Ashley Earley grew up in Georgia, where she spent most of her time running wild in the woods of her backyard, building forts to create her own fantasy worlds, obsessing over books, and experimenting with her writing.
Today, she lives in Colorado with her dog and still spends her time devouring any book she can get her hands on, writing, and editing for her clients at Earley Editing, LLC. In May of 2021, she graduated with distinction from University of Colorado Boulder, receiving a B.A. in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing. She also enjoys snowboarding, exploring, annoying her dog, constantly eating chocolate, and sharing her writing adventures on Instagram.
Her Thriller/Suspense short story, Chasing Hair of Gold, won first place in the 2016 Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Awards.
As a writer, she leans into fantasy or horror due to her love of all things creepy. As an editor, she loves a little bit of everything when it comes to fiction. Give her that steamy, forbidden romance, give her vampires, or even that young lovey-dovey stuff with all the twists and turns!
Stephen: Today on Discovered Wordsmiths, I have Ashley to welcome. Ashley, how are you doing? I’m good, how are you? I’m doing good. Before we get started, we’re going to talk about your book, Heart of Skulls. Before we do that tell us a little bit about yourself, where you live, what you like to do and some things, hobbies and stuff outside of writing.
Ashley: Okay. So I originally grew up in Georgia, but I live in Colorado now. I ended up moving out here for college and never went back or leave the mountains. So
Stephen: do you ski now?
Ashley: I snowboard, so I’m like,
Stephen: the cooler person. Okay, cool. Got it.
Ashley: Yeah, so I do snowboard when I’m not writing. I love reading. I have little coffee reading dates with my friends.
I have a dog that I go hiking with quite often. Yeah, and then I run my own business, so I do that a lot of the time as well. So
Stephen: pretty busy. Your own business related to writing or something separate? Kind
Ashley: of related to writing. I write, I book edit. So I run my own book editing business with a couple other editors on
Stephen: my team.
You ever argue and yell at yourself about what should or shouldn’t be in a book?
Ashley: I do when it comes to my own books where I’m like, yeah, this works. This doesn’t work. Oh my gosh, I’m a terrible writer. Like the typical stuff.
Stephen: All right. What’d you go to school for when you went to Colorado, if I may ask?
Ashley: I majored in English with an emphasis in creative writing.
Stephen: So do you feel that has helped you with your writing career now? Or is it like it was nice, but not so much.
Ashley: It was nice, but not so much. It did help with my editing career because I got to critique people in person and kind of fall in love with critiquing content.
So that’s. That’s what I do now. So I’m a developmental editor who focuses on the content of someone’s book and how it flows and all that good stuff. So it helped me with that and got me passionate about critiquing people. But otherwise for writing definitely not. I would say that they don’t really teach you like the writing techniques people should be aware of.
Stephen: Interesting. See, okay. And I ask that my own personal passions I feel we focus with younger kids in school way too much on spelling and grammar when they have no reference to what that is used for and where I feel we should work on just having kids tell stories and learn about how to tell a story and what makes a good story because once you write a bunch more, the spelling and grammar makes sense and falls into place.
And I’m sorry, but The kids that are going to struggle and not get the writing and not get the grammar and just have a hard time with it are not going to be any better by starting earlier and pushing it all through school. But they might become interested in telling stories and want to work at it a little harder, or it might make more sense and be easier.
I just think we should do that more for younger kids.
Ashley: I think that’s very true. So with being a developmental editor, one of the things that I emphasize. Two things that I emphasize a lot is the show don’t tell technique and then story structure. A lot of people don’t know like the story beats and how a story is supposed to evolve.
So that’s one thing that I’m always like teaching people. And I’m like, I know that this editorial letter is like 20 pages, but let’s listen for a second. I promise this
Stephen: will help you. You know what? I have a really good idea. We should talk about that later. How’s that for a good idea? I like it. Yeah.
No, spoiler alert. That is what we are going to talk about later. And I totally agree with you that we’re all, we’re jumping off topic. We’ll get back to your book. I promise.
Ashley: I’m passionate about this. I can talk about this all day.
Stephen: My first story. Like many, I had no clue, and I just started writing and I meandered.
It had a plot, had some good stuff. I didn’t understand what wasn’t good. I didn’t know why, that is. So then when I finally sent it to an editor and came back and it was like, it literally was 19 pages of red ink of notes and extra stuff she put in and I looked at them and at first I was like.
