Monday, July 30, 2012

Mentor Monday: Dissecting a Scene

Books are made up of scenes. “Scenes, like little stories,” says author Quinn Dalton, “have a beginning, middle and end.”
Each scene in a book, whether it is a picture book, middle grade, YA, or an adult novel, should be “…units of significant action that provide new information and advance a story.” They should “contain the following elements:
Setting: ..when and where the action is taking place and the main players involved.
News and/or action: New developments…something about our characters and their situation that we didn’t know before…
Conflict: The desires of the main character are being thwarted
Setup: The closing of the scene leaves us a little smarter but still wanting more.”*

 So, unlike the ending of a novel, the ending of a scene does not equal a resolution. It leaves the reader hungry. Here’s an example of a scene from Larry Dane Brimner’s award winning book, Black and White: The Confrontation between Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth and Eugene “Bull” Connor. Notice how Brimner’s scene follows the points outlined by Dalton. I’ve color-coded the lines to match Dalton’s definition. See if you agree:

On Thursday, December 20 [1956], when the Supreme Court’s order to desegregate its buses was delivered to Montgomery, Fred sent a telegram to Birmingham’s commissioners. He gave them an ultimatum: comply with the new law and desegregate Birmingham’s busy by December 26 or Negroes would “rise” up if they didn’t.
            Christmas night, deacon Charlie Robinson and his wife called upon the Shuttlesworths. While the women and children visited in one part f the house, Fred took the deacon into a front bedroom to discuss the protest action that was planned for the next day if Birmingham’s buses remained segregated. At about 9:40 p.m.—“Whoom!”—sixteen sticks of dynamite detonated outside the Shuttlesworth home, bringing down the front portion of the roof, shattering windows, and leaving much of the parsonage a smoking pile of splinters and rubble with only the Christmas-tree lights still burning. Fred had the Klan’s answer to his ultimatum.

Picture books follow the same rules. Here’s a scene from Sarah Marwil Lamstein’s Big Night for Salamanders:
            “Rain tat-tatting on his hood, Evan runs from his school bus up the puddly driveway. He glances at the forested hill beyond his house and wonders, Will tonight be Big Night?”

In this scene, the setting is Evan’s house. The news is it’s raining—maybe raining just enough.
The conflict is the unstated question: What if it’s NOT raining enough?  Enough for what?  Enough for the setup: Big Night?  What is Big Night?  The reader doesn’t yet know, but turns the page to learn more.

As you revise your work, check the scenes you’ve written and determine if you have included the four rules Dalton recommends. Following them will make your scenes stronger.

*From “How to Make a Scene” The Writer, August 2005 p. 24

Friday, July 27, 2012

Poetry Friday: Black-Eyed Susan and Sweet William

All in the dawn the fleet was moor'd,
The streamers waving to the wind,
When Black-eyed Susan came on board,
Oh where shall I my true love find?
Tell me, ye jovial sailors, tell me true,
If my sweet William, if my sweet William
Sails among your crew?

Oh William, who high upon the yard,
Rocked with the billows to and fro,
Soon as her well-known voice he heard,
He sigh'd and cast his eyes below:
The cord slides swiftly thro' his glowing hands
And as quick as lightning, and as quick as lightning
On the deck he stands.

So sweet the lark, high poised in air,
Shuts close his pinions to his breast,
If, chance, his mate's shrill voice he hear,
And drops at once into her nest:
The noblest captain in the British fleet
Might envy William, might envy William's
Lip those kisses sweet.

'Oh Susan, Susan, lovely dear!
My vows shall ever true remain,
Let me kiss off that falling tear,
We only part to meet again:
Change as ye list, ye winds, my heart shall be
The faithful compass, the faithful compass
That still points to thee.

'Oh, believe not what the landsmen say
Who tempt with doubts thy constant mind,
They'll tell thee sailors when away,
In every port a mistress find:
Yes, yes, believe them when they tell thee so,
For thou art present, for thou art present
Wheresoe'er I go.

