Thursday, August 17, 2023

Scrivening Part 7: Show and Tell



Since the rise of movies followed by television, the common imagination has shifted from words to images, from logos to ikon. Narration is in disfavor. Show, we are told, don't tell. But we ought to be judicious about it. There are a variety of ways to show things.
1. Use evidence to support your claim. Compare...
Betsy was worried.
Betsy fiddled with the bottles on the sideboard, casting glances over her shoulder at the door. Once, hearing footsteps in the hallway, she muffled the clinking of the bottles and held her breath until the footsteps continued on their way.
Don't tell us Betsy is worried, show her being worried. Make the Reader worry
also. As you can see, this may use a lot more word count; so...
1a. You don't have to show us everything.
Telling is useful for passing time or informing the Reader without belaboring the point. Showing is best for emotions, opinions and sensations. 
Telling is best done by having one of the characters think it.
Adam watched Betsy fuss with the bottles. The way she kept glancing toward the door, Adam thought she was worried about something. Should he be worried, too?
2. Replace abstract with concrete, and vague descriptions with specific sensory details   
Fanghsi said anxiously, “No Officer, you; so how you fly with birdies?” Her explanation did nothing to reassure him.  

Fanghsi broke the silence. “No Officer, you; so how you fly with birdies?” Anxiety oozed from him like juice squeezed from a melon. Her explanation that the bodyguards were a gift from her “particular friend” did nothing to reassure him, and he muttered something about waving bright colors at bees.
-- In the Belly of the Whale (Flynn)
3. Avoid too much body language.
Mary opened her eyes and looked at the clock. Her heart nearly leapt out of her chest. The baby had slept nearly eight hours. But little Jane never slept more than four hours at a time. Something must be wrong. 
Not again. Her stomach rolled over when she remembered the last time a child of hers had slept too long.
That's very showy, but with the leaping hearts and rolling stomachs, it is as if the whole universe were contained in Mary's body. Compare that to...
Mary opened her eyes and squinted in the sunshine streaming in through the open window. She stretched, feeling more relaxed than she had since... 
She sat up and looked at the clock. It was after eight. Little Jane had slept through the night. For the first time. 
Just like Billy. 
Mary flipped the covers back and stood. She snatched her robe from the back of the chair and slipped it on. She wouldn't think about Billy. The doctor said it wouldn't happen again. The odds against it were astronomical. 
Billy had been nearly six weeks old. Jane was almost two months. It was different this time. It had to be.
 -- Diane Callahan, Quotidian Writer, citing editor Robin Patchen
Thoughts cause emotions which cause actions, as any good Aristotelian would know. Show the thought and show the act, let the Reader deduce the emotion from these. 
4. Show emotion through dialogue

In the following excerpt, the harper and the scarred man are discussing a point in a story the latter has been telling her. As usual, I see things I would have done differently today, but the dialogue does show the clash of personalities

"...But, come, drink!”  He raises his uisce bowl on high.  “Drink to the quest!”
The harper disagrees.  “The quest itself means nothing.  The heart of the matter is Jason – and Medea – not the Fleece.  The Argonauts could have sought anything, and their fates would have been the same.”
The scarred man strikes the table top with his flat, and the bowls and the tableware, and a few nearby drinkers, jump a little.  “No!  What you seek determines how you fail.  Had Jason sought a Tin Whistle or an Aluminum Coffee Pot instead of a Golden Fleece, the failure would have run quite differently.”  

“More musically in the first case,” the harper allows, “and with greater alertness in the second.  But, must it always end in failure?"


“Your cynicism extracts a price.  You can never know the thing in itself, because you always look past it for a hidden reality.  I would think all failures alike.  Coffee Pot or Golden Fleece, failure means you haven’t obtained what you sought.” 
“No,” the scarred man mocks her.  “Each failure is inevitably, enormously different from all the others.  Each man who seeks does so for a different reason, and so can fail in a different way.  Hercules failed in the quest for the Fleece; but his failure was of a different sort than Jason.”  

“Jason secured the fleece,” the harper points out.

“That was his failure.”

--  Flynn, The January Dancer


 A second reason for the ascendancy of pictures over words is that not only has the imagination of Western readers become primarily visual -- some pages of graphic "novels" may contain no words at all -- but also because much of what once needed description no longer does. Nineteenth century novels featured lush descriptions of places because their readers had likely never sen them. Nowadays, most have seen them on TV or movies that little telling is needed to evoke the place. 

