Superb Ways to Show Without Telling

nanoIn the story of the Tortoise and the Hare, I know exactly which creature I am: the hare. This was evident when I was younger: studying a bit all semester and sleeping while my college roommate crammed all night, her Dr. Pepper’s lined up on her desk. When the exams were handed back we each had an A; hers was .5 higher than mine.

The memory of the lesson I learned that day stays with me: do a little bit at a time and you’ll be done by the deadline. This was my secret to NaNoWriMo 2014. I began the month on an overnight flight to Prague for a conference, with my laptop out, typing away. There was a week or so where I thought the story I was telling was utter rubbish; then the detective found his sidekick and sparks flew.

You’ve got a great story, I told myself, in the lead up to Thanksgiving when it was unlikely I would be able write one word, while hosting 7 adults and 7 children. 30,000 words that didn’t exist before November 1.

Then an interesting thing happened: I went through my chapter list on Saturday and Sunday, adding words to those under 1666 (the daily NaNo average).

11:30 p.m. on November 30th (the last day you can get in your 50,000 words) I uploaded my manuscript.

Yesterday I wrote another 1200 words. That hare won the race. This hare has more story to tell.

Here’s the final excerpt I’ll share in my NaNo journey.


Amita, Manu’s sister, is looking for her brother who was reported to have entered the country a few weeks ago. Her dismay is representative of the many families who do not hear from their relatives once they enter their host countries.

Stay tuned for more updates about this work in progress (and the title is still missing…).

PS this scene employs the infamous writing adage “Show, don’t tell” the reader what’s going on with your characters. We try to experience Amita’s confusion with her, rather than learning about it second hand.




Amita took another step forward, grateful he hadn’t pushed past her like so many other Europeans did when given half the chance. “I look for my brother,” she said. She pushed the passport copy of Manu and his approved work visa under the opening.


“You housemaid?” The man asked, his hands unmoving.


“I’m looking for Laxmi Pande,” Amita switched to Hindi.


The man’s narrowed gaze is why she had hoped Madam Cindy would take her to the embassy; her whiteness would have shamed him into being helpful.


“She not here.”


“My brother missing,” Amita said. “He here for three weeks. I no see him.” She managed in the English he was forcing her to speak. “Miss Laxmi she arrange contract for him.”


“That’s terrible,” the woman murmured behind her.


The man picked up the sheet of paper. There was no nametag for her to record a name, like Sir Paul had asked her to get before he left on his trip. He would have come with her but he had to go to a conference in Paris. Busy. Everyone was busy.


“Contracts,” he said, tossing the paper back at her.


“This not contract?” Amita asked in confusion. This was the document the woman had supplied the last time she visited the embassy, looking for a job for Manu. She had promised an office job, as a kitchen service man, boy as they were called here, where he would bring water, tea, coffee, or juice to those having meetings.


The man turned in his chair and tapped the window in the direction of one of the stations in the main room. “Contracts, there. Go see contracts.”


Amita picked up the copies of the visa and passport, the only tangible proof she had that her brother had made plans to join her in the Arabian Gulf. She moved through the rows of chairs to the counter the receptionist had indicated. There were two men here, one seated, the other standing and pointing out something in a stack of papers. Similar stacks rose like little towers on every surface of the room, some in chairs as well. The men in this room stopped talking when she approached. “My brother,” she said. She pressed the papers forward again. “I no hear from my brother.”

An Arab Detective is Born During #NaNoWriMo2014

Photo by Tamás Mészáros

I’m doing #NaNoWriMo, that crazy month of writing pell-mell, towards the goal of a 50,000 manuscript by December 1st. This is my fourth time taking the plunge to write 1666 words a day. I’ve only ‘won’ or finished on time once and that was for the award winning novel Saving Peace. The very first time I was distracted by Thanksgiving. Another year, when I was working on The Dohmestics, I was tied up in revisions for the paperback version of another project. Needless to say, whether or not I’ve finished, NaNo has been extremely productive.

The book is as yet untitled, so those suggestions are welcome as well. This is a new genre for me, crime thriller. Let’s begin with Ali, our detective who has a secret. And a very boring day job. Or so he thinks.


