Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Writing in the Shadows with Randy Ingermanson & John Olson

This Randy Ingermanson interview with John Olson was published in Randy Ingermanson's Advanced Fiction Writing E-Zine in December 2009 and is used here by permission. Please keep in mind that any offers in this article will have changed since its original publication date. Nonetheless, the wealth of information found in "Writing in the Shadows" and "Powers" are a great help to the beginning author with or without a special promotion.

That said, let's get to the good bits.
Creating: Writing in the Shadows

I met John Olson at a Christian writing conference in 1996. Both of us were unpublished novelists with a background in science.

I soon learned that John had a yen to write novels based on the vampire mythos and an uncommon ability to write spooky stuff. John soon learned that I like scary fiction.

That weekend, we forged a friendship that's lasted for over thirteen years. We've coauthored two books together. We've climbed corporate ladders and abandoned them. We've held each accountable as we pursued our dreams. I've learned boatloads about the art of writing fiction from John, and also a bunch about the art of living, and I hope I've paid him back by teaching him a thing or two also.

A bit more than a year ago, I sat in on a major track John taught at a writing conference on the subject, "Writing in the Shadows." I enjoyed his talk tremendously and kept thinking, "Darn! Why didn't I think of that?"

John's latest novel, POWERS, is just now hitting the bookshelves. I got my copy last week and am reading it now. It's a prime example of "writing in the shadows."
I've asked John for an interview so I could introduce you to his ideas. Here's the result:

RI: I really enjoyed your lecture series last year on "Writing in the Shadows." In a nutshell, what is "writing in the shadows" and why would an author want to do that?

JO: You've heard of reading between the lines, right?
Well, writing in the shadows is writing between the lines. It's a set of techniques for creating mood and evoking an emotional response in such a way that readers aren't consciously aware of why they are responding the way they do. The words on your page all have shadows. Once you learn how to harness these shadows for your own purposes, you can use these techniques to add creepiness to dark scenes, dread to action scenes, joy to celebration scenes or chemistry to relational scenes.

RI: Editor often tell us to "show, don't tell," but they rarely show us what they mean by that. What does "show, don't tell" mean to you?

JO: It's pretty easy. It means to... uh, show and er... not tell. Okay, maybe it isn't so easy to explain. Let me give you some examples. As a novelist I'm often tempted to write something telling such as: Hailey was scared.

But if I do this, I don't give the reader a chance to experience that fear emotionally along with Hailey. Readers know intellectually Hailey is afraid, because I told them she was (and foolish readers that they are, they trust me), but they don't get to experience the fear along with her unless I actually show Hailey being afraid:

Hailey froze. The vampire's teeth were only inches away from her neck. She held her breath and tried to think, but her pulse throbbed like kettle drums in her ears. She had to make her stupid heart slow down. It was only encouraging him.

See? I never once told you Hailey was afraid, but you probably figured it out anyway. That's showing.
Okay... I know what you're thinking. I totally cheated. Of course Hailey's going to be scared with the sharp end of a vampire pointed at her neck. But what if your story doesn't have any conveniently located vampires? What if you need to show fear, and the reader doesn't even have a reason to be afraid yet?

That's where writing in the shadows comes in. It's possible to write a scene in such a way that your readers will pick up on the fear without knowing the reasons behind it.

Your POV character doesn't even have to realize she's afraid. In fact it's often better if she doesn't. If she knew she should be afraid, she might not walk into that dark basement we need her to walk into. We see this technique used all the time in movies. Our clueless heroine walks into the dark basement and suddenly the background music changes. We know right away what's going to happen, and we start yelling at her, telling her to turn her flashlight on, but she doesn't seem to hear us. It can't be because the background music is too loud, because if she could hear the music, she'd know the vampire was hiding behind the artificial Christmas tree waiting to jump out at her and make us wet our pants.

Stupid heroines. If only our novels had soundtracks to go along with them, showing in the shadows would be so easy! But if you think about it, our novels do have background music. It's hidden in the shadows of the words. Sentences have flow and rhythm and cadence. Words have connotations that evoke mood and emotion and tone. Characters have autonomic responses that happen whether they're aware of them or not. We have all kinds of tools to work with. We can go beyond showing and show in the shadows like this:

The door closed behind her with a sigh. Hailey shivered as a chill brushed across her mind, leaving behind the aftertaste of decay and wet rat. She hurried toward the elevators, fighting the urge to break into a run.

Hollow footsteps echoed loud and lonely in the empty marble hallway. Stepping into a waiting elevator, she punched the ninth floor button and leaned back against the wall. The door shut with a clank, sealing her in.

