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  • dchallwrites

Writing is the most powerful thing I know how to do. Language is the most powerful medium I have at my disposal.

As a child, the books I read shaped me. It’s not an exaggeration to say that reading may even have saved me. I certainly wouldn’t be the person I am without them.

I’m still an avid reader of those who are out there creating good stories well told. Celeste Ng is one of my current favorites—for both Little Fires Everywhere and Everything I Never Told You. Ng’s books immediately draw me in, not just with their powerful first lines, but by the painterly way they establish character with just a few brushstrokes.

The second best thing to me is to be completely immersed in a story as a reader and to have a little writerly epiphany. “Oh, I see what you did there.” The best thing is to go back afterward to that chapter or paragraph or line that has never quite worked and to suddenly see exactly how it can.

I write because I love the craft of writing.

More fundamentally, I write because I love the power writing gives me over my own history. I don’t say that my first novel, The Balance of Fear, is autobiographical. It’s not.

The South African writer, Sheila Kohler, lectured at the Bennington Writing Seminars while I was a student there. She was fabulous on role a writer’s personal history can have in shaping the fiction they write. Kohler’s sister died in apartheid South Africa in what Kohler believes was an act of domestic violence. Since then, Kohler has been “driven to explore the reasons for violence within intimate relationships, in particular, the abuse of power and privilege.”

The Balance of Fear explores the impact of violence and the abuse of power and privilege. It’s tremendously empowering to turn ugly into art, and as I said, writing is my medium.

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  • dchallwrites

I’m currently working on the prequel to The Balance of Fear. There is a lot in both novels that is informed by my direct experience. I was in MA and MFA programs and worked in higher ed for sixteen years. I grew up around criminal sex offenders and dealt with my share of petty predators over the years. I have a sister who was stalked by someone she didn’t know.

But no shock here, unlike my main character and her friends, I’m not a Broadway dancer.

That’s where YouTube comes in. With a simple search I was able to get virtual backstage tours of three different Broadway productions. What an education! First, the ceilings are low and covered in black acoustic tile, and the cinderblock walls are painted a dull white, which I didn’t even think was possible. Dull white? Yes! Dead dull. Even the doors to the dressing rooms are made of sad, whitewashed plywood.

But creativity will out, and apparently, I’m not the only one who expects there to be a bit of magic, even backstage Broadway. Each of the venues had a mural related to the performance. Images from the set, scenes, costumes, or characters were painted along the walls, ran up stairways and over dressing room doors. The length of the production’s run determined the length of the mural. And each mural was dotted with the signatures of performers who had left the production and the dates of their departure.

Wow did that detail fit into my narrative and provide some lovely foreshadowing to boot!

It’s not just YouTube either. Google Maps is a great resource. I had to change the location of a warehouse that backed up on the Hudson because there aren’t any warehouses that back up onto the Hudson in the area that I’d written one into. Maybe it doesn’t matter, but I think it does. It matters to me.

I do a lot of research as I write. Not just because I want to get things right but because the research feeds my creativity. My mind catches on details and spins out from there in directions it may not have gone otherwise. It’s just so darn fun!

Give it a try. And check out my first novel The Balance of Fear. Prequel coming soon!

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  • dchallwrites

We’ve all heard it. If you asked almost any writer, student of writing, or writing instructor for the most common critique developing writers hear, their answer would be show don’t tell.

I know I heard it, still do. And it used to frustrate the heck out of me. Gritting my teeth and biting my tongue, I would think, “There! Right freaking there! I’m showing her walking across the room, smiling, shrugging.”

But I wasn’t actually showing. I was moving my characters around the room, walking them across the street, and then telling the reader what they were doing. No matter how much I focused on visualizing the physical space and the characters within it, I was then talking the reader through what I saw. Worse, I was too often telling the reader why the characters were doing what they were doing.

In my defense, show, don’t tell, is a crappy way to articulate the problem.

The problem isn’t giving the reader verbal instead of visual cues. In fact, sometimes the best way to show something is through dialog. What? …No wonder I was confused.

When we say show don’t tell, what we really mean is stop explaining. Instead, give the reader the opportunity to learn things like they do in real life--by observing the words and actions of the people around them, almost always without the benefit of an explanation.

Here’s an example.

“She was so tired of being told to show and don’t tell by writing instructors that she rose half up out of her chair, reached across the table, and slapped him out of sheer pique.”

I certainly hope I never wrote or did anything that egregious. But now that I understand better what the deservedly slapped writing instructor was trying to convey, I would write it thusly:

“It was that phrase again. Show don’t tell. Diana reached across the table and slapped him.”

See? Much better.

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