Sunday, July 31, 2011

Second Thoughts on Showing vs. Telling

There are two elements to the craft of narrative fiction that interest me just now. First, of course, is to be open to the way a story unfolds gradually as you write. It is possible to have a sense of the overall shape of the narrative at the outset. But it is important to let the particular scenes and characters you are working on at any given moment shape and reshape that narrative. Let the story grow as you go. Don't trap it in a too rigid form worked out in advance.

The second element is touch. The trick is to convey a complex experience, in a scene or a conversation, without stepping all over it. As a writer, you are not merely describing facts. You are primarily working with the imagination of your reader, planting suggestions, manipulating implications, inducing it to do the main work of painting in the details of the scene. Your descriptions have only a limited ability to paint a scene, but your reader's imagination has an unlimited power in this regard. 

The previous post brought up the difference between "showing" and "telling." A scene retold can be dry and flat. But showing a scene can be more vivid. It invites your reader to recreate the perceptual experience of an event in imagination. But it is important to remember that there is a limit to how much detail can be shown before the imaginative/perceptual experience becomes oppressive to your reader. Just as in living perception, you don't turn your attention to every detail of an experience, a writer should not try to overburden the reader with too many imagined details. It is possible to recall details in a perceptual experience that were not originally attended to. It is in the nature of perception that there is always more to it than you can articulate at any one moment. 

A writer uses the reader's imagination in the same way that the reader uses the powers of perception. Even though more detail will make for a more vivid depiction of a scene. This will tend to obscure the other dimension of perception, namely that there always seems to be more to it than we notice at first. Experience is vivid not only because it is rich with detail, but also because it always seems to exceed the limits of our powers of attention. If we ignore this other dimension, we risk producing a rich depiction that still lacks the feeling of limitlessness that we find in all genuine experiences.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

On Writing: Showing vs Telling

I ran across this fascinating discussion of the difference between "telling" and "showing" in your writing.

Check it out. It might just be a real revelation.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Interview with Spencer Brokaw, Author of The Impenetrable Spy

I first met Spencer on GoodReads, when he offered to interview me on his blog, When I checked out his blog, I realized what an interesting young man he is. He has been writing since he was six, and six years later has published his first novel as an ebook. For anyone trying to write for young people, Spencer's interview is a must read.

1. Tell us about your book: The Impenetrable Spy follows secret agent Zack Carter, a newly recruited CIA spy. Being a brilliant scientist, he creates a time machine from a vision he has. He constructs it to go back in time when his heart rate stops, making him nearly impenetrable. Wang Bo, the leader of China is in possession of a statue that makes your worst fears come alive. Wang plans on delivering it to the president at an upcoming meeting. Zack’s mission is to obtain the statue and make sure the United States of America remains a war free territory. His missions include traveling to an asylum, a mansion, a war torn D.C., France, New York, and a secret test facility.

2. Where can people get it: My book is currently available on Smashwords and Kindle. It is entering premium distribution so expect to see it on popular reading devices and apps soon. It will also be available on Amazon in paperback form soon.

3If this is part of series, tell us about your plans for the rest of the series: Well I recently finished The Impenetrable Spy 2: Future Dreamer, so I have started a prequel on the character Jack. Jack is introduced in The Impenetrable Spy at around chapter 8. He was recruited for his amazing stealth skills. He was a bank robber and an art thief, but the CIA changed him into one of their best spies.

4What was your inspiration for this book? My dad was my main inspiration. He suggested that I write a book when I was six years old; after I told him I was bored. I wrote it down on notebook paper and it ended up being 21 pages long. Two to three years later I typed my first book. A year after I started The Impenetrable Spy at age 10. I finished it last year and published it this year on KDP and Smashwords. My dad read it and told me how much he liked it and told me to keep it up. Without him, I never would’ve begun writing in the first place.

6. How has writing affected the way you read other people's books? Well, I am really picky now that I have finished one. But after the experience of self-publishing, I am finding that some self published authors are better than the ones who have their books in stores. After writing, it seems like I enjoy reading other people’s books that are also self-published.

