A Holiday Wish from the Founder of Survivors of Violent Loss

Originally posted on Survivors of Violent Loss:

A Holiday Wish

Today, is  the day we lost  my sister “Tiny”,  and I am asking you to participate in a new tradition.   I invite you to participate in a Tiny Angelversary this year and every year  on December 8.  I have no doubt she would be happy if we did this.   See another example of who a survivor changed the day of death for her loved ones in the attachment.

* Excerpt from Murder Survivors Handbook, 2014    by Connie Saindon

Consider these words from Rose, one of our survivor writers:

it is one of my greatest fears that my Daughter and Grandson will be forgotten, my second fear is that they will always be remembered for how they were murdered and I want to change that now to how they lived.

On July 26 My daughter and grandson became Angels. From this day forward, this will no longer…

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Show, Don’t Tell: A Writing Lesson from Stephen King

mr mercedes stephen kingAs I browsed through the library’s fiction section, Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes (2014) jumped from the shelf and into my hands. Well, not literally, but almost. For whatever reason, it grabbed my eye, so I gave it a quick look, then checked it out.

Call me out of touch, but this would be my first read from the horror master. Primarily because this story comprises mystery/suspense, rather than paranormal horror, which doesn’t interest me. (OK, a long time ago I did see the movie Carrie, starring Sissy Spacek.) But I’d recently heard an interview with Mr. King. His down-to-earth demeanor impressed me, so I figured I had put him off for long enough.

Despite my innate cynicism, I found myself enjoying the book. Not just the story, but the writing as well. Especially when I read a scene in which the killer (Brady) has received a message from the retired detective (Hodges) via social media.

After reading it, I thought, Hooray! This exemplifies my “editor’s mantra”: Show, don’t tell.

Rather than writing, “Brady is really pissed off about the detective’s message,” King crafts this scene:

“What are you talking about?” he [Brady] says, his voice somewhere between a whisper and a growl. “What the fuck are you talking about?”

He gets up and strides around in an unsteady circle on legs like stilts, yanking at his hair so hard his eyes water. . . .

He [Hodges] has even had the nerve to put in a smiley-face!

A smiley-face!

Brady kicks his chair, hurting his toes and sending it rolling all the way across the room, where it bangs the wall. Then he turns and runs back to his Number Three computer, hunching over it like a vulture. His first impulse is to reply immediately, to call the fucking cop a liar, an idiot with fat-induced early-onset Alzheimer’s, an anal ranger who sucks his nigger yardboy’s cock. Then some semblance of rationality—fragile and wavering—reasserts itself. He retrieves his chair and goes to the city paper’s website. He doesn’t even have to click on BREAKING NEWS in order to see what Hodges has been raving about; it’s right there on the front page of tomorrow’s paper.

What makes this “showing” rather than “telling”? King’s use of strong monologue and active voice: the use of simple yet descriptive verbs:

  • gets up (or stands up, straightens up)
  • kicks
  • turns and runs
  • retrieves

The poster child for “telling,” for passive voice, manifests itself as “It was . . .” (or “It is . . .”) and variations on that theme. As in “It was a dark and stormy night. . . .”—the opening line of one of the most maligned passages in English literature.

Passive voice, telling: She was angry.

Active voice, showing: She kicked him in the balls.

Showing reflects action, reaction, and response.

Passive voice often leaves the reader with questions, as in this so oft-used phrase that it’s become a cliché : “A sound (or shot) was heard.”

Really? A sound was heard by whom?

Strong writing provides clarity: Otto heard a sound and snapped to attention.

Passive voice depersonalizes writing; it distances the story and characters from the reader.  It’s the voice of academics (especially historians) and journalists, and it’s pedantic and plodding. (And it’s probably what you were taught in school.)

I also find “telling” and passive voice tinged with a degree of arrogance, as if the story teller/academic/journalist is saying, in effect, “Nyah, nyah, niyahnah, I know more than you do.” It comes across as condescending, talking down to the reader, as if the reader is too dim to understand what’s happening.

Readers like stories that have strong, memorable characters, but passive voice dilutes the power of your prose. I cheer up when I read a newspaper with an example of narrative nonfiction (also called creative nonfiction), which applies the techniques of fiction writing to nonfiction.

More than a century ago, Mark Twain wrote: “. . . [U]se plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English—it is the modern way and the best way.” Yet, almost daily I see writers using an anachronistic, 19th century style.

