Category Archives: My Writing

Showing, not Telling

When I first started writing, I had a terrible time figuring out how to write “to show” instead of “to tell.” I’ve learned a few things on the way and also see this error in my slush reading.

First of all, watch for filter words like “felt” and “started to.” If you tell us a character started to do something or felt something, you’re telling. Google filter words. There are great lists out there.

The key is ACTION with BEHAVIOR, which means strong verbs that have the character doing something that implies why the character is doing it.

The best way to learn how to show is through an example. Let’s take an actual example from my own writing. This was actually published but it is a mess. Truly awful.

Noelle walked into Witch Blossom from the bakery next door where she worked. The bakery, called DoNut Pass, was filled with yummy, sugary treats as well as breads, muffins and scones. 

So much telling! Yuck.

Let’s analyze it. The first sentence is not great but it isn’t horrible. The second is crap. Let’s re-write it.

The bell rang as Noelle entered the flower shop, and as usual, she was dusting flour and sugar off her pants from Do Nut pass, the bakery next door. Lovey sniffed, enjoying the aroma of fresh bread and muffins that she would always associate with her friend.

What changed? Action. Instead of telling that Noelle entered the door and that the bakery next door sold yummy things, I included those details with action. I had her actually walk through (you know if the bell rang that she walked in) and I used strong verbs: rang, dusting, and sniffed. The last part lets you know, without saying it, that the two have been friends a long time.

Let’s try a simpler one.

Tracey felt the need to sneeze so she walked outside to keep from disturbing everyone.

“Felt” is a warning word. Find a better verb. Let’s find one…

Tracey’s nose tickled with an oncoming sneeze.

Let’s do the second half.

She slipped out the front door as silently as possible so as not to disturb everyone.

Okay, that is better, but we now have an adverb, silently, that needs to be turned into action. Let’s try again and move the reason for her action to the front of the sentence.

Not wanting to disturb the others, she pinched her nose, took off her heels, and slipped out the door. 

What happened? We added strong verbs with accompanying behaviors. “Took off her shoes and slipped out the door,” is an action, a behavior, something that the character did that let you know she left quietly. I didn’t tell you she left quietly. I had her do things that you understand means quietly.

So now our sentence went from telling to showing.

Tracey felt the need to sneeze so she walked outside to keep from disturbing everyone.

became:

Tracey’s nose tickled with an oncoming sneeze. Not wanting to disturb the others, she pinched her nose, took off her heels, and slipped out the door. 

To repeat the beginning: The key is ACTION with BEHAVIOR, which means strong verbs that have the character doing something.

Post your telling sentences with the rewrite to showing below! I would love to see them.

Headaches

gallery-thumbnails-headacheHeadaches.  I want to talk about headaches today. Mostly because I have one that started yesterday and has the stamina of the Energizer Bunny. I’ve learned by now that my headaches come in many forms. The physical ones that come from stress, like the one I have now; the migraines that come from my injuries to C2 and C3 in my neck that are crushers and leave me incapable of thought, and the third kind, a more metaphorical version — the things in life we have to deal with that are unpleasant and get in the way of forward progress.

Today is Thursday and the last time I wrote was Saturday. I usually write every day, but the last several day became headaches in all sorts of ways.

  1. Travel. My family and I traveled back to Maryland for Pesach and we got our routines all out of sorts. (Loved being there though.)
  2. Work, which isn’t itself a headache, but we’ve had some weird complaints and situations that needed to be resolved this week.
  3. Death. Followers on Facebook will know that I attended a viewing yesterday for a 31 year old woman who died of cancer, leaving a 2 year old son behind.  That’s a showstopper.
  4. Frustration. Frustration with myself for not being better (whatever that means), for not writing more, for not losing weight no matter what I do, and frustration with the waiting, an inherent part of writing and submitting. Frustration with not being able to make my writing career (loosely defined) move FASTER.
  5. And one more added to the day. The small photo I am using above, within the text, is titled “Chubby Woman with a Headache.” Screw you, whomever named that one.

I’ve been in this spot before for different reasons and I keep reminding myself that advances don’t always come in a straight upwards, gradually improving line. Sometimes forward motion comes in spits and starts. Plateaus followed by leaps. That is what I am counting on.

What are your headaches? What do you do to manage them?

 

 

 

Zombie Lives Matter, a short story by Joelle Reizes

The butterfly effect meets zombies in this short story. Some political overtones, so be warned. Can’t quite figure out what the title should be, Zombie Lives Matter (political), or the one below, or something else. Comments? Thoughts? Opinions? Would love to hear from you.

How Charleston Finch and Den Oliver Destroyed the World

I was there when it started.