On his way to the station, Ali’s mobile rang, filling the vehicle’s speakers with its metallic ring.  “Get down to the mall bridge,” Omar said, after a terse greeting. “There’s an accident.” Ali groaned. He made a sharp U turn at the next roundabout, cursing the position of his father’s house, a mere minutes from the busiest cross-city artery. He was their first call for this area and there was an accident on or near the bridge every weekend. When he arrived, traffic was already crawling up the bridge like burdened ants. “Send a tow truck,” he texted Omar. He drummed his fingers on the dash, inching forward, regretting not taking the marked vehicle they offered to everyone on the service. He despised the way others abused the blue, white, and grey SUVs, putting on their flashers to get past slow drivers, or turning on the siren to careen through crowded streets.  He drove his white Nissan like hundreds of others on the roads but the siren would come in handy in times like now.

After twenty minutes of bumper to bumper, he pulled over in front of where a white SUV had rammed into the back of pick up truck. The force of the impact from the much larger Land Cruiser flattened the truck bed like a piece of pita bread. Ali strode to the first vehicle; on the other side, squeezed between the passenger door and the bridge’s railing were two skinny cinnamon colored men. “Okay? You okay?”

They looked up, their eyes wide, stunned like camels that had fallen off their transport, taking in his full height, crisp blue and black uniform. “Fine?” The men looked at each other, then turned to him, doing the side to side head movement that always confused him. Did it mean yes? Or no? From the way they used it, apparently the head lilt could be both at once. Horns were starting to sound of the other drivers who wanted to get onto the bridge. Ali reassured himself he saw no blood or bones. He kept walking, to check on the other driver.

The other man was talking animatedly on the phone, his head visible behind the deflated airbag which had popped like a child’s party balloon. Ali rapped on the window, expecting a litany about how Indians didn’t know how to drive. Instead, the boy, for that’s how he revealed himself, hung out of the driver side window, his hands shaking.

“This is a new car,” he said in local dialect, the sun glinting on his braces. “My father is going to kill me.”

“Are you hurt?”

The boy shook his head. Ali could see the purple knot forming on his forehead, pushing to the surface. That was going to hurt. He nodded, indicating the boy should stay in the car. He didn’t bother asking for a license. There was no sign of facial hair on the boy’s angled cheekbones or curved lip.

“No one has been hurt,” Ali reported to Omar who grunted a blessing. “This is going to be a mess in ten minutes.” He hung up, trying in vain with the Indians to get the pick up to start. The engine protested, failing to turn over, the belts screeching like a cat being stretched between two poles. They were on the tail end of the bridge, slightly past the ascending slope on this slide, so that ruled out pushing the vehicle two hundred meters to the other end. Going backward made more sense, as they could find room to stash the vehicle under the overpass. But that would mean heading into oncoming traffic. His Nissan could tow the truck but the captain would frown on his getting personally involved. They watched traffic halt on either side for at least 2 kilometers; the drivers of oncoming traffic braking to see what happened. When the tow truck arrived, night blanketed the city, the call to prayer rising from the mosques in the area like fresh bread. He turned over management of the accident to the officer who arrived with the tow truck driver. “Don’t tell my dad,” the teenager pleaded. His cousins, around the same age, judging by their narrow shoulders, had shown up, taking photos of both vehicles with their shiny Smartphones.

That he had been sweating the two hours they waited for the tow truck soured Ali’s mood as well as his uniform on the way to the office. He sat at his desk, or at his station on the long slab of plastic counter, his hands at his temples. His eyes angled downward, towards his phone, like so many of the other policemen in the station. Well, when there were others. In the middle of the afternoon, as the desert heat rippled the air outside like a shimmering wave, he was the only one around during the shift change. Anyone entering the office would think he was watching a YouTube video or reading the Qu’ran and maybe take a seat, waiting for someone else to show up.

