This week we have author Mickey J Corrigan. She talks about Show Don't Tell. She also has a new book out, The Physics of Grief.
Originally from Boston, Mickey J. Corrigan writes tropical noir with a dark humor. Novels include Project XX about a school shooting (Salt Publishing, UK, 2017) and What I Did for Love, a spoof of Lolita (Bloodhound Books, UK, 2019).
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Show Don't Tell: But How?
The best way to write fiction or narrative nonfiction is to create a movie screenplay but in beautiful, readable prose. Sound difficult? Well, yeah. But what you are trying to do is incredibly hard. Because ultimately you want to recreate your own imaginings or memories in someone else's head. Yikes.
The most successful writers provide us with stories we can fall into as if we'd lapsed into a dream. This means as a writer you will want to be able to convey your story so that your readers can dream it. Or at least see it in their own mind as if watching a film.
How do you accomplish this? The key is to give readers as much detail as may be required for them to see and feel and experience your story to the maximum effect. This means you must continuously set the scene. And every time the action shifts, you will set a new scene. So you set the scene when you begin the story, for each chapter, and with every new section in a chapter. The story does not tell, it shows as you make sure the reader knows who the characters are, where they are, what they are doing and feeling and experiencing. You share myriad details so the reader is invited—no, lured into each scene: the smells, sights, tastes, sounds. The clammy fish-scented sea air. The purpling sky at dusk. The bitter tang of bile. The screech of a lone owl in the ice-crusted woods. The biting wind, the scratch of his Irish knit sweater when it brushes against the flushed skin of her face.
In addition to writing crime novels, I help other writers by editing their manuscripts. One of my most common suggestions is to set the scene. Writers will begin a chapter by recounting a narrator's or protagonist's thoughts. This is telling, and the reader is left wondering: Where is this person? Are they driving in a speeding car, running through an urban park, hiding in a walk-in closet, drinking gimlets in a dark bar? Don't leave it up to your readers to create the scenes. Don't leave them sitting in a movie theater with a blank screen in front of them while you narrate your (boring) story.
And please don't begin your memoir, story, novel, or chapter with backstory. Backstory is telling. Start with the showy action. Readers these days are not going to give your book much (if any) time to draw them in. You have to grab their short-lived attention at once—then you must keep it. How? Start with a hook, a good strong scene that leaves readers curious. Give them a delightful, naughty, mysterious, or otherwise delectable taste so they can't stop. Hook them fast and you can reel them in slowly. You can insert your backstory in between all the intrigue, action, romance, and plot devices you use to keep them reading.
This is not easy. Readers these days can swipe away your book and pick up a remote. Ho hum, on to more enticing entertainment. You didn't work so hard all this time to end up with that kind of audience reaction! So be sure your storytelling skills are sharp as talons as you show, not tell, your story.
When Seymour Allan loses his girlfriend, his depression is as dark as a South Florida thunderstorm. He hides out in a retirement community, drinks too much, and hangs with a feral cat. But when he meets the mysterious Raymond C. Dasher, Seymour's life changes as he embarks on a new career: professional griever.
Seymour's depression lifts when he spends time at the wakes and funerals of some very unpopular people. He cares for a dying criminal who loves T.S. Eliot and refuses to pass on, and he attends some unique burials that may or may not be legal. He also meets Yvonne, a sexy redhead dealing with the loss of her mobster boyfriend. Out in the Everglades, he has to face down a group of armed mourners and an alligator in attack mode.
Nothing like sex and danger, guns and gators, to make a man remember how good it feels to be alive.
The Physics of Grief is a unique, quirky crime novel presenting the upside of funerals and a hopeful look at second chances—and at death.