The zombie family was minding their own business, sitting in the park, eating their cow brain sandwiches, when a man grilling hamburgers noticed them.

“Hey dead-heads, you gotta leave. This is a live person only park,” he yelled. “We don’t want your kind around here. What if I sit on that bench get infected? Or my kids do?”

It attracted attention from other park goers, and generated hecklers and haters. I was playing in the park with friends and we wandered over to get a better look.

To Mr. and Mrs. Zombie, this had become the norm. To Little Boy Zombie and Teen Girl Zombie, it was all they’d ever known. They rose to leave, hoping for a peaceful exit, when a picnicker threw eggs at them, hitting Little Boy Zombie in the face. LBZ started to cry and his mother rushed to shelter him in her arms.

Mr. Z held up his hands. “Please,” he said. “We wanted to eat lunch together. That’s all. We weren’t bothering anyone. We’ll leave, but don’t hurt my children.”

They tried to push their way through the crowd and were pushed back hard, so hard that Mr. Z lost an arm. This wasn’t the first time it happened, but the conservatives in the state had passed legislation to severely limit Limb Reattachment clinics. There were only eight in the state, none nearby and he would have to get it done in the next three months or be subjected to a medically unnecessary limb attachment video created to educate zombies on the danger of limb loss. Not to mention that he had a high deductible plan and reattachment cost a fortune.

The important thing now was to get the arm back. He reached down with his left hand to retrieve it when it was snatched up and tossed in the air like a football. “Here, catch!” bellowed a teenage boy to a friend. The friend pitched the arm to another teen and on it went, a pick-up football game using a zombie’s arm as the ball.

“Don’t do that!” Mrs. Z begged. Losing an arm completely required legal registration of the limb and it took months to be issued a new one, not to mention a bunch of paperwork.

Teen Girl Zombie broke away from her mother, slashed at her wrist with her nails so that her thin pink blood leaked out. She held up her wrist as she pushed people out of the way. Everyone backed up several steps. She approached the teen boys, stood in front of them, cocked out a hip and said, “I’d put that down and go wash my hands if I were you.”

The three boys stared at her and the one holding the arm dropped it. It was missing a finger, but that was less of a problem. She picked it up and walked back through the silent crowd to give the appendage back to her dad.

The teens ran off toward the lavatory, but one could be overhead saying, “I mean, this may be gross, but she was kinda hot.”

The Zombie family wrapped the arm in the picnic blanket and gestured for the crowd to part. It appeared that the crowd would disperse and for a moment, it looked as though all would be well.

Except for one poorly placed rock.

Mrs. Z stepped on it, lost her balance and fell. During the descent, she flailed her arms trying to regain her balance, and it doing so brought about the end of the world.

Her right hand accidentally touched a six-year old living child, scratching the child on the left cheek.

A minor scratch does not necessarily spread the zombie virus. A simple series of anti-virus drugs are given in an “abundance of caution,” but the child was in little to no danger. Sitting next to a zombie, eating from the same pizza or drinking from the same glass will not harm you.

But the child’s mother didn’t care.

The mother reached out and grabbed Mrs. Z by the hair, dragging her on the ground, screaming the whole time. Mrs. Z was crying and trying to apologize but no one would listen. The crowd grew ugly and mean and closed in on Mrs. Z.  Mr. Z frantically tried to reach the police on his cell phone all the time holding the children back from the mob. The children struggled to break free of their father, who was restraining them and dialing with the one arm he had left.

The mother kicked Mrs. Z in the head and the stomach. Someone got a rope and before cooler heads could prevail, there was an old-time lynching. The children watched their mother die.

The police finally arrived, and afterwards many would say that they delayed on purpose, not caring about zombie lives. Whether they did or not, the result was the same. For the first time in sixty years, a zombie was hanged.

I was a kid then and had never seen a lynching before. Sure, I’d read about them in the history books, but everyone I knew said that kind of segregation and prejudice was in the past. I didn’t know any zombies personally, but I didn’t hold anything against them. They seemed far away from my secure little life. I lived in a nice community in a three bedroom ranch with a large backyard and a swing set. My school was within walking distance and it never occurred to me that my world was secluded, isolated from minorities like zombies.

The police, suddenly realizing the seriousness of the situation, tried to get to Mrs. Z and cut her down, calling for an ambulance. The crowd blocked them from getting to her. I watched as police pushed against the crowd, the crowd pushed back and then things went worse.

Now frantic to get to what they realized was a murder victim, the police pulled out their Tasers and used them on the mob’s first line. Those that fell were stepped on as the second ranks pushed through and attacked the police. I was jumping up and down to try to see what was going on. My friends climbed a tree to get a better look.

