Show and Tell: Classic Writing Advice Explained With Strippers

coldhandboyack:

This is one of my favorite bloggers. She doesn’t interact much, but her blog is always good. Writers out there might appreciate this one today.

Originally posted on Bare Knuckle Writer:

Aside from “do better“, my most common editing note to myself is that classic bit of writer advice, “show, don’t tell.”

And, like most classic bits of advice–see my diatribe on “write what you know” here– it’s often misunderstood. It doesn’t mean you should never tell the reader things. Just that, if there’s another way, consider doing that before falling back on the good ol’ tell. Because showing is more inviting.

To put it another way, you’re trying to titillate the reader, give them a reason to continue reading. And titillation events are called peepshows, not peeptells.

I will illustrate the difference in the traditional manner: with strippers.

Imagine it’s your birthday. Imagine your friends have hired two strippers. The first arrives, drops his* pants, and then stands in the middle of the room while Depeche Mode plays for twenty minutes. He doesn’t…

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Sometimes it happens like this…

Last night as I was dozing off I was visited by Lorelei. There are a lot of new followers lately, so I’ll let everyone know Lorelei is my Muse.

I never saw her, never even smelled her sandalwood scent. Usually, she hits me over the head, but not last night. Maybe I’m in trouble.

I see posts that ask writers what they come up with first, plot or characters. It never happens for me that way. I get little vignettes. There’s a bit of setting, some plot, and a scosh of character. Then it stops. Here’s what I got last night:

I stepped off the monthly bus and removed my new felt safari hat. The plain leather band marked me as an outsider. Maybe I’d get the chance to upgrade it with something a bit more rustic. I wiped the sweat with my sleeve and put the hat back on to protect me from the brutal sun. The driver unloaded my bags and rifle case, then drove on.

The corrugated metal sign across the street was hand painted with The Grey Baboon. I carried my bags to the porch, but brought the rifle case inside. I looked up to see if the roof was really grass, or just on the outside. It was the real deal. The bartender had his back turned polishing a glass.

She sat at a table off to the far right, lounging lazily like no woman I’d ever been around before with one riding boot across a second chair. She wore one of those loose khaki military shirts with epaulets on the shoulders. Her sun bleached blonde hair was tied in back and cascaded over one shoulder.

There were light crows feet around her eyes and her skin was perfectly tanned. It was hard to tell if she was twenty five or forty five, but some of the women in Nairobi had the same look. She was beautiful, but not in that painted New Orleans style from when the boat shipped out. It was more like a perfect wild animal.

She turned over a second glass and filled it from her own bottle of gin, added two drops of quinine and sat it toward me. She took her leg off the chair and used her boot to shove it away from the table.

She pushed back the brim of her filthy old pith helmet. Her nails were cut short and hadn’t seen polish in years. When she spoke, her accent was like a combination of Australian and Heaven. “Welcome to Africa, Mr.–

***

And that’s all I got. It’s almost always that vivid and full of detail. It’s usually just that short too.

I don’t know who he is, or why he went to Africa. I know it’s historical, because he took a boat. There’s no hunting in Kenya these days, and quinine hasn’t been a staple preventative for a few years now.

I don’t know who she is, or how she knows him. She didn’t run up and throw her arms around him. She must be Afrikaans/Boer because of the accent (and the look), but she’s hundreds of miles from South Africa. That could be interesting.

I don’t know what they have planned. It could be as simple as a safari or a land sale. It might be ancient ruins or even an alien crash site. Maybe there is a will to be read.

I may never write their story, but you never know. I don’t usually post on Tuesdays, but these people are haunting me. I kind of wanted to make some notes about them and chose to share it here.

Does anyone else ever get vignettes? In all my reading it seems like I’m the odd one here. I’m usually on my own after that, but sometimes Lorelei comes back. Where do your ideas come from?

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We Interrupt this Blog…

I intended to post about all the awesome things I accomplished today. I set an alarm for 4:00 AM so I could work on my stuff. I accomplished a lot, but it pales in comparison to this.

Consider these to be personal stories, but there could me a moral in there too. This is the tale of two corporations.