If to fair India's coast we sail,
Thy eyes are seen in diamonds bright:
Thy breath is Afric's spicy gale,
Thy skin as ivory so white:
Thus every beauteous object that I view
Wakes in my soul, wakes in my soul
Some charm of lovely Sue.'

Though battle call me from thy arms
Let not my pretty Susan mourn:
Though cannon roar, yet safe from harms
William shall to his dear return:
Love turns aside the balls that round me fly
Lest precious tears, lest precious tears
Should drop from Susan's eye.

The boatswain gave the dreadful word,
Her sails their swelling bosom spread:
No longer can she stay on board -
They kissed, she sighed, he hung his head:
Her lessening boat unwilling rows to land,
'Adieu,' she cries, 'Adieu,' she cries
And waved her lily hand.

                              --John Gay

It's said one of America's favorite wildflowers was named for the Susan in this poem by the popular poet, John Gay.  The story of Susan and William live on in the flowers. If you plant  Black-eyed Susans and Sweet William seeds together, they will bloom together. Cool, huh? I think so!

Do you like Black-eyed Susans? I love them. Years ago I transplanted some wild Susans to my yard, and their seeds live on today in deep yellow petals with their brown (not black) eyes that bloom in my lawn. They grow freely there, and I dutifully mow around them! I don't mind the little extra effort it takes. The picture at the top of the page is one of them, looking very much like a hat!

The Black-eyed Susan is native to the plains, which is another reason I love them so (I'm a native myself). Native Americans found lots of uses for this versatile plant, including as an astringent, a diuretic, and ear drops. 

Head on over to Life is Better with Books to check out today's Poetry Friday roundup.


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Women of Wednesday - Sally Ride

On Monday, July 23, Dr. Sally Ride, America’s first woman in space, died of pancreatic cancer.  A short biography, written by fellow Write Sister, Kathy Deady, can be found in Women of the Golden State: 25 California Women You Should Know. 

One of the reasons we write these biographies is to recognize women who are often overlooked by historians, but Dr. Sally Ride is a woman they won’t easily overlook.  She was born late enough in the 20th century to have lived in a time when American women were just coming into their own.  She saw the women’s movement of the ‘70’s, the enactment of Title IX, co-ed colleges, and the rise and fall of the equal rights amendment.  She may not have noticed or cared when the Russians sent Valentina Tereshkova into space in 1963, but she was probably very aware of Svetlana Savitskaya – the second woman to travel into space – in 1982.  Sally had been training for just such an opportunity since 1978, and it may have been Savitskaya’s journey that prompted the US to finally put a woman on the shuttle.  In 1983, Sally got the opportunity she had been training for. 

But Sally was more than the first American woman in space.  She was a daughter and a sister, a tennis player, an astrophysicist, a professor, a children’s book author, and a business owner.  She helped develop the robotic arm of the space shuttle and served on the board that investigated both the Challenger and Columbia disasters.  She worked for arms controls and founded Nasa’s Office of Exploration.  Her achievements go on and on.

She was a woman, in a long list of women, who achieved, despite their gender and regardless of what century they lived in.  They aspired to be more than society and social mores were willing to allow, they crossed the lines put in place to hold them back, and they followed their hearts.  They dreamed, they dared, and they did.  Sally’s dream took her farther than any woman had ever gone before.  It took her to the stars.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Manuscript Graveyard

If you’re like most writers, you probably have a graveyard of dead manuscripts - without plots , badly written,  unfinished, unsellable, or some combination of those things - slowly fading to yellow in a drawer or file cabinet, or maybe collecting dust in a pile of papers on, or by, your desk.  Maybe yours are buried deep in your computer, in forgotten files you haven’t opened in years, or maybe they’ve been swallowed by that old computer that crashed.  If you’re like me, they’re rotting away in all those places.  I saved practically everything I ever wrote assuming one day, when I became a really good writer, I’d take all those bad manuscripts and turn them into wonderful manuscripts and I’d be selling stories right and left.

Ah, naïveté!

Not every manuscript can, or should be, brought back to life.  So, which get to live and which need to die?  Well, in your graveyard, the choice is up to you.  But before you start cracking the coffin lids, be sure to put on your garlic necklace, pick up a stake, and toss the old pitchfork over your shoulder, because a manuscript graveyard can be a scary, scary place.