7. How do you put a book together, from first ideas to finished product? I normally brainstorm ideas and do outlines of what chapters will consist of. Once I’m done, I print the book out and find as many mistakes as I can. I read it about 10 times. Then I read it aloud to find other mistakes. Then my dad reads it and finds mistakes too. I then fix them on the computer before self-publishing.

8. What advice do you have for beginning writers? One thing is to read a lot. It is very important to read because it gives you ideas and makes your writing better. Don’t worry about how good it is, just keep writing. Even if the end result is terrible, your next book will be better. The one after that will get better and so on. You should also maintain a schedule so you remember where you’re at in your book. If you’re writing every couple of weeks, chances are you will forget a lot and you will have to read it.

9. What do you love most about writing? I love that I am able to create a fictional world where I can make anything happen.

11. Tell us about yourself: I am Spencer Brokaw and I am 12 years old (2011). I published my first book this year (The Impenetrable Spy).Writing is something I enjoy and I plan on writing a four part series. I enjoy writing fiction because I have control over the characters and the world they inhabit. I currently reside inOhio. In my spare time I enjoy swimming, golfing, playing drums, and reading.

Twitter: @spencerbrokaw

Thursday, July 21, 2011

New Feature: Author Interviews, Guest Blog Posts

As a result of many inquiries from fellow action adventure authors, I have decided to open my blog to guest posts from other authors, as well as to feature author interviews. Keep an eye on this space for exciting new developments. The world of epublishing is a dynamic place, changing and evolving rapidly. Here at Action Adventure Inc., we plan on staying ahead of the cresting wave, and eventually body-surfing it home!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Girl Fights Back (Go No Sen), ch. 6... Check it out!

When Emily came to the edge of the forest she had already seen the fire in the woodshed. She had only suspected that something was wrong from Promontory Rock, but now she could see that nothing at all was right at her home. She had seen Yuki drive off with Mr. Cardano, and then her father set fire to the main house. She noticed that the security guards were nowhere to be seen. But she had also spotted suspicious activity in the hedges to her left. There were several men moving as quietly as they could manage through some rather dense and noisy underbrush. She circled around to her right, always remaining concealed within the verge of the forest.

She made her way to the point in the north lawn where the woods came the closest to the estate buildings. She was about fifty yards from the corner of the garage. She had a very clear view of her father, crouching against the corner of the building, peering over a low shrub toward the hedges. “Thank God! He sees them too!” she thought with a palpable feeling of relief.

Just then, she saw him scatter some tools with a clatter and burst from behind the shrub towards the main house. They saw him too! He was running as fast as she had ever seen him go. He only had to cover twenty yards to get to the cover of the house. She hadn’t heard the noise of any gunfire, but she could definitely hear the sound of bullets ricocheting around her father as he turned the corner of the front portico. And then she noticed that the whole house seemed to be on fire! She desperately wanted to run to her father, to see if he was hit, to warn him about the fire, to wrap herself in his arms. But she knew that she should hold back, wait just a moment, see what those men were up to. They didn’t know she was there yet. She might need that advantage.

Girl Fights Back (Go No Sen), ch. 5

Cardano knew he had to hurry. The people who were on the way would be in an ugly frame of mind by the time they arrived. He needed to spirit everyone away before then, even the security guards. They were just contract employees, but he couldn’t leave them behind to be killed. He had already sent his wife and son away. He arranged their disappearance as soon as he heard about the attack at the concert. They had been living in a small house on the island of Naxos in the Aegean Sea for the last few weeks. But he had worked very hard to make it seem that they were in New Zealand. Every scrap of paper or digital information anywhere in the Border Control systems of several countries implied this, though he had been careful to make it appear that he wanted the authorities to think they were really in Valparaiso. He had also stationed a female operative in an apartment in Auckland with a small boy “borrowed” from a local orphanage. She was under instructions to flee to Adelaide at the first sign of trouble, deposit the boy in a safe house there, and leave a trail that would dead end in Hong Kong.

It was a clever sleight of hand that might distract his enemies for a little while. They would lose interest in his family before long. But they would hound him and George as long as they lived. The security guards would not be worth pursuing. They knew nothing. As long as they were not on site when the tactical teams arrived they would be safe enough. He gave them all cash bonuses, put them on a chartered bus for Las Vegas, and hoped their discretion would protect them.