See? Words like "sigh" and "aftertaste of decay and wet rat" and "sealing her in" create an emotional subtext that shows the reader what to feel without telling them why we want them to feel it. That's showing in the shadows.

RI: You're a strong proponent of giving readers "partial information." What do you mean by that, and what have you got against giving readers the full scoop on things?

JO: Giving the full scoop ruins all the fun -- at least it does if we're talking about novels. Ice cream is a completely different subject. Imagine a murder mystery where the author tells us who the murderer is the second we're introduced to him. Or imagine a romance where the author tells us all about the couple's future life together as soon as the male lead is introduced. It kind of spoils the fun, doesn't it?

Well, that's what we do any time we give the reader too much information. We take away the mystery and anticipation. So if Dash Totallyripped McMoneybags throws up the second he sees our heroine, don't tell us why. Let it be a mystery we can look forward to solving. And if Sydney Hottiepants is in love with Dash, don't ruin the romance by telling us. Let us interpret what she's feeling by the way she agonizes over her decision of which flavor of lip gloss to wear. Remember, when we meet people in real life, they don't come with fact sheets pinned to their shirts. We have to "figure them out" by interpreting their words and actions.

Let's face it. We humans are really good at interpreting things. It's one of the things we do best. By giving our readers too much information, we deny our readers the pleasure of interpreting and figuring things out for themselves. Not only does it take away from the fun, but it feels shallow and contrived. Why? Because that's not how reality works. We may think that giving ten pages of backstory on the history of Sydney's attraction to losers is going to make her seem more real, but it will actually have the opposite effect. In reality we never have access to all the information. We have to interpret the clues we're given and figure things out for ourselves. It's more fun that way -- even if we get everything wrong.

RI: Pace is a critical element in modern fiction which is rarely taught. Can you give us your top three tips on pace?

JO: Sure...
Tip 1) Slow. Tip 2) Medium. Tip 3) Fast.
How's that for a fast-paced response? Of course I could have picked up the pace by writing "Slow, medium, & fast." Or I could have slowed it down by using a plethora of multisyllabic adjectives and obscure, seventeenth century, Latin-derived inkhornisms -- which brings me to my fourth point.

Readers subconsciously assume that reading time is proportional to the timing of the events they're reading about. If a writer takes time to describe the wildflowers beside the trail, the readers will infer a leisurely pace. If the story gives a quick succession of vague impressions, the readers will assume a rapid pace -- like the POV character is moving too fast to process all the visual information streaming past her eyes.

That's why you should never describe the wildflowers while a vampire is chasing your heroine through the woods. That's also why words like quickly and rapidly should be avoided. Not only are they evil "telling" –ly adverbs, but they also work against what they're trying to convey. Inserting them into a sentence actually slows down the sentence (which slows down the action in the reader's mind even though it's supposed to make the reader think the action is speeding up). The word slowly, on the other hand, doesn't work against itself, and is much more acceptable even if it is also an evil "telling" –ly adverb.

Pacing is tricky. There are hundreds of ways to inadvertently slow down a fast-paced scene. One of the worst culprits is what I call "order out of" which is when the author presents information to the reader in the wrong order. Take, for example, the following sentence:

A gloved hand burst through the wall and clawed at Dash's face.

On the surface this looks like a perfectly good sentence, but if you look at what's going on in the reader's mind, you'll see why it slows the action down. When readers read the words "a gloved hand," they picture the gloved hand in their mind. Then, when they read further and read that the hand bursts through the wall and claws at Dash's beautiful face, they get confused and have to readjust the pictures in their minds.

Their first impression of the gloved hand was on the wrong side of the wall. They could see it in their minds, so they automatically put it in Dash's view, because he's the POV character through whose eyes they are viewing the action. But when it bursts through the wall and claws our hero on the face, they have to back up and readjust the picture so that the hand is on the other side of the wall. These kinds of readjustments break the flow of the narrative and slow the pace down -- usually at times when we're trying to speed the pace up.

RI: One of the things you and I have always agreed on is that fiction is about giving the reader a "powerful emotional experience." What are the main emotional drivers that propel a story forward?

JO: Besides the inherent pleasure we all get from reading beautiful, well-written prose, I think there are five main drivers that make our readers want to keep turning the pages. I could tell you what they are, but that would spoil all the fun. Instead, I'll give you a hint. They're so central to fiction that they're written on the shelves of most book stores. That's right. They're the genre labels. See if you can figure it out. What emotional driver is central to each of these groups of genres?

