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October Interviews

10/07 M.E. Browning, Shadow Ridge

10/14 Alexia Gordon

10/21 Adam Meyer

10/28 Barbara Ross, Jane Darrowfield and the Madwoman Next Door

October Guest Bloggers

10/03 Kathleen Kalb

10/17 S. Lee Manning

10/31 Sharon Dean

WWK Weekend Bloggers

10/10 Jennifer J. Chow

10/24 Kait Carson


For The Love Of Lobster Tales by Shari Randall is now available to download free for a limited time. Go to Black Cat Mysteries at: https://bcmystery.com/ to get your free copy! Thanks for the freebie, Shari.

Keenan Powell recently signed with agent Amy Collins of Talcott Notch. Congratulations, Keenan!

KM Rockwood's "Secrets To The Grave" will appear in the new SinC Chesapeake Chapter's new anthology Invitation To Murder, which will be released by Wildside Press on 10/6.

Congratulations to our two Silver Falchion Finalists Connie Berry and Debra Goldstein!

Paula Gail Benson's "Cosway's Confidence" placed second and Debra Goldstein's "Wabbit's Carat" received Honorable Mention in the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable 2020 short story contest. Congratulations, Paula and Debra!

Susan Van Kirk's Three May Keep A Secret has been republished by Harlequinn's Worldwide Mystery. The WWK interview about the book can be accessed here. We're so glad another publisher picked up this series.

KM Rockwood's "Burning Desire," and Paula Gail Benson's "Living One's Own Truth," have been published in the anthology Heartbreaks & Half-truths. Congratulations to all of the WWK writers.

Please join Margaret S. Hamilton's Kings River Life podcast of her short story "Busted at the Book Sale" here. Congratulations, Margaret!


Sunday, April 12, 2015

Drawing the Reader In

Think of a book you really loved. I mean really loved. Was it because of its perfect plot? A twist ending so surprising it astounded you? Because every word was exactly the right word?

I will go out on a limb and suggest that while those elements may have been present, you loved the book because you became deeply invested in at least one character. You cared about what happened to that individual, in how they would fare in the world they inhabited, which may be very different from any world you will experience.

Writers are beaten about the head and shoulders with the mantra to “show, not tell.” As I write this blog, I am participating in a weeklong Donald Maass workshop. We spent a good portion of day three discussing how to tell, not show.



Here is a diamond of understanding I picked up. Writers, you might try it out and see whether it deepens a story you are working on. Readers, see if you can catch a favorite author sucking you into their make-believe world with this technique.

Have your character tell (yes, tell) about an emotion they are feeling. Incorporate the following elements in the description. [My parenthetical example happens to use first person, but it works as well in third.] Include this in an action scene (not as a reflection or reaction scene) to make it immediate. Make it short so it does not feel to the reader as though the action has stopped.

Step 1. Use an analogy to describe the emotion. This objectifies the emotion and makes it safe for the reader. [My anger glowed as hot and fragile as a freshly blown glass figurine. One false move and everything would shatter.]

Step 2. Have the character make a moral judgement about their emotion. [No matter how much justified, surely God despised this much anger.]

Step 3. Include inner conflict regarding what the character is feeling. [And yet, within that fire, that blinding white rage, I felt a corner of my mind evaluating my posture, the tightness around my eyes, noting sagely that I was showing none of what I felt. The fury, should I let it slip its leash, would come as a complete surprise to the other wedding guests.]

Step 4. Add a touch of self-reflection. [There, I said it: should I let it slip its leash. It would be conscious if I did, and even if others called me insane, I would know it for a conscious effort. It was my beast to wrestle, to control.]

Had you read this on the first or second page would you be interested in reading more about this character? If you read it later in the story, would it deepen your understanding of this character? If this telling occurred while the individual stood as best man, watching the bride-to-be walking down the aisle on her father’s arm, would it have stopped the action, or indeed would it have been part of the action, even though it was all exposition?

Remember, I just learned this and so am practicing, but I do think it works. What about you?

~ Jim


Gloria Alden said...

I think it works, too, Jim. I just finished a book I loved so much last night because of the characters, especially the main character coming so alive because of her insecurities which she put aside so many times to help others. INVISIBLE ELLEN by Shari Shattuck had me reading late last night to finish it. In fact, although it was a library book, I ordered a copy on line so I could choose it for one of my book clubs when it's my turn to host it in June. All this characters fears and insecurities came out in the characters feelings and thoughts told by the author as much as being shown.

Sarah Henning said...

I definitely think this works, Jim! Little nuggets like this are a perfect way to help the reader get into the character's head without total information overload.

I also thought the analogy portion was interesting. I tend to rely a lot on them and find that they really add voice, so it's nice to see that they're suggested in this way.

