Thanks, Eleri, for having me as a guest today.
The third book in my psychic detective series releases in June, and I’m itching to hear what people think. This will be the fourth book I’ve had published, and I’ve started noticing a trend.
My first book, Cry Wolf, released in 2011, and people read it and said, “That was a great book, Angie. I loved it.”
Then the first book in this particular series, On the Scent, released in 2013, and I heard, “I really liked Cry Wolf, but On the Scent was so much better!”
Then the second book in the same series, Something Wicked, released a few months later, and those same people said, “I know I really liked Cry Wolf and On the Scent, but your stories keeps getting better and better. I can’t wait to read the next one!”
This is both good news, and a bit nerve-wracking — I really hope my next book lives up to those expectations! It’s good because it means I’m growing as a writer, and since I want to keep growing, I’ve stepped back and investigated what I’ve been doing differently so I can keep doing it, and improving upon it.
The answer is pretty simple, I think. I’ve tried extra hard to increase my skills at writing viscerally without being redundant when I do. Since my background and training is largely in journalism, where it’s the norm to tell and not show, I’ve always struggled in my fiction writing to paint a scene — and not simply tell you what the scene looks like. The first writing advice most fiction authors hear is to show, not tell, and I think this rule should be stuck to every speculative fiction writer’s monitor above all others.
Since I’m writing about psychic characters, writing viscerally is extra important to me. These characters rely on their senses, and have extra senses, to navigate the world I’ve created around them. I want readers to not only feel what my characters are feeling, but to understand why they’re feeling what they feel. Oftentimes, the world I’ve created for them is, well, kind of dark, so it’s important for that darkness to flow through the pages and reach out and embrace my readers. Sometimes I do a good job. Sometimes, not so much.
So what techniques have I employed to make this style of writing a habit? A few things. One of them is kind of a cheat, but it’s something I recommend if you struggle with the whole show-don’t-tell rule.
The book The Emotion Thesarus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression is available on Amazon for a reasonable price, and it offers examples for writing a variety of emotions in characters. If you visit the author’s website, a free companion PDF of additional emotions is also available for download: http://writershelpingwriters.net/the-emotion-thesaurus-a-writers-guide-to-character-expression.
I’ve also started observing people more carefully. Everyone reacts differently to different situations, but there are some very common gestures we all tend to make when we’re nervous or excited or sad. I’ve also started paying more attention to my own reactions because, let’s face it, the old rule to write what you know isn’t without merit either.
Of course, the real trick of writing show-don’t-tell is to keep from getting overly melodramatic or too clichéd with your characters. This is why editing, and beta readers and critique partners, are so helpful, in my opinion. It’s easy sometimes to not notice you’ve written a cliché — “quirking an eyebrow” while “a shiver ran down his spine” — but you’d better believe others will. Oftentimes, all it takes is a simple workaround to come up with a fresher alternative — “fear trickled down his spine in frosty beads of sweat.”
What tips do you have for writing powerful, concise show-don’t-tell? I’d love to hear them in the comments below!
You can learn more about Angela Campbell and her books at www.angelacampbellonline.com. Follow her on twitter at @angelacampbel.
Psychic medium Alexandra King is sick of being pestered by her boss's dead mother demanding help to reunite her two estranged sons. Determined to get some peace and quiet again, Alexandra follows a lead in finding the younger Collins brother to Charleston, South Carolina, where she immediately meets the hottest man she's ever laid eyes on and finds herself a willing participant in seduction. Of course, her one-night-stand turns out to be none other than Dylan Collins — her boss's younger brother and a homicide detective who believes psychics are a complete waste of time.
All Dylan wants is a few hours of pleasure to take his mind off of the case haunting him. A serial killer is stalking the streets of The Holy City — a killer who calls himself The Grim Reaper. When the woman he'd just spent the night with turns up and offers her services as a psychic consultant on the case, his ardor quickly cools. Last thing he needs is to get tangled up with a con artist.
It doesn't take long for Dylan to realize Alexandra is the real deal - and the killer's next target. Dylan's protective instincts battle his reluctance to get too involved with a woman he isn't sure he can trust. As they get closer to finding the killer, they also grow closer to one another, but will Alexandra's secret agenda destroy their chance at happiness — if the killer doesn't strike first?