Beware the vampire manuscript.  This is the manuscript that constantly calls to you, that sucks the lifeblood out of you because, no matter how hard you try, you just can’t make it work.  The reason, of course, is that it has no heart and soul, it is already dead, but you are simply too attached to see it.  Hold it up to a mirror and look closely, and you will see there’s nothing there.  Forget your past attachment to it.  Slam that stake through its pages and forget it ever existed.


These are manuscripts that make you scream, or groan, or cry, or maybe even laugh when you dig them up, depending on how twisted you are.  You’ll probably find more zombies in your graveyard than anything else.  They are most often finished manuscripts, and yet, they’re not quite complete.  Perhaps the story is good, but the writing is feeble, so it stands on tottering legs.  Or perhaps the writing is rather good, but there really is no story.  The brains are missing.  They are mostly mediocre messes that just don’t satisfy, certainly not the way Chucky and Jason do.  

Sometimes, zombies can be saved, sometimes they can’t.  It all depends on how good a witch doctor you’ve become.  Those that stand on the tottering legs of bad writing can generally be rescued by even an intermediate level witch doctor.  Those without brains . . . well, you’ll need strong voodoo to save them.  You may be better off just lopping off their heads.  Of course, you can always leave them as they are and revisit the mausoleum another time, perhaps when you are more practiced at your profession.  They are zombies after all.  They’re not going anywhere.


These manuscripts have meat and bone and flesh, but are usually unfinished.  At some point, the manuscript took on a life of its own and you just didn’t know what to do with it.  Like Victor Frankenstein, you probably weren’t happy with the way it was turning out, so you abandoned it.  All it really needs is a bit of love and a good jolt or two to bring it back to life.  Luckily, you are not the blockhead Victor Frankenstein was, and are capable, upon seeing it again after all this time, of recognizing its worth and merit.  Forget what it was, or what it looks like now.  Put your talents to work and turn it into the story it was meant to be.


Bringing life to an old manuscript is hard, IMO, much harder than creating life in a totally new one, because we tend to think back to what we wanted to create and try to recreate it, rather than looking at it with fresh eyes and seeing what we can do with it now.  But now is where you are, now is when the manuscript has to work, now is the market you are in, and now you have skills and abilities you probably didn’t have then.

Don’t be afraid to unleash the mad scientist that lurks within.  Take out that red pen and dare to hack and slash, to cut out entire chapters and unworthy individuals.  It might be that your overweight 600 page monstrosity is really a slimmer 250 page novel.  It may be just as likely that your emaciated 200 page novel needs to be fattened up into a trilogy.  That YA contemporary romance may work better as a dystopian today, and that picture book you could never sell might be reworked into an easy reader.  It may be that you’re just telling a story from the wrong POV.  Consider the idea of the story, rather than the actual story itself, and who knows how you might recreate it. 

You may be reluctant to visit your graveyard.  Perhaps you believe the dead are better off dead.  My theory is that it’s worth an occasional visit every now and then.  It might be frightening and even a bit ghoulish to dig up old corpses, and what you dredge up may stink to high heaven, but remember, once upon a time, you loved each and every one of those manuscripts buried there.  You didn’t toss them out with the trash or hit the delete button.  You buried them.  Dig them up, dust them off, give them a bit of examination, and take the best to the lab.  Hook them up to those electrodes, to those neurons and synapses, then open your mind, turn on the juice, and bring on the lightning.  

Friday, July 20, 2012

Poetry Friday: Design

I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth --
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches' broth --
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.

What had that flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall?--
If design govern in a thing so small. 

                             --Robert Frost

Tara is hosting Poetry Friday over at A Teaching Life. Head on over to see all the delectable entries for a sultry Friday . . .  