Jim Jackson said...

Gloria -- You know the author is doing it right when you willingly give up sleep in order to find out what happened.

Sarah -- Including the analogy and understanding the reason to do that were the most surprising aspects to me. But I really like them.

Warren Bull said...

I've read that there are experiments showing that analogies fire up brain functioning in areas of the brain that reading alone does not activate.

Jim Jackson said...

That's interesting, Warren. As I think about it, I'm not surprised. Just as using multiple senses enriches an experience, having the brain juggle multiple contexts for an event would seem to provide a deeper experience, and therefore more memorable.

Annette said...

Interesting post, Jim. Then again, Donald Maass' workshops are brilliant and always thought-provoking. Thanks for sharing!

cj petterson said...

cj Sez: Thanks, Jim, for sharing. Great info.

Shari Randall said...

I'm going to save this post. This perfectly sums up a couple of books I just put aside/struggled to finish - because I didn't feel invested in the characters.
Sounds like you're getting your money's worth on this workshop.

Jim Jackson said...

Annette -- the workshop is now over and my list of things to do is epic -- which is what I was hoping.

cj -- you're welcome.

Shari -- And did you give yourself permission not to finish? Gosh, that is still hard for me, but I do it more often now (unless I've gotten about halfway in, in which case I still gut it out. Note to self -- need to change that!)

KM Rockwood said...

You make some great points, Jim. I have to agree that if I care about a character, I will definitely finish the book.

Now if only I can apply those to my own writing...

E. B. Davis said...

Jim, I'm so glad you are attending Donald Maass's workshop. It's one that I've had on my wishlist for a long time, but so far it's always in NYC or another area where for me, it's cost prohibitive. I think of this "telling" as more internal dialogue opposed to the usual telling wherein the author steps out of character and provides a condensed monologue to the reader.

Internal dialogue is essential for the reader to get to know the main character. It used to be called "Deep POV" or something similar. For me, as long as it doesn't go on too long and wax too poetic, it's a great ice breaker revealing character.

Jim Jackson said...

KM -- That is the rub, isn't it!

EB -- Yes, it could well be internal dialogue as we are in the POV character's head -- but it is one form of telling as we are not showing how this affects the character we are directly saying what she is feeling.

And I agree that it if is more than a quick in and out it becomes quickly tiresome. (Which is why one reason I don't read a lot of "literary" novels without interesting plots).

Kaye George said...

Thanks for bringing us this wisdom from The Donald. I attended one of his workshops years ago and it was completely different stuff.This is great! I'll look for this in other writers and see if I'm using any of this. If not, I can sure try to.

Maya Corrigan said...

Thanks for posting this helpful advice, Jim. In writing action scenes, I focus first on the physical details--what the character sees, hears, and does. The emotions are just as, or even more, important to make the scene come alive.

Jim Jackson said...

Kaye -- This was a weeklong workshop, so I'm sure Don covered additional things. Plus, he is continually updating his material.

Maryann -- I too think first of the physical description, but this has taught me to consider the importance of the emotional content as well.

Suzanne said...

Excellent post, Jim. So far this year I've read five published novels that substituted hyper-fast action for character development. I felt no connection whatsoever to any character in these books. My guess is that this gimmick worked to generate sales for an author within the last year, and others jumped on the trend.

Sherry Harris said...

I hope I can attend on of Donald's workshops some day! Thanks for sharing this information. I'm working on revisions and will pump up Sarah's inner thoughts!

Jim Jackson said...

Good luck with your revisions, Sherri.

Leslie Budewitz said...

Good example, Jim. I attended Don's BONI workshop in 2012 and it changed my writing life. He teaches so many great ways to inject emotion, and to evoke it into the reader. Glad the workshop was a hit with you!

Polly Iyer said...

Great post, Jim, and just what I needed to revise the beginning of my manuscript. I do caution about analogies and similes, however. When they're too obvious, they bring me right out of the story. I just finished two books by one of my favorite writers, and there were so many "as," and "like" words that I got irritated. The books were on tape, and that's why they stood out. Also why we should read our books out loud to catch anything that doesn't sound right or becomes repetitive. Now to the first chapter revisions.

Jim Jackson said...

Leslie -- Son'a workshop was just what I was looking for. Now, all I have to do is implement!

Polly -- as with anything, a little bit goes a long way. Overdoing anything in a novel gets weary...quickly.

Jim Jackson said...

Suzanne -- And some people are attracted to action for action sake and don't much care about character. Those reads are like being on speed, leaving no lasting impression other than a whirlwind of activity.

Audrey Rich said...

I definitely think it works as readers need to be emotionally drawn to the character to continue reading. Thanks for sharing that telling does have a place in our writing.