We raised three children to adulthood. Two of them are fully functioning members of society, and I’m very proud of them. One, frankly, isn’t. He’s nearly twenty seven years old, and continues to fail at jobs most would consider as “entry level”. The kind of jobs you tell your sixteen year old congratulations for taking. He quit his last job, because he got scheduled for two days off that weren’t adjacent. He would have thirty days of this, before being allowed to name his own schedule.

I’ve worked thirty days without a day off several times in my life, and think this is absurd. There was no reward except continued employment at the end.

We’ve helped all of our kids, and I don’t mind that. This one is no exception, and we’ve co-signed for cars where Mom & Dad had to make a payment or two. The last time he was unemployed, grandma paid the car off for him. He did not visit during my father’s eightieth birthday, or call, or send a card. I think you get the picture. The stage is set.

We got a letter from Sprint today. Our son hasn’t been paying his phone bill. Guess who co-signed so he could get this phone. Hint: It’s my wife.

My wife called the number on the bill to turn off the phone service. Her intent was to pay what was owed, and be done. That was not Sprint’s intention.

The first call began with an automated system that eventually led to a human. My wife needed her PIN number. We don’t have one, so she answered the personal question and provided the account number of the bill. This confused the Sprint employee, who put us on hold to look for a supervisor. Twenty minutes later, the employee could not help and only a supervisor could do that. She asked for a supervisor. About a half hour on hold, and the call was disconnected.

The second call was a repeat of the first. My wife said she was disconnected the first time. The new Sprint employee said, “No problem, we’ll call you right back.”

My wife said, “But I’m not calling from the Sprint telephone–

Cue the hold music. Forty five minutes later the call disconnected.

Third telephone call. My wife said, “I want to disconnect a telephone, I don’t have a PIN number, my answer to the personal question is XXX. I am not calling from the Sprint telephone number, so you can’t call me back. I need a supervisor so I can cancel a service. I’ve been hung up on twice, and I’m getting a bit upset about it.”

“Hold please.”

It took a long time for the supervisor, George, to show up, but he did. My wife explained that it isn’t our phone, and we are willing to pay, but do not want to continue the service.

George apparently misunderstood and tried to sell her a new and upgraded plan. She explained all of what she wanted to accomplish once more. George told her about the severe cancellation fee that comes with canceling a contract.

She explained that this phone hasn’t been under contract for two years. George seems to have some kind of impairment that doesn’t allow him to read his own fucking computer screen.

He generously offered to turn off the phone nearly a month from now and the bill would be $300+. My wife said we are not paying for future service for a cancelled contract, and in fact Sprint bills a month ahead and we were donating a portion of the bill back to Sprint. She was willing to pay the late bill, but that was it. This was her last attempt, and then Sprint could send the account to collections and receive nothing.

George finally gave up and my wife paid about half the amount that was requested. George said the phone is disconnected immediately, and accepted the payment my wife offered. He assured her this was finished. She asked for his name and he said, “Just George.” I doubt he’s the only George that works at Sprint. I’m sure we’ll get another bill next month.

Now I’m old enough to know this is all some bullshit game. The phone can be disconnected at any time with a few simple keystrokes. The hold and disconnect is part of the game. If we give up, they enter another billing cycle and it’s our fault.

We don’t know if we succeeded or not. Neither of us has any faith in George. My wife spent two and a half hours on the phone with Sprint to handle a five minute process. Here’s the credit card – turn off the phone. By my account, they owe her $40 for her time.

***

I don’t want this to be a complete downer, so here’s a happy story. It was New Years about eighteen or nineteen months ago. I decided to get a new vehicle. This is something I do every fifteen years or so, and it was time. I bought a new Toyota Tundra. I had them install stainless steel running boards as part of the purchase.

I love this truck. It runs flawlessly, and it gets 18 MPG.

My running boards are starting to rust. There is quite a lot of rust, so I had Peterson Toyota take pictures the last time I had it serviced. They called me today. Toyota will replace my running boards for free, no questions asked. The service department already placed the order and they will call me when they get here next week.

My father decided he wants a new truck and asked me to help him. I mentioned early on that he’s 80 years old. He really likes my Tundra and asked me to look some things up on that newfangled internet thingy.