This is the white spider that lives in my yard. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Poetry Friday--The Same, Yet Different

Last week I wrote about The Sea and the Honeycomb: A Book of Tiny Poems edited by Robert Bly. One of the poems I didn't include in that post is this one:

The moon has set
and the Pleiades;
midnight, hours pass, and I
lie down alone

Translated by David Leviten

Coincidently, on the same day, I came across this poem in Acquainted With the Night: Insomnia Poems edited by Lisa Russ Spaar:
Tonight I've Watched
by Sappho (translated from the Greek by Mary Barnard)

Tonight I've watched

The moon and then
the Pleiades
go down

The night is now
half-gone; youth
goes; I am

in bed alone

It jumped right out at me as being the same, yet different.

I offer them both to you to contemplate as I did.

I prefer the first one with its utter simplicity. Which do you prefer? Does it make a difference knowing the author was not an "unknown ancient Greek," but a woman poet?

Jone at Check It Out will have lots more to contemplate at the Round-Up.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Women of Wednesday--Harper Lee

Today is the 52nd. anniversary of the day To Kill a Mockingbird was published. To Kill a Mockingbird will stand up for years to come as the definitive portrait of America during a time we can only hope is a distant memory. Here's a lecture by Charles J. Shields, from St. Bonaventure University, on Mockingbird's reclusive author:


Monday, July 9, 2012

What the Heck is Wattpad?

I’m at that awkward age. I’d probably be considered wise and worth respect in Japan but in the U.S., by the American teenager, not so much.  Still, I have to hand it to my granddaughter. She’s always willing to bring the old lady up to date.

This week, she introduced me to Wattpad, an on-line or phone ap that allows you to download books for free.  While the original version—started in Canada in 2006—began with the list of titles available from Project Gutenberg, it has evolved into a place where amateur writers (age 13 and up) can upload their own stories to be read and reviewed by thousands of readers.

I did a little research before I started writing this post and rather than repeat a bunch of already-published comments, I’ll send you to this link:

Professional David Gaughran does a nice job of introducing the uninitiated to the site and explain what he hopes to get out of posting some of his work for free: recognition.

I checked him out and found that he joined Wattpad about 7 months ago and has accumulated 235 fans.  Not bad, I think.  Then I check out the “What’s Hot” section and find this:

One of the Boys
Samantha Evans. A 17-year old girl in her Senior Year of High School. Stereotype says that she should be worrying about what outfit she's going to wear and what boy she's going to date, but Samantha has a different plan. For Samantha, her Senior Year is all about proving that she deserves to be the Quarterback for Westview High School just as much as the next guy. But as the season continues, Blake Jameson moves to town with one idea on his mind. To lead the Westview High School football team to another state victory, as Quarterback.
2,291,243 reads
8112 fans!

And “KnightsRachel” the author, has only been a member for a year. She looks to be about 15 and has already impressed that many people!

The fact that anyone can upload anything gets you things like this which are either written by someone very young, or someone with no typing skills, or someone who has no idea what grammar is:

christy is a 16 year old girl who loves exploring. when her mother decides to take the titanic christy knows she will have the time of her life. when she meets a second class boy just as wild as her she knows she came on titanic for a reason. based on the true story of titanic. a heart breaking tragedy.(the characters are made up though)

But, so what?  The point is, kids are reading, kids are writing, kids are commenting. (And so are grownups)   That’s where it all starts, right?

I know for my granddaughter, these books are discussed, recommended, and new authors who put up a chapter at a time are encouraged to continue as their “fans” ask for more.  Maybe it’s not the best writing in the world but no one starts that way.  My granddaughter reads a lot.  She’s in AP English and has had as much to say about Jane Eyre as she has about some of her Wattpad writers. 

This isn’t a place to try out your latest picture book, easy reader, or middle grade novel, but if you’re into YA, it just might be the place to get a fan base and have readers asking for more.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Poetry Friday--Tiny Poems

As a haiku poet, I'm a big fan of tiny poems. I love Valerie Worth's collection of poems titled, All the Small Poems and Fourteen More, I always participate in Laura Salas's 15 Words or Less Poems weekly challenge, and, I'm a big advocate of the "less is more" school of writing.