Any time you find yourself writing “it was . . .” (or he/she was . . .) stop and ask yourself: How can I make this better by using active voice and showing, rather than telling? Of course, you can’t weed it out entirely, but keep the use of the verb “to be”—“is,” “was,” “were” and “would”—to a minimum by using simple yet descriptive verb forms and active voice. The use of “to be”—especially “was”—dilutes the effect, takes the punch out of your prose. It gives your writing the “wuzzies.”

Sure, for expedience you can use passive voice when outlining your narrative, when writing your first pass, when you simply want to get your thoughts down on paper (or into an electronic device). But when rewriting and polishing your prose, juice up it and quicken the pace with active voice, especially when conveying emotion, as King has done in the passage cited above. Your readers, without even realizing it, will love you for it, because it engages them, it draws them into the story.

If you show, you don’t need to tell. If she kicks him in the balls, the reader gets that she’s angry. You don’t need to say it.

Then again, what do I know? See: I Know Nothing About Writing

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Survivors of Violent Loss Holiday Memorial

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Civil War Thanksgiving: Nov. 26, 1863

A Civil War Thanksgiving: Something to think about as we sit in safe, warm places, feasting on our turkey dinners this coming Thursday.

Private Oney F. Sweet, a Union soldier in the 1st Pennsylvannia Light Artillery, Battery F (Ricketts’ Battery), describes in a letter to his mother how he and his fellow soldiers spent their Thanksgiving Day and the subsequent days of what many of us now take for granted as a festive four-day holiday.

Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 26, 1863

Oney Foster Sweet (far left) with companions from the 1st Pennsylvania Light Artillery, Battery F, 1864

Oney Foster Sweet (far left) with companions from the 1st Pennsylvania Light Artillery, Battery F, 1864.

[W]e were aroused up at 3 o’clock [a.m.], cooked breakfast, and marched at daylight. We crossed the Rappidan [in Virginia] about noon. Camped at dark. An awful cold night. That was the way I spent my Thanksgiving.

Nov. 27 marched before daylight. Oh it was a cold morning to get up and stand around a fire. I would like to have been sitting by mother’s stove that morning.

We marched on a plank road 3 miles and then we had a turn pike. At about noon we came upon the Johnnies and there was sharp skirmishing. We did not fire any. Our orderly seagt., the one I sent you a photograph of, was wounded in the thigh by a sharp shooter. After dark we went to work and threw up breast works to protect us if we had a fight.

Early next morning the rebels were gone and we advanced in line of battle. I saw several dead rebs and several graves.

At about 8 o’clock we came in sight of the rebs again. They were drawn up in line of battle and we could see them very plain. They had a strong position. We opened on them and they opened on us. Several shells struck near the battery. . . . At near dark we fired several shells at them but they did not fire back.

We expected a big battle would come off next day but at 12 o’clock we was aroused up and marched back. . . . We had to leave all of our blankets behind and we marched around on to the extreme left of the line. At noon we found a plenty of rebs but our skirmishers drove them back.

I did not sleep much that night. I had no blankets and it was awful cold.

 Bull Run to Appomattox: The Letters and Diaries of Oney Foster SweetThis letter, along with dozens of other letters and his many diary entries, will be published in the book Bull Run to Appomattox: The Letters and Diaries of Oney Foster Sweet.

The book—edited by Larry M. Edwards—will be released by Wigeon Publishing on April 9, 2015, the 150th anniversary of “sesesh” surrender at Appomattox, ending the U.S. Civil War.

Sweet’s previously unpublished writings offer a unique glimpse of the war from the bottom looking up; that is, from the view of a private rather than a general or a commanding officer, the ones who wrote the official reports—a private simply trying to survive a deadly war in which one in five combatants perished, with more deaths caused by disease than combat.

In 1888, looking back, Oney Sweet wrote:

The unwritten part of our war is greater than all that has been written. Two soldiers side by side in a hot place in our battles did not see the same things. The generals did not see what the privates saw.

 His descriptions of the battles of Bull Run, Antietam, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg—among others—captivate the reader.

Yet, his missives relate more than just the hard, brutal times with “minnie balls . . . whizzing by our ears.” They spent more time in camp—especially during the winter—than in combat, and they entertained themselves.

A soldier’s delight: the mail, the paymaster and tobacco.

 Occasionally, they received “a Quota of whiskey issued out to us” and at other times “Some licour” found its way into their hands, resulting in “Some fun in camp.

Not a few soldiers, including Sweet, spent time imprisoned in a guard house for fighting amongst themselves or other infractions. (Surely the whiskey and “licour” had nothing to do with that.)

Weather permitting, they “played ball” as well as cards, held boxing matches, attended dances, read newspapers, and read and wrote letters, in addition to the drills, inspections, washing and mending clothes, building shelters, and foraging for food when their rations ran out.