He’s picked out a specific Tundra that’s on the lot at Peterson, placed a deposit to hold it, and I’m going to take time off Thursday and Friday to help him trade his old truck and chauffeur him to get the new one. This is a good product and Peterson has been very fair with me. I believe in saying something about good products and services.

That’s how I roll. If someone treats me well, I’m willing to tell others about it. I’m willing to go back, and my wife has her eye on a new Toyota SUV in a couple of years. I even referred my father to the same salesman who sold me mine.

I may also have something to say if my parents ever want to change telephone providers. It was a long post, but now I’ve told all of you too.

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moderate success

I wound up getting through about four chapters of editing on my epic fantasy, The Cock of the South. I also wound up reading about 10% more of Few Are Chosen.

It was a day for a little of this and a little of that. I made a few fountain pen notes for some short pieces I want to write.

I also opened a wonderful bottle of actual mead. I’m enjoying it right now while watching the second episode of The Strain.

All in all, it doesn’t look like a very productive day, but I moved a few projects forward. Forward momentum is good, even if nothing is complete. I still need to find a good fantasy artist.

I’m off tomorrow and will probably set an alarm so I can get more time to myself. Then I have to help my parents find a new car.

That’s about it. I’m off to oil my kraut bat. No that isn’t a metaphor for anything.

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Another Idea Mill post, kind of

I’ve been very unproductive this weekend, and it irks me. The ladies are getting ready to go shopping and I may get a few hours to concentrate on my projects. (Stay away from Bed, Bath, and Beyond.)

I wanted to post this morning, but had to interact with real humans for awhile. While they’re all in the shower, I decided to throw a few goodies your way.

The first one involves two articles about the FDA. First they found some unsecured smallpox virus in a closet. This is considered extinct for all intents and purposes. The article is here: Smallpox  (Note: there is a character named Variola in my book, Arson. You’ll have to read it to find out why.) Then they found even more goodies. These include oldies but goodies like spotted fever and dengue. Here is the article: Oldies but Goodies (I’ve had Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. I don’t recommend it.)

Now they know what it feels like to have a kid move out. You go through their bedroom and find a sandwich from 1997. These are supposed to be some of the most secure facilities on the planet, and they don’t even know what’s there. “Hey, Bob. We’re getting inspected tomorrow. You need to straighten up the lab. Just shove all that crap in the closet or crawl space.”

As a writer, I can see all kinds of possibilities here. Lovers of distopian or contagion type stories should be rejoicing. Writers can apply what happened to chemical compounds too. Why should biologicals have all the fun?

Next, scientists have invented a new shade of black. It sounds stupid on the surface, but it’s kind of interesting. It absorbs almost all light sent its way. It’s so black the human eye has a hard time detecting it. You can read about it here: Black The article mentions Wile E. Coyote, so you know it has to be good.

Writers could turn this into all kinds of camouflage. Everything from cloaks of concealment to space ship cloaking devices. Maybe it also absorbs laser blasts or light sabers. Maybe it’s used for hypothermia blankets. I can see all kinds of secret societies and shadow organizations using this to conduct business undetected.

This is why it’s a hodgepodge. I usually save the links until I have three. The last one is today’s blog post from Chris McMullen. It’s not part of the idea mill, but writers need to know about this. Chris adds some real common sense to the discussion about Kindle Unlimited. This is a new subscription based program; whereby, subscribers can download anything on the KDP list for free. I think it sounds pretty cool for voracious readers. Here’s Chris’ article: Kindle Unlimited & Marketing Strategies. One thing is certain, Amazon just changed the game again.

For all you early adopters of Kindle Unlimited, all of my books are already there. (Hint.) Chris may have just convinced me not to lower my prices.

I’m off to paint my truck a new shade of black and see if it works on police speed guns. If I accomplish anything today I’ll log on and post about it.

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And now for Something Completely Different

Old What’s Her Face* and I went to town today. We tried out a new beer pub, and it was pretty good. Good menu, and they prepared the food well. Large beer selection too. She doesn’t drink at all, so we never have to take turns when we drive somewhere.