I never realized that tiny poems were not readily available or accepted 40 years ago, but I guess that was the case. I found this out when I purchased a used copy of The Sea and the Honeycomb: A Book of Tiny Poems, edited by Robert Bly (Beacon Press, 1971), when I was looking for older collections of haiku. I particularly enjoyed reading Bly's introduction, "Dropping the Reader," in which he states,
...the American poet sitting at his desk writes a fine, intense poem of seven or eight lines, than a hand silently appears from somewhere inside his shirt and hastily adds fifteen more lines, telling us what the emotion means, relating it to philosophy, and adding a few moral comments. The invisible scholar is outraged at the idea of anyone writing a brief poem, because he is hardly able to get his chalky hand out of his cloak before the poem is over!
Ha! I've had to resist that invisible scholar myself! She's a tough nut to crack, but I keep trying. (For an example, today, over at Random Noodling, I have an original poem that I really had to work hard at, to not provide additional explanations for the reader! I hope I was successful.)

Bly says, a little later,
In the brief poem, it is all different: the poet takes the reader to the edge of a cliff, as a mother eagle takes its nestling, and then drops him. Readers with a strong imagination enjoy it, and discover they can fly. The others fall down to the rocks where they are killed instantly.
Yowsa! That's harsh! Let's see if you can fly with these non-haiku samples from The Sea and the Honeycomb:
And Suddenly It's Evening
by Salvatore Quasimodo (translated by Robert Bly)

Everyone is alone at the heart of the earth
pierced by a ray of sunlight:
and suddenly it's evening.

by Antonio Machado (translated by Robert Bly)

It is good knowing that glasses
are to drink from;
the bad thing is not to know
what thirst is for.

The Runner
by Walt Whitman

On a flat road runs the well-train'd runner,
He is lean and sinewy with muscular legs,
He is thinly clothed, he leans forward as he runs,
With lightly closed fists and arms partially rais'd.

Earth Hard
by David Ignatow

Earth hard to my heels
bear me up like a child
standing on its mother's belly.
I am a surprised guest to the air.

Meetings of Those in Love
by Ibn Hazm (translated by Robert Bly)

The meeting that has to be secret reaches
an intensity that the open meeting cannot reach.
It is a delight that is mixed with danger
like walking on a road over moving sandhills!

Well, did you survive the fall? I sure hope you did!

It's time now to head over to see Tabatha Yeatts for the Poetry Friday Round-Up.


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Women of Wednesday - Love, Sex, and Money in Puritan Boston: The Story of Anna Keayne

The year was 1656.  To put that more in perspective, it was only 36 years after the Mayflower landed at Plymouth.  It was also 36 years before the Salem witch trials. If you’re like me, you’re thinking big boxy hats, buckled shoes, gray weather, and a grim society where stocks are the centerpiece of the town square.  Put those thoughts and Nathaniel Hawthorne aside.  It’s not that kind of story. 

Anna Keayne was sixteen years old in 1656. She did not come from a model family. Her grandfather, a wealthy merchant, gained his riches by being sneaky,conniving and miserly.  Her parents were ne’er-do-wells.  Her father accused her mother of adultery, and when she was found guilty, he moved back to London to take advantage of his new freedom and left Anna to be raised by his parents in Boston.  Anna’s mother became a habitual offender, often in trouble with authorities for ‘Irregular prophecying in mixt Assemblies.’

But Anna was pretty and well liked, despite her family, who were all Puritans and still managed to live badly without any of the usual Puritan repercussions.  Was it because they were wealthy, or was it because the Puritans weren’t really as strict and unbending as we think they were?  In any case, Anna was considered quite a catch in Puritan Boston, and when her wealthy grandfather died that year and left her £900, she became even more desirable. 

Enter Edward Lane.  He was thirty-six, twenty years older than Anna, and worth £1800, which was very convenient because, in those days, a man was expected to be worth at least twice what his wife was worth.  Edward fit the bill exactly.

 The courtship began.  Edward sent a friend,Richard Cooke, to woo the woman he hoped to wed.  It seems that’s how wealthy Puritans did it in those days.  There could be no hanky-panky between the couple before marriage if they never met.  So Richard brought Anna assurances of Edward’s love, as well as some gold, and Anna, and her grandmother, decided Edward was the man for her.

