horror does that all the time. Horror movies put our current fears up on the big screen in allegory all the time. Look at the giant monsters of the fifties and sixties. Those were created due to our new and rising fears of atomic energy and radiation. The second Red Scare was embodied in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. More recently, you have movies like Event Horizon, which showcase the current clash between science and religion. How about a story where an old man is haunted by a handful of ghostly beings in a single night and is eventually tossed, screaming, onto his own grave, all to try and make him see the world in a different light? Sound familiar? Sound like a good horror story? You can thank Charles Dickens for writing A Christmas Carol for that one. So, yes, Horror can have a lot to say about the current state of society and the human condition. It's just a matter of climbing out from behind the couch, stopping the shivers in your spine and paying attention to what some (not all, there are pointless gore-fests out there after all) of these movies are trying to say.

So, there we go. Horror does not mean blood, gore, and death. Horror can be thought-provoking and deep. There is not automatically something wrong with people who like or create Horror stories. That is the truth of the matter. Anything I missed? Leave a comment and we'll discuss it.

Also, Dracula's first name is Vlad. Not Count.

~ Shaun

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Why do we Blog?

After my last post about how my blog did in its first year, I got to thinking about why I started a blog in the first place, what is a blog really for, and what constitutes a good blog. For my first post of the new year, I figured I'd dip into those questions.


Why start a blog in the first place? That's easy. I started my blog as a way to help me push my name out there attached to something besides my books. It's about name recognition. After all, most people can't pump out a book a month in order to keep reeling in new readers and fans. (Unless you want to count those ungodly crypto-porn magazines that some people claim are books.) You can't put out a book a month, but you can put out short stories and blog posts once a month, or even once a week. That's not too difficult and it gives readers something new to look at. It's about creating a platform from which you can call attention to yourself.

Now, after the first six months of doing my blog, I started to actually learn things about the writing business, and I started doing posts based on the mistakes I've made and the things I've learned, in order to pass that information along to others who might be looking for that information. Some of it is things I had to look around for quite a bit to find, and I feel like putting it out there on my blog as well, will make it easier for the next people to find it. 

At it's basest, a blog is a tool to communicate. Whether that communication is based around advertising, promoting ideas, passing along useful information, or just a soapbox for nonsensical ranting is up to the person that uses it.


Now that my blog is somewhat established, in that it's over a year old, it should be fairly clear how I'm using my blog.

Writing - Most of my posts over the past year, have focused on the act and business of writing, with topics on why editing is important, things we self-published authors are doing wrong, and tips on how to power through writing your novel. These will probably continue to be a fairly regular and high focus on what I blog about. For those curious, this is where I'm labeling this post, as it deals with one of the common ways authors market themselves.

Horror - My chosen genre tends to be Horror; that's the kind of story I like to write, as well as what I like to read, and watch. This has been the second biggest theme I've talked about and that is likely to continue as well. This includes discussion of Monsters, in film and writing, in addition to rumored monsters like Bigfoot, Nessie, etc. etc.

Rants and Reviews - These combined make up the majority of the rest of my posts, of which there are fewer than ten out of eighty. Still, while I promise rants will remain a rarity, reviews, especially of other author's works in the Horror genre, will probably increase over the coming year. At least that's the plan.


The last thing I want to go over, is what (I think) makes a good blog.

Content - Obviously, the biggest thing. If you don't have content worth reading, there's no reason for people to come check out your blog. Now, it doesn't even have to be real original content, but you need to make sure your blog is entertaining, education, informative, or a mix of those three, otherwise, they're just pointless words on a page which people won't be waiting anxiously for the next posting of. Content also comes in many forms; there are words, sounds, pictures, and video. The best blogs can have posts which use one or all of those in any kind of mix. I've found a modicum of success with a simple mix of words and pictures. In the future, though, I'm considering video, and there is always the option to add music to your posts as well. An atmospheric little tune to go along with a short story or a writing sample sounds like a good idea actually.

Timeliness - A lot of people post whenever they have time, and for some, that isn't very often, or it might even be daily. The point here is, it's usually a good thing when people can have an expectation of new content on some kind of schedule. If you post randomly every two weeks or so, it can put people off, as they check back, only to find nothing new has gone up, or they find they have several posts to catch up on. If you do write a lot of posts though, it wouldn't be a bad idea to still have one day a week where people can expect a post up, and then do extra posts around it. I've tried to ensure I put up a new post every Tuesday, though rants and reviews tend to go up whenever something irks me enough to write about it, or I finish doing whatever with what I want to review.

Consistency - Posting on a schedule falls under this, but specifically, I'm speaking in terms of what your content is. Making sure you have a few specific subjects that you focus on for your blog and sticking to them. If people can't have reasonable expectations about what they are going to see on your blog, most aren't going to be interested. Sure, your interests may stretch the gamut from Hypnotherapy, to the life-cycle of a fruit fly, to knitting, to sky-diving, but if your readers never know if your most recent post is going to interest them, they're not going to sit around and wait. Worse, if you consistently disappoint them, they're not going to waste their time checking, even the next time you do write a post they would like and appreciate. Basically, be consistent in your themes and topics. Your readers already have expectations depending on what you write, don't let them down by having a blog that's totally random.

Quality - Obviously, a well-written, and thought provoking post is going to get more attention and be passed around more than one written in txt spk and full of lols. If every post is high quality, putting forth good information in a way that everyone can appreciate, it won't even matter if you post once a month or less. The quality of a good post will carry your blog for that long and more.

Anyone disagree? Anyone have other thoughts on what we can use blogs for or what constitutes a good one? Leave a comment or send an email. I'm always happy to hear what others think.

~ Shaun
Email me! 

Space Corps Directive 1694: During temporal disturbances, no questions shall be raised about any crew member whose timesheet shows them clocking off 187 years before they clocked on.