Monthly Archives: November 2013

TMI: Too Revealing?

Half shy

Last night, my husband made a great point about too much information (TMI). He said, “don’t tell the reader everything about your character.  Half the fun is the mystery, the struggle to guess and the fun discovering and gradually appreciating the characters in your adventure.”

This takes “show, don’t tell” one step further with “reveal, don’t show.”

Hide a little; intrigue the audience.  What do you think the character’s secret might be? How do the other characters’ backgrounds and experiences affect their guesses? And is there a right answer?

The Devil We Know

If we prefer the devil we know, do we prefer a villain with depth?

I’m about to add scenes that develop the villain; I’ll alternate the new scenes with the current, hero’s plot. But does it make sense to break up the story? Hand of horror raising from glowing pupmkin lantern.Why add ambiguity and irritation by interrupting the main storyline? Will the new scenes be extraneous; will I write them only to rip them out?

The decision to circle back to create new scenes was not easy; I hope they’ll lend authenticity and conviction to the villain, bringing dimension to the hero’s challenge and underscoring the impossibility of stopping this runaway train.

It’s not like the idea is new; there’s ample precedence for alternating theme a with theme b. Hero movies such as Robin Hood, Superman, Batman, X-men, and Iron Man flip back and forth between hero and villain until anticipating the clash is nearly as thrilling as the conflagration itself.

But many stories don’t weave between hero and villain. To mention a couple of recent favorites, Philippa Gregory doesn’t; in The Other Boleyn Girl, Henry VIII is far more myth than man. The same could be said of Lauren Weisberger’s villain in The Devil Wears Prada. Examining old favorites, in the Belgariad saga David Eddings never introduces an enemy until 5 minutes before he’s obliterated. The same is true of Piers Anthony’s quests – the story unfolds building a team and discovering their strengths and weaknesses. The villain is little more than a shadow.

How does revealing the villain affect the coherence and impact of the story?

Show and Tell: Is Compelling Writing a Matter of Style?

Writing workshops say, “Show, don’t Tell.” But John Grisham “tells” a great deal of The Broker and the delivery comes across as bright, brisk and punchy.


But in six years there had been too much sleep. Now his body was well rested. His mind was working overtime.

He slowly got up from the bed where he’d been lying for an hour, unable to close his eyes, and walked to the small table where he picked up the cell phone…

– John Grisham, The Broker

“Tell” can be very powerful. But I’m no John Grisham (wish!) and I’m considering whether to change the following version, which is heavy on tell…

The cardinal’s trill outside her window overwhelmed Dayton’s concentration; between that and the sun’s glare on my screen… Rising, she turned. In a few strides she reached the windows and rested her forehead against the glass. Calm. After a short rest, she pushed back from the window and shut the blinds with an abrupt clatter, careful not to catch the silk cuff of her blouse. The noise didn’t travel far; the third floor of the Naval Research Lab’s flagship building was as big and open as a high school gymnasium. Sound tangled and died in the warren of haze-gray cubes that defined hundreds of anonymous workspaces. Gliding tall on athletic legs back to hers, Dayton smoothed her skirt in place, lighted on the edge of her seat, and focused again on the screen.

Absorbed in her work, Dayton translated another variable, her fingers snapping again through the codex she’d pried from Peregrine’s hands (just this morning?).  Elated, she plugged the values into variables, closer with each calculation to certifying the  report and completing the Petrel project’s three-year odyssey. At least, that was the plan. Who’d believe the values call our remote-controlled weather glider a data-siphoning bomber – a goofy novelty from a bad Bond flick?

Absently twisting her hair into a knot, Dayton groped for a pen beneath a stack of farewell cards and secured the messy bun. On a dollar-store calculator, she double-checked her team’s world-renowned engineers.

– Kim Shupenia, Proof of Concept

…to something showier.

Dayton didn’t hear the cardinal trill outside her office window. She was losing a game of keep-away that might end her friends’ fledging careers.

They took it!

Abandoning her calculations, Dayton imagined kicking off her shoes. Grabbing a pen from beneath a stack of farewell cards, she managed not to climb up onto her desk. Instead, she rolled her hair and stabbed a messy bun, thinking how easy it’d be to take a few quick steps and clear at least two of the fuzzy-walled gray office cubes.  She’d  intercept the manual that arced through the air just shy of the vaulted ceiling. Watching it fly, years of self-discipline warred with her earliest instincts. Grow up.

Nao gleefully leapt and snagged it, landing flat-backed on the photocopier; light as a butterfly, in flagrant violation of the warranty. Dayton cringed; interns, she seethed. She pivoted just as Nao, banding the pages in a tidy scroll,  winged it back across the vacant room to Shing, the missile almost invisible against Naval standard, haze-gray walls.

Laugh, Dayton counseled herself, they think it’s a game. With a smile, she protested, “did you want a job here at the Naval Research Lab or on a football field?” her tone stopped Nao and Shing just shy of pandemonium. Nao shot Shing a look; now she’ll guard it like a hawk! Shing grimaced back, we were supposed to lay eyes on the codex, not steal it.

Gesturing to Shing, Dayton dropped lightly to the floor. Handing her the document, he grinned, “It’s after 5 on Friday, Dayton. We’re the last ones in the office. Paperwork doesn’t matter – Congress rubber-stamps the Petrel project first thing Monday.” Nao’s voice echoed in the gymnasium-sized office as she approached, her tiny stride eating the distance much more slowly.  “Shing’s right; relax. Production will catch any anomalies.” Dayton shook her head. “A last-minute sanity check shouldn’t turn up weapons-grade heat sinks. And titanium-reinforced struts? Access panels hinged out like bay doors?”

Nao laid a hand lightly on her supervisor’s shoulder. “What are you saying, Dayton? We’ve worked three years to develop a goofy novelty from a bad Bond flick?”

 – Kim Shupenia, Proof of Concept