Inside the Writer's Studio with Rachelle Ayala

We are back in the writer’s studio this week with novelist Rachelle Ayala, author of Michal’s Window, as well as a new release, Hidden Under Her Heart. All of her projects tackle sensitive issues related to women’s lives. She was a software engineer until she discovered storytelling works better in fiction than real code.  Rachelle is an active member of online critique group, Critique Circle, and a volunteer for the World Literary Cafe. She has three children, taught violin, made mountain dulcimers, and lives in California with her husband.  Follow  her latest on Twitter @AyalaRachelle.rachelle-ayala-books

She’s even taken time to outline three important terms every serious fiction writer needs to have a handle on – with examples! – so be sure to check those out at the end of the interview.


How would you describe your writing persona in 5 words or less?

Expect the unexpected, extreme drama.

Describe yourself in one sentence.

Compassionate and kind-hearted, I strive to increase positive energy in the world by doing good.

Where would you live if you could live anywhere in the world?

Exactly where I am. The San Francisco Bay Area is unparalleled in cultural diversity, cutting edge technology, and natural beauty.

Did you have support at the beginning and/or during your decision to be a writer?

Ha, ha, unfortunately not. However I am very strong willed and will succeed whether others believe it or not.

Do you read reviews written about your work?

Yes. It has really helped to toughen me to criticism. Here’s a thought on reviews: No time for those who hate me because I’m way too busy loving those who love me.

What’s your creative process?

Daydreaming and chocolate chips, although my husband says I have to break my habit on both. I have a general idea of my characters and the problems I want to put them through, however I don’t have a plot until I start writing. I’m not an outliner, but I do think of the main crisis and climax first. For example, in Broken Build, I knew exactly what I wanted the villain to do to Jen, the main character. I then have to figure out a way to get the plot to that point, but that doesn’t happen until I start writing. The beginnings of my stories change the most because I try different ways of starting. Everything builds toward the ending and once I’m past the halfway point the momentum picks up and I work very fast.

Do you write on a desktop/laptop or a studio?

I write wherever my laptop happens to be. Usually I’m sitting at my dining table or in a comfy chair in the family room. I don’t have a private area, but I’ve learned to tune out all distractions from my years as a cubicle dweller in a high tech firm.

Do you have a day job?

Yes and no, if you count full time mothering and tending a husband as a job.

Do you have any advice for other aspiring writers?

Be true to yourself. You are the only person who can write the story you are writing. No one else can do a better job. Your voice is unique and  your creativeness is your mark on the story. Study the craft of writing. Don’t let others tell you what or how to write. Put the story above everything else and the rest will take care of itself.

Here are a few of Rachelle’s definitions of important terms for fiction writers. She’s also given us paragraphs which illustrate their usage.

Deep POV – digging into the head of your character and allowing the reader to experience the scene directly. Feelings, emotions, visceral reaction, internal thoughts are played out in real-time without filter words “he saw,” “I felt”, “she realized.”clare-rico

Dave staggered into the kitchen, his fingers numb and his heart jittery. He’d frightened her. What the hell was wrong with him?

His hands shaking, he poured himself a whiskey on the rocks. Work, Dave, work. Think of nothing else. Shut down if you can’t control your emotions. He woke his laptop and checked his email. Thirteen minutes before midnight. He lowered his head to the table. Memories overloaded his brain circuits. Drink. Oblivion.

Purple prose – exaggerated emotions, feelings and metaphors. A bane of romance when describing love scenes. Pulls readers out of the story, resulting in giggles instead of passion.

She eased into the kiss. She could be controlled, maybe. His scent, a mingling of fine cigars, resinous wood, and pure male sexiness kindled fires deep within. She opened her mouth and teased the curve of his upper lip, alternately tangling and dodging his tongue. He growled like a subterranean earthquake and clasped her head to deepen the kiss. A fiery current passed between them and flared from her chest to her lower regions. Her heart rate soared, and she could barely breathe, as if her spirit had been sucked out and exchanged with his.

Abstract metaphor – compares an abstract principle to something concrete. Metaphors are used to create memorable imagery.

The press of his luscious lips whisked her out of the world. She lost all sense of time and place, flung out like a star into a galaxy painted across the night sky. The music faded, the lights dimmed, and the crowd thinned. She was alone, in an unforgettable realm, surrounded by Lucas, carried away in his strong arms, safely tucked beneath his heart. Silence reigned for a heavenly moment and time stopped to the ebb and flow of a single kiss.



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