Tasered men and women lay on the ground, some seriously hurt by their own mob. More cops arrived and used water hoses to disperse the mob, but another mob formed behind them and pinioned the police down. One of the police drew a gun and shots rang out. And just like that, it became a full-fledged riot. My friends shimmied down from the tree and we high-tailed it back home.

Seventeen people killed, another twenty or so injured plus the murdered zombie. Zombies formed coalitions to patrol the streets to keep their kind safe. The Zombie Alliance petitioned the courts for stronger laws, and the President appeared on television asking for calm.

Underneath the top layer of law-abiding folks was an extremist pro-zombie group called Zombies for Life and their equal and opposite Keep America Alive. The KAA harkened its tactics from the ugly part of the 1960’s. Its leader, Charleston Finch, was a high school dropout who never belonged to anything. His father, an alcoholic who sexually molested Charleston and his sister, Rebekah, died in an unusual tractor accident.

Charleston found his calling in hate. He could hate like nobody’s business. He could hate with passion and eloquence. He even hated in his dreams. When the KAA started he became a local leader, then a regional one, and finally, the head of the entire organization, ruling from an old gothic home in Tennessee.

The house was a commune, with families and children all living together. It was open season for Charleston, who found his taste ran rather young, but only female, never having gotten the equal opportunity gene from his father. He admired the Branch Davidians standoff in Waco from way back in 1993, and promised everyone that he’d go out burning rather than risk being handed to a zombie FBI officer.

A blunt instrument in most things, he was a maestro at terror.

From the reports, Charleston awakened one morning with a vision and called all this commanders together from across the United States and in Europe. They came to compound and met in early May.

“Everyone, I know what we are going to do,” he announced. “We are going to strike fear in the hearts of all zombies and zombie loving breathers.”

“How are we going to do that,” asked his Texas representative, and Charleston smiled.

On July fourth, at noon, a powerful bomb exploded in the building directly next to Zombie Alliance headquarters in New York. Simultaneously, bombs went off in ZA adjacent buildings in London (five pm), Quebec (noon), Kyoto (one am), Paris (six pm), Abu Dhabi (eight pm), Prague (six pm) and Lisbon (five pm). The coordinated attack was the most massive the world had ever seen and, including the breathing problems and heart attacks afterwards, killed ten thousand people. Kyoto has the fewest casualties as it was the only bomb not timed for lunch or evening rush hour.

Placing the bombs in buildings adjacent to ZA headquarter buildings was a stroke of genius. While security was tight at the ZA offices, the restaurants, bakeries, clothing stores and homes next to these buildings had never been searched or protected.

Charleston, now a bona fide mass murderer, was the subject of a global manhunt, but he was never caught. Some say he went to Mexico. Others say he holed up in a shack in the woods. Still others said he’d died by his own hand. Whatever really happened, Charleston was never seen again.

His crime, however, reverberated throughout the world and ushered in a new era of terrorism. Zombie families were found crushed under truck tires, burned to death, and, the worst, torn limb from limb, sentient but unable to pull themselves together.

The ZFL’s leader, Den Oliver, was a zombie of some prominence, having been an actor in his twenties. He fought for roles other than the shambling, mindless flesh-eating zombie during the apocalypse, and won, eventually playing a sidekick role in a made for TV mystery movie, earning an Emmy nomination.

His progress as an actor stalled after that, however; and worse, his family became a target. When his daughter tried out for the school play several of the children refused to hold her hand during a dance number. When the teacher told them that they had to or couldn’t be in the show, they quit, dressed in raincoats, boots, gloves and masks, and met his daughter after school. They used metal pipes to beat her to a pulp. The worst part was that they propped her head on a stick so she could watch the destruction of her body while she was completely conscious of what was happening. Then, having had their fun, they used her head as a piñata.

The loss of his daughter destroyed Den and he moved from being an activist in the Zombie Alliance to volunteering for ZFL, his charisma and intelligence eventually leading him to the top.

It was Den Oliver who hatched the plan.

While Charleston Finch used armed terror, Den decided to play germ warfare. He ordered every single ZFL member to cut their wrists and drip their pale, pink blood on door handles, taxi seats, public library chairs. Zombie baristas dribbled drips in macchiatos, waiters oozed blood into food, and bartenders into wine. The scourge started in the United States, but quickly made it to Central and South America, Canada, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. India was almost spared, having closed its borders, but ZFL members in the country caught the fever and the population was attacked from within.