Oh, man, I’m horrible and put it away. Then I said look, if I want to do this I didn’t go to school. So this is how I’m going to learn. I need to learn what they said. And I ended up understanding in a green and I ripped out literally 35, 000 out of 70, 000 words from the book, because I was like, The I totally get it because these are the chapters that I like, let me just do this cause I don’t know what else to write and I’ll just throw this in there, but they made no sense.
They didn’t, progress the plot. They didn’t help the characters. It was just I only have 40, 000 words. Let me write something. So I get another 5, 000 and it, and I understood that. Yeah the, and the whole beat thing and all that. This goes back to what I said a minute ago. It took me so long to understand that because I was trying to learn it.
It was much, much better when I wrote. And then I replied it to what I wrote and I’m like, Oh, I get it now. I see that. So now it comes up. So again, it goes back to my whole thinking. Why are we so focused on spelling and grammar for kids? They are never sorry. Hate to tell teachers this hate to inform parents of this.
The kids that are in third and fourth grade now are never going to spell their whole life because it’s always going to be done for them. They’re not going to have to worry about spelling on anything. Ever. That’s just going to be a reality. I’m sorry. I would
Ashley: say okay we can teach spelling, but grammar is one of those things that even I have to reference.
Like grammar books to make sure I’m using a comma correctly. Yes. I’ve never been able to like grasp how many rules there are when it comes to
Stephen: commas, like that. You can’t memorize them all. And when you’re being creative, you’re thinking of the story, not the comma, and that brings you out of the flow.
And also, need to addendum there. When I say they’re never going to have to spell, I’m not saying we shouldn’t teach it to them. I’m just saying it shouldn’t be such a major focus. It should be a little more cause they need to learn to spell because if they can’t even get close, they do, but you still got to get close and there are definite reasons to learn spelling.
But I think. The focus is so much on spelling and because we can quantify what they’ve learned. Whereas when you learn to write a story and it’s creative, you can’t put numbers on that and quantify it because my horror story, everybody may say it sucks except the horror people. They may love it. And so am I go get an F or an A on it?
Depends on my teacher that year, so I understand why spelling is focused on. It’s just not actually as helpful. to the kids later. And again, if you write stories and you learn to write the spelling will come without even trying, that’s my
Ashley: thought. Yeah, no, I definitely agree with that.
Cause that’s how I started writing stories when I was 14. As a 14 year old, I don’t know how to spell restaurant. That’s one of those things where I got close and then autocorrect helped me. And then I was like, okay, like eventually I’ll remember how to spell.
Stephen: And I being a tech guy, loving most of the tech and working with it.
I would totally encourage parents, homeschool parents, teachers to make the kids learn using a dictionary and I know they do, but, I come across as everything they’re learning should go away because tech will do it all, but it’s not, I really think kids should learn to use a dictionary.
I think they should still go back and learn to use a card catalog. So they understand the Dewey decimal system a little bit. And then they also understand alphabetizing a little bit,
Ashley: yes. Oh my gosh. So no, I was actually homeschooled up until college, my whole life. And my mom literally was like, no, you’re not allowed to use the internet.
Here’s a thesaurus. And here, like we had a literal like collection of thesaurus. And so my mom gave us dictionaries as well. And she was like, go off. That’s it. We would play. If we played Scrabble, we had to use the dictionary. We weren’t allowed to Google anything. So those things were like, you had we had to do that
Stephen: kind of stuff.
That’s pretty cool. Let me ask you this. You, I don’t know how much you learned about what public schools were like or what the curriculum was. Do you have any insights onto what your curriculum was like and what was good and bad about it compared to what public school is? And that’s a pretty deep, intense question.
Ashley: that is. I would like the one thing that I know that was like really weird that I found out way later growing up that I was a little upset about was that with being homeschooled, my mom had us go through the entire textbook of any for any subject we had. And then I find out later, I’m like.
Wait, these kids are literally like their teachers pick and choose what they get to learn from the subject every year. I was like, yeah, here’s a textbook. That’s 2, 000 pages or something. You can
Stephen: go through that entire thing within the year. You better get working. Yeah. So I was like, ugh.
The reason I asked because I’ve. I’ve gotten, I’ve been trying to learn more and more about homeschooling because when the COVID hit and I was starting to write my books I said, you know what, there’s a lot of parents out there that need help with this and I can’t help with math or science. I could, but that’s not my brand, my focus.