The old word-oriuented media required time. Reading wants silence and logical skills. But the visual iconic media employs brevity, speed, change, urgency, variety and feelings. Compare older movies or even TV show with newer ones, and note hoe scenes have become quicker and sometimes exist only to deliver a couple of lines of snappy dialogue. The writer today faces the challenge of imitating the 'shows' without sacrificing the logic.


Friday, May 12, 2023


 Teodorq sunna Nagarajan has joined an expedition tasked with evaluating the"serving tray" as a suitable observation post for the Nooby Empire. The bulk of the party consists of a squad of rangers, who ride the borderlands tracking down outlaws, bandits and other malefactors. In this scene, Sharn Nickle is a part-time deputy marshal who drives the chow wagon. He is a settler, whose ancestors had once fled the Empire.


The stormwind howled and fanned the rain horizontal. It lifted cloaks and punchos as if it deeply resented the oilcloth keeping their wearers dry. The canvas cover on the chow wagon whipped free of its bows and snapped maniacally,

And the rangers began to sing.

It was hard to make out the words, or even the tune, as the wind scattered them like so much detritus, but Teo paused while helping Sharn secure his cover and tried to make it out.

We’ll track through the night

Or by sunlight so hot,

For we are the Rangers

And you poor sods are not.

We’ll turn our face toward snow and ice,

Toward wind, rain, dust, or heat (yes, sizzling heat)

For we are the Rangers

And never know defeat.

“Catchy tune,” said Teo as the wind died off and the rain softened to a steady cascade. “Too bad they didn’t catch it.”

Sharn yanked a stay-rope tight, glanced up the column, then back to the task at hand. “Imperials are full of themselves.”

Teo shrugged. “Long as there’s enough self to fill ‘em. Or are they all song and no stunt?”

“And it’s not even true,” Sharn complained. “Rangers know defeat. At the siege of Fall River during the Civil War, an entire troop was wiped out to the last man.”

 “Ain’t that generally what ‘wiped out’ means?" He thought Sharn unlearned on the nature of defeat.

Friday, April 21, 2023

Lynch Mob


TOF's grandfather's grandmother, Ann Elizabeth Lynch, was born in Burlington VT, in Jun 1847. according to said grandfather, "two days after her parents arrived in America." She was , which tThe travel-savvy Reader will understand that Burlington was no two days travel from any seaport in 1847. Yet, the Liber Baptismorum of Rev Jeremiah O Callaghan confirms the date and place. It is likely that her parents came up the St Lawrence River to Grosse Isle quarantine station by Montreal, thence downLake Champlain to Burlington. 

There were no immigration laws back then. Had there been, the Know Nothings would no doubt have put the Famine Irirsh in cages at the border, The Know Nothings held that, unlike the old immigrants, these new immigrants, being Catholic, could never fit into Anglo-Saxon, Protestant America. TOF's ancestress is thus [in modern lingo] the anchor baby of wetbacks.

The Irish Famine was st its height, and Daniel and Bridget, Ann's parents, no doubt thought it was a good time to get out of Dodge. The Dungarvan food riots were answered by dragoons firing into the crowd. Dungarvan was just down the Waterford coast from Stradbally, where the Lynches lived. The ships on which the 1847 Irish migrated to the border often arrived with typhus fever rampany and enough dead on the voyage that they were called "coffin ships."

The ice on the St Lawrence broke up late that year,and May 1847 “started with ice an inch thick - and the first vessel to arrive, the Syria, arrived at Grosse Isle Quarantine on 17 May. She arrived with 84 cases of typhus fever on board and nine deaths on the voyage. Less than a week later the catastrophe had taken place and was beyond control…. Four days after the Syria, on May 21, eight ships arrived with a total of 430 fever cases.” (Cecil Woodham-Smith, The Great Hunger. 1963)

As many as 10,000 people died of the typhus, including heroic Canadian doctors who stayed to treat them. For Ann to be born in Burlington in early June, 1847, her parents would have had to arrive at Grosse Isle between late May and early June, and been in the thick of things.

Daniel Lynch and Bridget Barry - came from Co Waterford. Family lore named the place Bannalynch. But there is no such locale. There is a Ballylinch in Stradbally Parish. [Stradbally, An Sraid Bhaulle, means "the (one) street town"]. The Tithe Applotment Book (in which occupants of rural properties were assessed to support the Church of Ireland, even if they were Catholic or Presbyterian) does not name any Lynches in Ballylinch, but does list a Daniel Lynch in neighboring Ballinvalloona. (Don't ya luv Irish place names?) But since Ann's father was only a teenager the year of the assessment, this is not him. 