The newer zombies didn’t have the mentoring that usually came with zombification, and became savage, feral beasts. They attacked breathers, either killing or infecting them, and the tidal wave was unstoppable. The virus, once only transmitted from human to human, adapted to other life forms. It started with the obvious, primates, and worked its way through the Class Mammalia until it reached household pets such as dogs and cats.

In three months, ninety percent of the worlds’ population was dead, and the remaining ten percent were zombies.

That’s all that is left. As far as I can tell, I am the only living person on the planet. This is my story. Hate killed us all.

When you send flowers, put a name on the card

Flowers & Trees
Fresh Pink Tulips, Colors, Flower, Flowers, Fresh, Natuer, Pink, Pink Fresh Petals, Rose

Lessons from the last two weeks:

1.  Editing happens.  You don’t have to like it, but you do have to respect it. If you write, you edit.  The first draft is basically vomit on paper.  The second draft removes obvious grammatical errors. The third draft will reveal crazy changes in tense, POV, or inconsistencies in the story. Then you get to the real work, telling the story the best you can. (see point 3)

2.  Filter words are real.  I didn’t even know this term until this week when I was told by a writer and friend that I really needed to research “filter words.”  A quick Google Search revealed exactly what they are, and an even quicker read of my story revealed exactly how prominent they are in my writing.  Lightbulb Time!

3.  Telling the story the best you can means that each and every sentence has to work. Each sentence has to make the reader want to read the next sentence.  I used to think of writing more holistically, but by the time you are on the fourth draft of something, you better be paying attention to sentences.  They are all part of your creation and each every one deserves attention. It could be a simple noun/verb but make sure it is the right noun and the right verb. He walks is a sentence. He sauntered is a lot more informative.  The fat man sauntered across the deserted street at midnight, is part of a story that I may want to read.

4. By draft four you get really excited when you write a good sentence. I wrote one today.  Here it is:  “A happy little whistle joins the humming in her head and the sound is a symphony that only she can hear.”  I know that you cannot tell that is a particularly good sentence without context, but I’m excited because my character has gone from mentally confused (and sympathetic) to completely batshit crazy by this time in the story and this sentence really ties that up in a bow.  She’s stealing babies, after all.

5.  If you need help, and are truly working on your craft, ask for help.  Don’t ask for help from random people, but from people who know you are putting in the effort and perhaps even like you.  You may hit pay dirt and learn something.  But you better as hell be putting in the effort. No one wants to help a lazy writer.  Writing is work.  It if was easy everyone would be doing it.

6.  When you send flowers to someone to say “thank you” for their help, make sure you put your name on the card with a short thank you message. Anonymous flowers to a single woman are creepy.

WIP: An uplifting story of a psychotic babysnatcher. Not so much on the uplifting.

At first light, Abby leans down to see Holly. Holly doesn’t look right. She picks Holly up and notices that Holly smells different. Maybe she has a stinky diaper? Abby checks the paper towels and finds no poop or wetness. Somewhere in the back of her head, a thought breaks through the static.   Maybe this baby isn’t Holly. Maybe this baby is dead, not sleeping. She needs Holly back. This dead baby isn’t Holly.

Abby takes the baby outside and places it in the lake. Once again, the lake accepts the gift.

Abby paces around her house. She walks the same circle repeatedly. From the kitchen to the living room, down the hall, around the bedroom, back down the hall, to the kitchen.

Something was wrong with Holly. Abby did something wrong, but she couldn’t figure out what it was. That baby wasn’t Holly. That must be the problem. Abby needed to find the real Holly and then everything would be okay.

When Abby was little, her goldfish died and her parents bought her another goldfish. You just have to keep trying. Time to find the right Holly.

Some Words from A WIP


Some words from a W.I.P.

“You killed my sister!”

“Your sister was losing control.”

“She was losing control because of you. We weren’t always killers. We could manage the Hunger. We only took what we needed. The men said it heightened the experience. We were worshipped as goddesses. She was a Queen and we lived in her lands safely. You took that from us!”

“You managed to control your Hunger for brief period. Then you returned to who you truly are.”

“She sought your wisdom! She wanted to stop the cycle. You know she came to you looking for help!”

“There was no help to be given. Death is the help.”

“Yes, and you gave it to her,” Ostra snapped.

“I handed her a basket with an asp. She chose.”

“She chose because of you. Because you rejected her. Because you destroyed her hope.”

TT leaned in and whispered. “Why did an asp kill her? I thought it took an awful lot to kill them.”

“The primordial snake. The Trickster in the Garden. The one animal whose bite is fatal.”

TT was gobsmacked. “Truly? The Garden. The ONE Garden.”

“Yes. The very One.”

“Who was this Queen? Where was she Queen?”

“Sheba.”