George was a different story. He knew way too much. He knew as much as Cardano himself. There was no place he could hide him for long. He had already successfully hidden him for almost sixteen years as it was. Of course, Meacham knew he would keep George nearby. But as long as he thought the Predator program was worthless, he had no interest in either of them. They had all been safe as long as Meacham believed that. It was clear that he no longer believed it, for whatever reason. Cardano assumed that he had received intelligence about a Chinese program.

He was worried that George had not returned yet. He couldn’t leave before then, and Yuki absolutely refused to leave without him. After all these years, he had never quite fathomed the nature of their relationship. Were they secretly married? Just lovers? Friends? They seemed to have some sort of spiritual bond. Protecting Yuki was the main purpose of this evacuation. So it was deeply frustrating that he did not understand her motivations at this precise moment.

Girl Fights Back (Go No Sen), ch. 4... here at last. Enjoy!

By the time Emily got home from school Friday afternoon she had already planned out her weekend. She collected her gear: a change of clothes, a sleeping roll, a bottle, her hunting knife and a few utensils. Also a scope she had borrowed earlier from one of the guard posts. It must have belonged to a rifle at one time. This might come in handy. The weather was getting cooler, so she put on a jacket and headed out the back to the woods. Her father would be back Saturday or Sunday, and she wanted to have plenty of time to get dug in.

Naturally she headed straight for Promontory Rock. Well, not exactly straight. She took the most direct route she could imagine, while at the same time leaving no clues behind her, but as many false trails as she could think of. If it were possible to trace her steps from above, as a bird might see them, that is, if they were visible at all, they might seem to sketch out some sort of rune, or an arabesque. Was the pattern merely ornamental, or did it have some deep meaning? Or was it like a mehndi, with a ritual meaning as part of a wedding, or some sort of seasonal festival. She reveled in the path she was creating and concealing at the same time, using it to misdirect the gaze of her pursuer even as she set her heart on the promontory. Her father would not expect her to go there now that she knew he knew.

The rock projected from a cliff at least two hundred feet above the ravine below. A stream meandered among the maples and elms at the bottom. The trees gave way to smaller oaks and mountain mahogany further up until it finally thinned out to grass and a few shrubs around the rock itself. One large clump of shrubs several yards away from the precipice was dense enough to hide a small hollow within. There was just enough foliage to conceal her without the need for a lean-to or any other sort of covering. She could see out in three directions without much difficulty. The fourth direction was covered by a large rock and some thick brambles. No silent approach from there.

Girl Fights Back (Go No Sen), ch. 3... Here it is, at last!

“Mike, you’re gonna have to turn ‘em over to us. You know that, don’t you?” the voice on the other end of the phone said.

Michael Cardano reflected on the quality of the tone of that voice. Several million lines of code and a few hundred miles of fiber optic cable lay between him and the man on the other end. The code was written to ensure the security of the connection, dissolving the vocal noises made at either end of the connection into miniscule bits, whirling them into a billion randomized patterns and then, at the last moment, reconstituting them into a facsimile of the original vocal intonations. Most of the code was actually tasked with recreating as accurately as possible the sound of the original voice. The voice from the phone sounded like the man Michael knew him to be. He could hear the tonal indicators of his emotional veracity. The sound was true to the voice. He hoped his own voice would sound as true at the other end of the line. He felt the need to be able to control the shading of his voice, to shape the way he was perceived, and he didn’t want the nuance he aimed to create to get lost in the code.

“You gotta be kidding,” he snorted.


“You realize this is just more of Meacham’s bullshit, don’t you?” he needled.


“He’s gonna flog this turkey all over the hill, and we both know it’s bullshit. That’s not how real soldiers work.”

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Girl Fights Back (Go No Sen), ch. 2... Enjoy!

That day, her father picked her up from the dojo in the family car. That was their little joke. It was a black limousine, not huge or stretched out. But it was obviously solid. It belonged to the family her father worked for. He was their driver, though it was not clear exactly where his duties ended, or what he might be asked to do, or when.