Daniel's age in US Census records put his birth in Jan 1819 and, lo! such a birth appears in the records of Stradbally Parish. Daniel Lynch, born in Jan 1847 to John Lynch and Joann Whitty. But under the Rule of Two {"Where there is one, there is likely another."] we find in Jul 1819 another Daniel Lynch baptized in Stradbally. The parents of the second Daniel are Patrick and Catherine. So which is it to be?

The Irish custom of the time was to name the first-born boy and girl after the father's parents, the second-born after the mother's, and the third-born after the parents themselves. Daniel and Bridget named their first daughter Ann and their first son John, and none of them Patrick (They did christen last daughter  Catherine.) So John and (Jo)ann seem the likely parents. However, the naming custom was only a custom, not a law of nature, so this is an educated guess.

 TOF found a marriage record for John Lynch and Ann Whitty in Feb 1817 in Stheirtradbally Parish. Since Daniel was born in Jan 1819, he was likely their first-born and hence, John's father was likely Daniel, possibly the one listed in the Tithe Applotment Book. Scouring the parish baptisms for Stradbally, we find the following children born to John and Ann: Daniel (1819), Bridget (1822), Mary (1824), and James (1834). The ten-year gap between Mary and James is suspiciously un-Irish, but as it stands, John's parents may have been named Daniel and Bridget. After that, the names of John's children's match those of Daniel jr. But the handwriting in the parish book is horrible and despite finding 28 Lynch baptisms between 1815 and 1835, TOF may have overlooked some!

Ann Lynch Flynn (2nd from right) visiting her son Daniel (r).Others: d/law Tillie, grd/law Blanche (in back) and grandson "Uncle Dan" (kid) with hair!


Thursday, April 6, 2023


 "Don't bug him about the blog," writes a commentor with the mysterious and ominous name of Unknown, "he's busy WRITING stuff for you."

For those who may be wondering what TOF is writing, the following is a some-ary; that is, some of what is in progress. Several of them have appeared intermittently as Opening Passages here in this vast wasteland known as the TOF Spot. 

  • The Shipwrecks of Time. Set in Milwaukee WI during the early 1960s. This concerns the search for a mysterious medieval text known as the Peruzzi Manuscript. The danger does not so much lie in finding it as in being known to be researching it. Somebody may not want it found.
    This novel is complete and has already been rejected by one publisher. 
  • In the Belly of the Whale. Set in a multigenerational starship two centuries into a thousand-year transit to Tau Ceti. The challenge was to find an approach to the subject that has not been over-done. They forgot they were on a ship? Aldiss did that wonderfully in Starship, FTL makes their trip meaningless? Done and done again.
    This novel is also done and is now in the hands of the publisher who requested it. 
  • "Adventures in Mythistory." Fact article. How history is recast as myth, with special attention to the Hypatia Myth and to fiction-writing. This article is complete, but languishes in uncertainty as to what to do with it.
  • "The New World." Short Story. A small flotilla of junks, sent by Srivijaya to find the southwest passage around Africa to the fabled land of Tai Ch'in. This is complete, but as it is a section in a longer, collaborrative work that may or may not see daylight, needs a little tweeking to enhance a standalonr, Currently steeping.
  • "The Journeyman: On the Mangly Steppe." Teodorq sunna Nagarajan accompanies a scouting party setting out to the 'serving tray' to assess its suitability as an observation post to keep an eye on the mangos of the steppe. The party is led by an imperial from the Nooby Empire and includes a troop of imperial rangers, as well as a handful of settlers from the frontier settlement of Stubborn Man plus one local [i.e., pre-settlement] who is unafraid of the ghosts said to haunt the serving tray. Nooby has more advanced technology than Cuffy or Yavalprawns: cap pistols, chuffers anf the singing wire. In Progress.
  •  "Red Clay Man" A short story in which a H. erectus discovers how to think. In Progress.
  • "The Laws of Science and the Ignorant Chicken." A fact article on the Dappled World of Science. In Progress.
  •  "Hunter's Moon." Mickey, the POV from "In Panic Town on the Backwards Moon," finds a mysterious death at the Hadley Ran above Falcon's Landing on the Moon. Idle.
  • "Mayerling." Kronprinz Rudolf contemplates suicide at his hunting lodge near Mayerling. Idle.

Saturday, April 1, 2023

The Journeyman: On the Mangly Steppes


The Journeyman: On the Mangly Steppes

by Michael F. Flynn


For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go.