* Mystery
* Romance
* Action/Adventure
* Thrillers, Suspense and Horror
* Historicals, Science Fiction and Fantasy

RI: Any question I should have asked and didn't?

JO: I never know how to answer this question. I suppose it's because I always think through all the questions I know the answers to and then reject those questions, because they're too easy. And I avoid all the questions I don't know the answers to because, well... I don't want to look stupid. Which means I always end up looking stupid -- whether I'm stupid or not.

Stupid question.
Okay, here's a question you should have asked me:
Q: Who is the best author and writing instructor you've ever cowritten a book with?

A: The answer can also be found on book store shelves.
(Hint: Search for the word "DUMMIES" written in big bold letters.)

RI: Thanks for the plug, John, but it may be a wee bit superfluous. I already mentioned my new book, WRITING FICTION FOR DUMMIES, about 5000 times last month, and I'm going to mention it further down the page in this issue. But it never hurts to have you mention it too. Thanks for your thoughts on Writing in the Shadows!

PS: John Olson has a new audio course, "Writing in the Shadows," which will go on sale on my Web site soon. Before that, though, we'll give you a chance to get it free -- if you buy John's latest book POWERS, which happens to highlight all of John's ideas for writing in those pesky shadows.

Why would we give away a two-and-a-half-hour-plus audio course to you just for buying a book? For the answer to that, see the marketing article just below, "How to Run a Book Rush."

This article is reprinted with permission of the author.

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, "the Snowflake Guy," publishes the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 18,000 readers, every month. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit

Download your free Special Report on Tiger Marketing and get a free 5-Day Course in How To Publish a Novel.
Randy Ingermanson
Publisher, Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Word Count Wednesday

Happy Wednesday Everyone

Today is Word Count Wednesday. I've been working so many hours on other things that the third book in the Rough Hewn Trilogy, Return to Kilmservy Village, is still sitting at 18,335 words. This, after I deleted a chapter and half of another. They simply were not working for me and so I cut them out. I'm certain there will be more of that along the way. For now, I'm comfortable with the direction of the final Rough Hewn book. Of course, these words will receive a once-over (and over and over, perhaps) from a brilliant editor, yet to be named, before it is published.

Here is a snippet from book three.

Raymond sat in the passenger seat while Gabriel steered the bus out of town. “If you had told me one week ago that the lot of us would be heading to the beach in a fine bus like this one, I would've said you were dreaming.” He watched through the window as the village where he grew up shrank away in the rectangular side mirror. He thought of his and Charlotte's plans to see their own child enter the world in that disappearing village.

“I wish we could've done it under different circumstances, Ray.” Gabriel looked at the clock on the dash. It glowed 10:05AM, much later than he intended to get on the road but he knew it couldn't be helped. It meant they would arrive well after dark at the beach house. “We’ll be late getting in down there Ray. I still think it'll be better to drive straight through rather than stop and move Carrie into a motel. I suppose we could stay in a campground somewhere along the way. What do you think?”

Raymond looked at the clock. “There are plenty of spots for us to lay down back there if you want to stop at a campground but I think driving straight through would be better. Really, it's up to you. I can help drive if you get tired.”

“We’ll just go till we get there. It's only about twelve hours, give or take an hour. I’ll be fine for that length of time but I’ll let you know if I need a break.” Gabriel reached back and pulled the armrest on his seat down.

I have the night free of other work but instead of working on Rough Hewn, I will be writing the ending to the short story that I started in late January. It is a paranormal story with a bit of humor thrown into the mix. I'm calling it Ziggy Returns. The word count on it stands at 10,448. I expect to wrap it up around 20,000 words.

Here we have Ziggy and Minna interacting after an avoidable accident.

Minna's gaze fixed on the hand. His forefinger looked like ground sausage, the blood still pouring out from around the shredded meat and splintered bone. "I'd have to agree with you. It's not good at all. Come on and get in the truck. I'll take you to the emergency room."

"No, no, I'm not going to the hospital." He rolled his arm over and rested his hand on the butt of the pistol in front of him. "Go in there and get me one of those panty liner things you use and wrap it up for me."

"What?" Minna tried to hide the giggle threatening to escape her throat. "You have to go to the hospital. You can't just wrap this up and expect it to heal especially with one of those." She watched as his eyes began to glaze over. "I think you need to get down on the floor there before you fall out of that chair, Ziggy." She grabbed a cushion from the sofa in the living room and dropped it on the floor beside the table. "Get down there." She urged.
Until next time ~ Keep smiling & reaching for your star


Monday, February 18, 2013

Summer 2012 - The Journey Begins

Happy Monday Everyone

It has been a shameful five months since the last update on this blog. I will be breathing some life back into it with regular postings this year. This being Monday, I will kick start it with what has happened in my life since my last post.