Now that they were betrothed, Edward came to visit. Anna dreamed of the great lady she would become, once married to Edward.  Her grandmother, overwhelmed by the complexity of her husband’s last will and testament—more than 100 pages long—saw Edward as a man who could help a woman in distress.  They were both glad to have him.  Edward and the elderly Mrs. Keayne even worked out an agreement where she would keep a house and some land, and receive a yearly allowance, and Edward could have everything else, as long as he was willing to execute the will and take on all the bequests of her dearly departed husband.  Edward agreed, and on December11, 1657, he and Anna married. 

Fastforward fifteen months to March of 1659. Anna Keayne, now Anna Lane, seventeen or eighteen years old, sued for divorce.  Anna wanted children and Edward, it seemed,was impotent.  Edward appeared in court and admitted it was true and the marriage was annulled.  Anna won her freedom, and Edward, because of his agreement with the elderly Mrs. Keayne, conveniently increased his worth tremendously.  It was a nice little scam.

 Or was it?

As it turned out, all the debts and bequests left by Anna’s grandfather came to more than the estate was worth, and Edward was the man stuck with the bills.  Anna’s grandmother had outscammed the scammer.   

Now, it was Edward’s turn to sue.  He wanted to get out of the agreement made with Anna’s grandmother.  Mrs. Keayne’s defense was that business was business.  Edward had made the agreement and should keep his word.  The court didn’t see it that way and voided the agreement.  They also forced Mrs. Keayne to pay Edward much of the money he would have received from rents for the past two years.

The results of it all were that Anna now had no husband, no children, and a much smaller dowry, and was no longer quite the catch, her grandmother was in debt,and Edward had lost a fortune, and hismanhood had been publicly besmirched.  Nothing had turned out as anyone had planned.    

Luckily,Edward’s friend, Richard Cooke, had not abandoned the couple.  He convinced Edward that Anna was still worth pursuing, he convinced Anna that Edward had been cured of his impotency, (there seems to have been a private showing) and he convinced Mrs. Keayne—by vividly describing the showing—to allow the remarriage. Nine months after the annulment, Anna and Edward sought permission tore-wed.

These magistrates were not the same men who had annulled their wedding, and they told Anna and Edward that they had never been divorced.  Man, after all, could not separate what God had joined together.

OnDecember 12, 1659, the couple renewed their vows.  The next morning, they were called upon by officials, who asked Anna if she was satisfied with Edward’s bedroom performance.  She said yes.  He no longer had a problem.  The marriage was deemed good.  Anna’s grandmother and Edward even consented to return to their old agreement with a few minor changes, and everyone was happy.

For the next four years, the Lanes became wealthier and wealthier, and Anna gave birth to two children.  (Her daughter died in infancy, her son lived to be eighteen.) And then Anna left for England, and Edward was to follow.  Unfortunately, he died. 

 Anna didn’t return for the services.  She stayed in England another two years, and when she returned, it was with a new husband.  The gossip began.  Anna, people whispered, had married Nicholas Paige before Edward had died.  The magistrates investigated and learned it was true.  Anna was indicted for adultery.

Anna,however, was no Hester Prynne.  The scarlet letter was not for her.  She fought the charges—by announcing her two children were really fathered by Paige and, therefore, he was her true husband. (Which seems an admission of guilt to me.)  And then Edward’s friend, Richard Cooke, in an effort to show Anna as an unloyal, scheming  adulteress, showed up in court with a document written and signed by Edward shortly before he died.  It said he had never known Anna carnally,that their marriage had been nullified in 1658, and he did not consider her his wife. (Which, to me, would seem to prove hercase.)

The magistrates were probably just as confused by the evidence as I was.  In the end they couldn’t decide if Anna had ever been legally married to Edward or not, and they sent her home, free as a bird.