-- Robert Louis Stevenson


a tall one, warm

Teodorq sunna Nagarajan the Ironhand sat on the patio of the Turf and Peak and enjoyed a schooner of beer. Or he would have enjoyed it had it been chilled rather than warm.

“If yer honor wisht it cold,” the serving wench told him when he complained, “come ye back in winter, though I doubt ye would like it then. The winds offen the steppes fetch tolerable deep snow outen the east.”

Teo grunted at this wisdom and fell to considering the eastward vista. To the northeast, the Mangly Steppe rolled away, enough like the Great Grass of his home to stir a twinge of memory, though the grass here was short and yellow.

To the southeast, mountains heaped upon mountains like stallions upon mares, reaching their apotheosis in the snowcapped peaks lining the horizon. He wondered if the sight triggered nostalgia in the heart of his boon companion, Sammi o’ th’ Eagles, a hillman from the mountains west of the Great Grass.

He rather hoped the surer route to Varucciyaman would be across the steppes but suspected for that very reason that Fate would send him into the mountains.

While he pondered these things, he had been watching also the approach of a rider loping from the steppe. No one else in the saloon or its patio seemed to pay mind, although some had laid casual hands on their sidearms.

When in Cuffy, the saying ran, do as the Cuffs. He had left Cuffland in his horse’s dust, but if this was the way the locals greeted visitors, he would go along with the gag. He hooked his foot around his duff, pulled it close, and unfastened its thongs.

The rider proved to be a man with a sun-burnt face and a hunched-back. He galloped up to the hitch-rail before the patio and leapt from his saddle in a billowing of his dirty-white robes Teo noted a battered old musket in a saddle scabbard, a short, curved sword in another, and a recurved bow tucked behind the cantle. When he strode into the saloon, the rider left this arsenal behind, and Teo supposed from this that he bore concealed arms. That the stranger was unarmed was too risible a notion to entertain.

The hunchback brushed close by Teo and, not to be outdone by his eyes, Teo’s nose detected the strong whiff of sweaty horse and sweaty rider and the suggestion that the rider had not bathed in a very, very long time.

Curiosity – and prudence– twisted him in his seat to watch.

The rider breasted up to the bar and croaked in the local djabbah, “Wishkaybah. Long and hard be the ride that lieth behind my horse’s hooves.” At least, Teo thought he said that. He was still learning djabbah.

The barkeeper, a tall, gangly man with prominent eyes, stretched his frame to maximum height and said from that lofty altitude, “We don’t be sarvin Mangos here.”

Teo made no sense of this, inasmuch as the stranger had not ordered a mango. He wondered if the stranger and the barkeeper were having two different conversations. Others in the saloon were taking notice, and another patron at the bar said, “Get this smelly huncher outta here,” which, save for the effect of bad odors in confined spaces, struck Teo as inhospitable.

But the stranger said nothing. He studied the faces in the room and, harvesting visages ranging from the merely curious to the openly hostile, shrugged and departed with an arrogant stride. Teo opened his duff. He could not have said why, but as they said on the Great Grass, the fool builds a shelter once the storm has passed.

When the stranger reached the patio, he whipped a knife from under his robe and completed the motion with a swipe across the throat of one of the drinkers seated at the tables there. The man fell gripping his throat, blood spurting between his fingers, and the stranger leapt upon his horse with a yelp of triumph. Guiding the steed with his knees, he pulled his bow from behind the saddle. He knocked an arrow in one smooth action, twisted in the saddle as he galloped off, and loosed it into the heart of another drinker.

Teo thought this an intemperate response to the previous snub and retrieved his own bow from his duff. Unstrung as it was, the bow curled in a tight circle, and Teo’s shoulders and biceps bulged as he pulled the limbs back to fit the bowstring to the nocks.

A tall man with short, sandy hair had come to stand beside him. “That thar Mango’s a-galloping off,” he said, returning his sidearm to its scabbard.

Teo looked up, saw the receding figure and the plume of dust in his wake. He nodded. “Yah.” He pulled an arrow from the quiver in his duff.

“He’s outta range,” the sandy man suggested helpfully.

Teo looked up again, nocked the arrow to the string. “Nope.” He loosed his shaft.

It struck the distant horse in the rump, and the steed bucked and reared until the rider flew off and struck the ground head-first. The horse continued to buck, trying to rid itself of the pain in its hindquarters.

“Damn,” said Teo. “I missed.” 

(c) 2023. Michael F Flynn

Scrivening Part 7: Show and Tell

  Showing/Telling S ince the rise of movies followed by television, the common imagination has shifted from words to images, from logos to...