He was not a physically imposing man. He was only a couple of inches taller than her and maybe thirty pounds heavier. He was wiry and strong, but deceptively so. He did not train extensively, just a few push-ups, a few sit-ups, a few pull-ups, a few laps around the estate where they lived. But she sensed that, like Sensei, he was much stronger than he had any right to be, than anyone might suspect. Of course, he hardly ate at all, seemed not even to like food. A few vegetables, maybe some beans, some fruit, a bowl of rice. That was his diet. They ate dinner together most nights. She wasn’t sure he ate any other meals. He was in his early forties, though most people on first meeting him would probably assume that he was ten years younger than that.

Emily knew that he remained young because he was essentially young at heart. She saw his playful side, she basked in his love. But to everyone else he seemed to be made of stone. A cool customer. He hardly spoke, never laughed. Just listened with an immovable expression on his face. When his employer, Mr. Cardano, asked him to do something, he did it, quickly, efficiently, without comment. Cardano had come to rely on his impassivity. It was as secure as the Catholic confessional. Sometimes, he was gone from the estate for a few days, never more than a week. He never told her what he did on these trips. She didn’t ask anymore. For the most part, however, he drove the family car.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Girl Fights Back (Go No Sen), ch. 1... as promised!

Here it is. Enjoy! Check back soon for the next installment.

Chapter 1
Kung Fu

It’s like a kid swinging a bat in his first little league baseball game. He has no idea what to expect, when to begin his swing, when to commit to it completely, not to mention where to swing the bat. Sure, he’s probably already practiced swinging at balls with his dad out on the local ball field or at a batting cage. He knows how to hold the bat--dominant hand on top, knuckles of both hands lined up, bat off his shoulder--maybe even how to step slightly into his swing, shift his weight to his back foot, swivel his hips and then his shoulders.

But facing the opposing pitcher in a real, live game; now that’s something completely different. That kid on the mound is not trying to teach him how to hit the ball. He’s throwing as hard as he can, trying to get him out. His throwing motion is different from his dad’s. It’s really hard to see the ball until it’s almost too late. His eyes don’t focus on the right things; they don’t look in the right directions. He doesn’t know what to look for. He closes his eyes and swings. Here’s what it sounds like in sequence: thud... swish. Thud (the ball hits the catcher’s mitt), then swish (the bat cuts the empty air). Later, after a lot more experience in game conditions, he learns how to train his eyes to look and his mind to attend to the right things.

That’s how sparring always seemed to her. It was just a matter of seeing, of knowing where to look and what to look for. She saw the telltale signs of her opponent’s intentions almost as soon as he had formed them, certainly as soon as he was committed to them. This was her third martial art. First was aikido, a beautiful, meditative discipline. All round, soft movements, deflecting the opponent, but also absorbing him, enfolding him in the subtle folds of her own movements, a caress, a rebuff. It was almost a kindness. Soothing the opponent, allowing him to expend his energy fruitlessly, turning him around, twisting him in an unexpected way. Perhaps he sees that his effort is going awry even as it’s happening to him, but there’s nothing he can do about it. The surprise she saw written across his face was a supreme satisfaction, better than victory and his admission of defeat. Tap.

Girl Fights Back (Go No Sen) goes live!

My new book, Girl Fights Back (Go No Sen), is live on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. This is a martial arts - espionage - coming of age thriller.

I'll be serializing it here over the next few weeks, so check back here if you're interested in super karate ninja girl-power stories.

Here's a capsule of the story:

In ancient Greece, one spoke of tolma, the daring that holds itself in reserve, that endures. There is more than one way to control the outcome of a conflict. The one who endures, in not simply seizing the initiative, also dares. The most famous instance of one who dares by holding himself in reserve is the resourceful wanderer, the hero Odysseus.

Sen, in Japanese, the initiative: it can be taken up in more than one way. In holding oneself in reserve, one seizes the initiative hidden within the opponent’s attack. This is called Go No Sen.

Emily Kane, 17, high school student, martial artist--when her family is shattered by covert operatives who attack their home, they go into hiding, but she refuses. She insists on staying behind, staying in school, confronting the people who attacked her family. She will do what it takes to wrest control of her life from the people seeking to destroy her.