But,there was a surprise waiting for her there. His name was Richard Cooke, who now owned all of what should have been Anna’s property.  He had orchestrated it all from the very beginning, introducing the couple and arranging their marriage so Edward would own everything. He knew Edward was sick and would not live long, and he knew Edward would have no heirs.  He made certain that Edward named him as his beneficiary, because they both knew Anna’s children were not Edward’s.  Cooke had played Anna, Edward, and the elderly Mrs. Keayne.

Once more, Anna was before the magistrates, fighting for what she wanted, for what should have been hers.  She had evidence and witnesses to Cooke’s perfidy but, by then, the magistrates were a bit fed up with Anna and her family squabbles. They didn’t even consider her case. Cooke got to keep it all.

Anna didn’t brood over it, but she didn’t forget, either.  Neither did her new husband, Nicholas.  They lived their quiet lives and raised their surviving son, and every so often would broach the subject with the magistrates again.  Sometimes she was heard and lost,sometimes she was rebuffed, but she didn’t stop trying.

 Meanwhile, Nicholas continued to grow his business, and Anna grew her circle of friends.  They entertained and helped out their neighbors when they could.  In time, Nicholas became a well-known merchant in Boston and, as they moved up in society, they began to acquire more influential friends, but neither of them abandoned the friends they had acquired on the way up.  Soon, people forgot about Anna’s sordid past. 

King Phillip’s War broke out and Nicholas served as a Captain and came home a hero.  The Paige’s gained new friends in his war buddies.  He involved himself in Boston politics, and always seemed to pick the right side.  When the Governor was in favor, he shouted the Governor’s praises.  When the Governor was in disfavor, he stood with the common people, prepared to give him the boot.  When the Governor was given the boot, he convinced everyone to let him decide the Governor’s fate. They agreed, and he saved the Governor from total ruin, leaving the Governor owing him a favor.  The Governor, by the way, was Anna’s uncle, and had never done a thing to help her. 

So Anna and Nicholas bided their time and, finally, the government changed in their favor.  They got the court to hear their case, and they won everything back. It was easy, considering the man who tried the case was the Governor Nicholas had rescued from the people’s wrath, and who was living very well in their home, at their expense.  It didn’t hurt any either, that he was Anna’s uncle.  Cooke appealed the case over and over, straight into the eighteenth century, but now it was his turn to either lose or be rebuffed.

Anna had recovered all her grandfather’s property and was now a grande dame.  Nicholas was a Colonel with his own coat of arms.  They were among the wealthiest people of Boston, and well respected.  Everyone—rich, poor, or in between—liked the Paiges.  The couple retired to their country estate with their new riches, where they continued to entertain lavishly and live out the rest of their lives as outstanding people in their community.  When Anna died on June 30,1704, and word reached Boston, it’s said the whole city paused.  The Governor, sitting at the council-table when he heard the news, postponed all business for two weeks.

Anna Keayne didn’t change the face of America or leave any lasting legacies.  But what she did do was to go after what she wanted, and in the end she got it, despite her family, despite her mistakes, and despite her reputation. If she could do it in Puritan Boston, there’s no reason an American woman can’t do it today. Chase your dreams and listen to Nike. Just do it!


Monday, July 2, 2012

Mentor Monday

We’ve all heard this one a million times—show, don’t tell—but what does it actually mean, is there ever a good time to tell, and is showing really necessary?

 What’s the Difference?

Telling is exactly that.  It’s you, the writer, telling the reader what is happening.  Showing is allowing your characters to act and react on their own, and letting the reader see that. It’s like being at the bank while it’s being robbed.  You see it happen before your eyes.  You feel the excitement, the danger, the terror.  You are a part of the robbery.  Telling is one or more steps removed from the actual event.  It’s like listening to your friend tell you about the bank robbery he witnessed—interesting, but not nearly as exciting.  Showing brings the reader closer and makes your writing more intense.

Some Signs of Telling

The most obvious sign of telling is passive writing, which is usually writing that relies on the words was/were or is/are, depending on which tense you’re using.  Many times, those verbs are followed by another ending in ing.

John was running to the finish line. 
Mary is eating her breakfast.

Both sentences are passive, and in both cases, the writer is telling us what John and Mary did.  Make them active, and John and Mary are acting on their own.