We stopped off at a fresh produce store on the way back. I’m a firm believer in learning some old school ways of doing things. I’ve fished, hunted, grown my own food, and canned. Everyone ought to have a basic understanding of how all this works before the next major flood, storm, or junta shows up. Humans have been preserving the harvest this way since prehistoric times. Vegetables were pretty hard to come by in February, and pickling was one way of staying healthy through the winter.

Today, I’m pickling and it’s remarkably simple. We used a few modern tools for the sake of convenience, but I’ve done this with basic kitchen knives too. Today’s recipe is for sauerkraut. I always wanted to try kimchi or dill pickles, but never seem to find everything I need at the same time.

First you need a pickling crock.

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This is my crock. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

 This one is kind of souped up, because it has a water valve built in the top. It let’s the carbon dioxide out, but doesn’t let the nasty yeasts inside. It isn’t necessary, but then you have to keep scraping a gross scum off the top. I don’t have that problem.

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Fill the trough with water to make a one way valve

 Here are a few special tools. The crock came with two stones to keep the kraut below the liquid. I made my own kraut bat from a spalted tree root I found along the Boise River. It’s crooked, for the cool factor, but it also helps inside the curved crock.

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Stones and kraut bat

Just add vegetables. This batch is five medium cabbage, four onions, and a half dozen apples.

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Box ‘O Veg

The recipe is surprisingly simple. Put everything through the food mill and make coleslaw. Layer it in the crock, and spread a fistful of salt every couple of inches. Smash the crap out of it with the kraut bat.

The salt, and bat, pull juice out of the cabbage. All the vegetables are covered with the bacteria that creates fermentation. It’s what does all the work. You can pickle almost anything with just the vegetable and salt water. I’ve been told to never attempt green beans though. You need an extra step or they turn toxic.

Someday, I’ll find pickling cucumbers that are ripe alongside fresh dill. Until then I’ll stick with sauerkraut. I will generally eat more sauerkraut anyway. It can stay in the crock for a year as long as the water valve is kept full. I generally freeze some and clean everything up after a month or so. This is the healthy kind of fermentation too. It rivals and may even surpass all the yogurts that are so popular right now. Talk about pro-biotics. You may also can it, but this will kill all the beneficial beasties.

Here’s what it looked like about 2/3 of the way through. You can see the footprints from my kraut bat. These were good cabbages and I only had to add about a quart of water to make sure the veg stays underwater.

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About 2/3 finished

Add some liquid to the trough around the top of the crock and put it away. As long as the water valve remains full, it will keep happily burping along. I’ll probably try it in about 30 days. Maybe a nice pork loin and some Belgian ale.

*Not my wife’s actual name

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What’s up With WordPress

I decided to change up from the title of last night’s post. WordPress has always been a little bit buggy. I’m used to the quirks by now. We all see it on occasion; you’ve had three visitors from seven different countries.

This week it’s getting kind of obnoxious. I’m not getting the little orange alerts for comments, likes, and follows. I try to respond to everyone, and I may miss someone. I promise you it isn’t intentional if I miss someone. The conversations are some of the best parts of blogging.

I experimented with this a bit. The error is only on the parts that belong to WordPress. If I go to my own blog, or one of yours, the alerts are there. They’re only missing in Reader, Stats, and places like that.

I’m having the most trouble with default reloads. I follow a ton of blogs. I like to see what the world is up to with my morning coffee. When I log into Reader and open one of your posts, Reader will return me to the very top (most recent) post. It used to take me back where I opened the post I read. This is something like reading a newspaper article, and then being forced to fold it up and place it on the doorstep and start over before being allowed to read the next article.

I can’t put up with this. The world is a bigger place than just Idaho. I have friends in time zones where their morning post happens as I’m going to bed. I have to catch it ten hours later. It’s maddening to have to scroll past a hundred posts to find where I left off, then do it all over again for the next one I want to read.

I’ve seen others who don’t like the new post button and some hokey message it displays. I learned from these posts that WordPress is doing some upgrades. (They don’t feel like upgrades) Here’s to hoping they get it all figured out soon.

In the mean time, if I miss your post, or fail to respond, I’m sorry.

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