Summer 2012

I spent some time on a beautiful mountain during the summer. My sister blessed me with a 30' travel trailer early in the summer. There was only one problem - the travel trailer was in the state of Missouri - needed to be moved to the state of Tennessee - I was in the state of Florida without a truck. It seemed, for a time, as if I would not be able to move it from point A to point B. Then, family and friends came together from four different states. It was a remarkable sight. I hitched a ride to Tennessee and met friends from North Carolina who had borrowed a truck powerful enough to haul the travel trailer from Missouri to Tennessee. By the time it was over, the trailer was in Tennessee and was not going any further without some serious repairs. It was an adventure, indeed.

Why tell y'all about this adventure? Because of the time I spent in that travel trailer on the mountain, I wrote the second book in the Rough Hewn Trilogy. My intention was to finish a novel before returning to Florida. At the time, I had not intended to write more than one Rough Hewn novel but Carolyn's story kept speaking to me and I decided rather than write an extra long novel, I'd split it up into a trilogy.

When I returned to Florida, I wrote the prequel - a little backwards, the first written after the second, but that is how it has happened.

Autumn 2012

Skipping ahead into mid autumn, the second book of the trilogy complete, I submitted it to a publisher. A small independent publishing house operated by an intelligent, goal-oriented and compassionate woman who has chosen a team of editors, cover artists and marketing experts who, like herself, are keen on details. These professionals insist on nothing less than the best from themselves and the authors they publish.

Once again, I feel blessed. This time, blessed to have my manuscript accepted by Master Koda Select Publishing.

Valentine's Day 2013

I signed the contract for the first part of Rough Hewn at 5:22PM and hit the send button at 5:48PM, 14 February 2013. How is that for a Valentine's Day present?

I know the real work begins with the first revisions/editing proposed by the editor who has been carefully reading through my manuscript with red ink at the ready. I can say with all certainty that I am prepared to do what is needed to bring Carlolyn's story to life. In fact, I'm looking forward to it.

Below is a scant timeline from my facebook page.

Oct 25
Rough Hewn submitted to publisher along with a silent prayer.
Nov 9
When does two weeks feel like an eternity? After you've submitted your 'baby' to an agent or publisher. Busy, busy, busy and still the doubting Thomas thoughts creep in...
Dec 2
With this line, "Myrna Glass would never give up the search for her daughter." the prequel to Rough Hewn is written. Now, to go back and *try* to edit out the bad bits. I still haven't heard anything from the publisher/editor concerning the Rough Hewn Trilogy.

However, I will continue to plod on with hopes and prayers. There is still much work to be done before it sees the light of day but I do love these characters and look forward to finishing their story.
22 Dec
I've been spending some time with family recently. This has given the prequel to Rough Hewn time to sit and stew - or me the time to sit and stew on it before I go in and clean it up. In the interim, I've been working on a short story for another publisher (or, perhaps I'll take it straight to Kindle -decisions, decisions). It's a paranormal/romance with a few laughs thrown in.

I'm awaiting input from my beta readers on this one.
6 Jan
I've come to the conclusion that having your manuscript read by an editor/publisher is quite like having your skirt blow up around your waist in public. What was once only known to & understood by you is now on display for everyone to see. The combination of excitement and nervousness make for a serious case of nausea.
18 Jan
I am working on a book trailer today. I should say, I am learning how to create a book trailer today. ... Then again, I have yet to master the process.
30 Jan
Weeks after submitting a manuscript to a publisher or agent and you think - that entire bit should have been rewritten or, I used a character name too often or....
6 Feb
At this moment, bones are being removed from their dark hiding places in the mountain. Evil is beginning to creep into the light. Were the miles put between good and evil far enough to protect those who narrowly escaped? We'll soon find out.
14 Feb
Happy Valentine's Day everyone. My heart is full today, full of the love of life and the exciting things happening in my world. I'll be sharing some good news with y'all soon.
16 Feb
I would like to share with you all that on Thursday, the 14th, I signed a publishing contract with Master Koda Select Publishing for the first book in the Rough Hewn Trilogy.

I'm so very excited that Carolyn's story will be published. I've grown to love these characters & hope y'all will, as well.

Now, the real work begins.