This first-hand account will be a delightful and informative addition to the many extant volumes on the American Civil War. It also serves as a companion to Trumpets of the Morning, written by Marian Julia Sweet, Oney Sweet’s daughter. Her book offers a fictionalized account of the loneliness, anxiety and difficulties she believed her parents endured; it was recently published (2014) by three of her grandchildren: William Ketchum, Joan Ketchum Reamer, and James Grant.

For more information about Bull Run to Appomattox and excerpts from the book, visit the website http://wigeonpublishing.com/books/civilwar/ . . .

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Other books from Wigeon Publishing:

 

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Handbook Helps Survivors/Co-victims of Murder

It’s so nice and gratifying to see that people are getting value from the Murder Survivor’s Handbook that Connie Saindon and the Survivor Writers worked so hard to produce.

Murder Survivor's Handbook in the courthouse.

Murder Survivor’s Handbook in the courthouse.

Here’s a comment from a grieving mother who currently spends her days in a courtroom:

I’m in the middle of pre-trial. I take this book with me to court; I read it as I am there when I run into a problem or hear something I don’t understand. I have it with me at all times. As I read the stories it helps me see this is exactly how I am feeling during pre-trial and I am careful in everything I do there. I encourage everyone who is going to court to buy this even before then. When my son died, I didn’t understand why detectives were not telling me anything. I wondered if they were even doing anything; during pre-trial I heard just how hard they were working on the investigation. I keep this book close, still reading it. Thank you to everyone who took part in making this book happen.

And here’s a recent comment from the producer of a prime-time TV show:

  As a network news producer who focuses on violent crime, I meet families all the time who have just gone through the worst thing ever and then have to deal with a world of cops, prosecutors, media that they’ve never dealt with before. The Murder Survivor’s Handbook is a great resource.  It’s something I will share with families I meet in the future. It’s great that you have taken the time to put down on paper what you’ve learned through your own tough journeys.

 —Susan Leibowitz. Producer, Network News

Murder Survivor’s Handbook helps family members adapt to the aftermath of murder.  The book was formally released on September 25, 2014, to coincide with the National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims.

If you know someone who has had a loved one murdered, please tell them about this book.

Links

Murder Survivor’s Handbook: Real-Life Stories, Tips & Resources
Facebook: Murder Survivor’s Handbook
Website: Survivors of Violent Loss
Blog: Survivors of Violent Loss

Dare I Call It Murder? — A Memoir of Violent Loss
Facebook: Dare I Call It Murder?

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Dare I Call It Murder?

37 years ago today my pLoren and Joanne Edwards at their bon voyage party.arents set sail for Tahiti. I never saw them again: Dare I call it murder?

These anniversary dates are tough, because they always trigger emotions lying deep in my gut. I do my my best to focus on their smiling faces, their laughter, and their good deeds. But I also miss them and wish I could spend some time with them.

Dare I Call It Murder?

In my book, Dare I Call It Murder?: A Memoir of Violent Loss, I unmask the emotional trauma of violent loss as I ferret out new facts to get at the truth of how and why my parents, Loren and Jody Edwards, were killed.

 

 

Links

Dare I Call It Murder? — A Memoir of Violent Loss
Facebook: Dare I Call It Murder?

Murder Survivor’s Handbook: Real-Life Stories, Tips & Resources
Facebook: Murder Survivor’s Handbook
Website: Survivors of Violent Loss
Blog: Survivors of Violent Loss

 

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SAVE THE DATE HOLIDAY MEMORIAL DECEMBER 13, 2014 FROM 11-2

Polishing Your Prose:

Join us for our annual Holiday Memorial where we honor our loved ones that are no longer with us. This is a safe event where we come together to support each other. Everyone is welcome.

Originally posted on Survivors of Violent Loss:

SAVE THE DATE

SURVIVORS OF VIOLENT LOSS INVITE YOU TO OUR ANNUAL HOLIDAY MEMORIAL

SATURDAY DECEMBER 13TH, FROM 11-2

Please contact DAYNA HERROZ for any questions 619-955-6084

SVLP@CFMRSanDiego.com or SVLP@SVLP.ORG

HOSTED AT THE JENNA DRUCK CENTER

2820 ROOSEVELT RD. SAN DIEGO, CA 92106

SEE PAST HOLIDAY MEMORIALS AT:

http://hopegallery.smugmug.com/Events/2013-Holiday-Memorial/

                                                http://hopegallery.smugmug.com/Events/Holiday-Memorial-2012/

http://hopegallery.smugmug.com/Events/Holiday-Memorial-2011/

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