John ran to the finish line.
Mary eats her breakfast.

Another sign is prepositional phrases.  If you are using phrases like – soon, at last, with no thought at all, so, in an instant, before she could think, just then, when—you are probably telling.

In an instant, Mary’s cereal was gone.

The above sentence tells us Mary ate fast.  To show Mary eating fast, you would simply say how she ate.

 Mary gulped down her food in heaping mouthfuls.  She shoveled it in faster than a coal tender feeding a train furnace.

How much more you added to the above description would depend on the importance of the scene.  If you just want the reader to know Mary ate fast, the above would be enough.  If you wanted to show Mary as a glutton, you might add a line showing food dribbling from her mouth.  If you wanted to show her as a starving girl getting to eat, you might show a trembling hand.

Another sign is adverbs—generally words ending in ly like – unfortunately, inevitably, generally, usually, finally, certainly, and suddenly.

John finally ran to the finish line.  Unfortunately, he arrived last.

Once more, the writer is telling us what happened.  The words ‘finally’ and  ‘unfortunately’ automatically take it out of John’s POV and put it into the narrator’s.

Scenes with no dialogue are also often telling.

Somewhere, the boat sprang a leak.  Water was filling it quickly but the boys couldn’t bail fast enough.  In no time at all, the sea rushed in and the boat sank like a stone.  The boys were floating in the cold ocean, water up to their chins, at least two miles from shore.

The above is telling.  It gets the point across, but there is no tension or suspense.  It’s just the facts.  And notice the telltale signs of telling.  Let’s turn it into a scene of dialogue.

“We’ve sprung a leak!” John cried.

Alex stared at the water rushing into the boat.  “Quick!  Grab something to bail her out.”

John dropped his oar and picked up a small bucket.  He swished it through the water rising higher and higher in the rowboat.  Alex splashed the water out with his hands.

“It’s no use,” John said.

The ocean lapped at their ankles, their shins and knees, as the boat sunk lower and lower.  Alex stared toward shore, almost two miles away.

“I can’t swim, John.”

John stared at him as the ocean began to suck the boat under.  He grabbed Alex’s hand.  “Just hang onto me,” he said, and he pulled Alex into the sea, water lapping at their chins.

When to Show

My personal thought is to show as much as you can, and certainly, if it’s an important scene, show it.  Action scenes will become more vivid and real if they are shown.  Emotional scenes become stronger and more powerful.  Humorous scenes become funnier.  Scary scenes become creepier.  Showing pulls the reader in and helps create one of those books where the reader gets so caught up in it, they don’t hear the telephone ring, or the kids burning down the house.

When to Tell

There are times when you need to tell.  Transitioning from one scene to another, and making a long period of time pass quickly, are places where you’d want to tell.  If your character does something on a regular basis, like delivering newspapers or going to swim lessons, you would show what that’s like the first time, and tell all subsequent times, unless something different and important happened, in which case, you’d revert to showing.  If you want something done and over with quickly, tell it.

 Is Showing Really Necessary?

Well, the truth is, no.  It isn’t.  You can find many published books that are more telling than showing, and you can even find plenty that are all telling, except for the dialogue.  Those kinds of stories are published.  But look at it like buying a car.  In truth, any car that will seat everyone in our family is really good enough.  It will get us where we want to go.  We don’t really need a radio or CD player.  We don’t really need automatic windows and GPS.  We don’t need heated seats.  But it sure is nice having all those things.  They make a car more than transportation.  They make driving a much more pleasant experience.

A car with no extras is serviceable.  It will do the job and get you where you need to go, but that’s about all it will do.  And given a choice between a serviceable car and one with all the amenities, which would you choose? 

The same holds true for stories.  You might have written a great told story that is fast-paced and exciting, and an agent or editor may love it after reading it, but if the manuscript she picks up after yours is fast-paced and exciting and shown, a story with all the extras, yours will suddenly stand out as lacking and subpar and, in the end, which do you think the editor will choose?

Want to sell that latest manuscript?  Don't give them what they need.  Show them all the extras.  Give them what they never knew they were missing.