If I can help with story, which leads to spelling and grammar and help them in writing aspects. So I’ve done that a little bit. And what made me think of it was because my kids. The school they went to was a STEM alternative type school and they did a project where they were learning about the Suez Canal and they had to do a project that they would make a model that would lift a toy boat.
So they were also applying the physics about, distribution of the water in the thing and how to, how it lifts the boat up and what volume of water do you need to lift this size of boat and that, and so they did this. project that encompassed that, but then they also included art with it because they couldn’t just, a shoe box or something.
They had to make this nice model and how to make the model. So it was encompassing multiple aspects of learning. And I thought, wow, that they probably learned more about the Suez Canal than reading two or three pages in a history book. Yeah, doing that. And the same with the table of elements. They had a group that they only had to learn two elements, but they had to learn who discovered it.
When was it discovered? How did they discover it? What were the science experiments that helped them, say this is an element and all that. So they really had a deep dive on it. And then they, All had to report. And I’m like, you know what? They may not remember the whole table of elements, but they know they can look it up.
They may have heard of the other elements, but those two, they know forever. They will know that down cold. And it’s probably better than me. I learned all the table elements and I sure couldn’t tell you much beyond hydrogen and oxygen and,
Ashley: Ask chemistry. I’m not a science person.
Stephen: Okay. We just really, drove off the deep end there, but I think that’s cool.
I love the conversations like that. Yeah. It’s just
Ashley: a conversation, no pressure,
Stephen: you get me going. I get passionate about the education stuff with kids because I think teachers. My solution to all of our problems is, and it’s going to take 20 years to fix it. That’s the thing. I have a solution that’ll fix everything in the next 20 years.
We take what the politicians are getting paid from all the donations or whatever. We give that to the teachers and what the teachers get paid. We pay our politicians because you’re only going to get politicians that really want to do it. So there’ll be passionate about it. And you’ll get teachers that have been like, I am making so much money.
I am going to be the best teacher ever. And those kids getting taught. We’ll figure out how to solve everything when they’re 20 years old. All right, we’re going to get back to show. Don’t tell and actually talk about your book a little bit. I enjoyed the conversation. I hope it, you don’t feel like, Oh my God, shut up.
All so Ashley, your book is called heart of skulls. Which I assume is a nice comedy romance, right?
Ashley: Oh, absolutely. Totally not gory. There’s no blood, like not even a spill. Like
Stephen: that’s it. None whatsoever. Great. Can’t wait to hear about it. So tell us about your book. So
Ashley: Heart of Skulls is a suspense horror novel about the evolution of a serial killer.
So definitely gory, definitely bloody. There’s a romance in there, but nothing crazy. He’s definitely propelled by his love for his girlfriend. But the reason for that is because I wanted to answer this question that I’ve always had, like watching documentaries about like Ted Bundy or other, murderers that are like maintaining this normal life.
And then they go home, have this, have a girlfriend, have a wife, have children. They have this normal seeming life, but they’re getting away with murder on the side. So I wanted to answer that question of like, how are they doing this? And. Have this normal life. Like how can you juggle both of them?
So that’s how heart of skulls was born I just played around with a bunch of true crime documentaries tried to answer that question nature versus nurture kind of deal
Stephen: Nice. Okay So what’d you discover? What were the? things you may have found out or felt by the end of the project,
Ashley: it was an interesting project.
I’d never written horror. The end of the book was something that I had turned in for one of my college classes and it developed into a bigger thing. But with like nature versus nurture, definitely both is what I discovered with at least my main character, Scott, I think that’s a theme for some like actual.
Serial killers and true crime and all of that. I think it’s a little bit of both, but with how does a killer maintain a normal life? I just manipulation. It’s a whole lot of, all right, I’m juggling this and this at the same time. And I’m, I’m having my cake and eating it too. Like
Stephen: so did you do, they always say even the villains.
Make somebody feel some sympathy towards them to understand and, really get into the character. Did you do that? And how did you do that? I
Ashley: think you feel that in the beginning, but the further you go into Heart of Skulls, the deeper you get into his mind and how he’s thinking and rationalizes and is this is what I’m doing and this is why the crazier he sounds.
So I don’t think that the sympathy is so much there anymore. At least I tried to kill it off because I didn’t want anyone to… Sympathize too much with him. Cause I’m like, okay, yeah, he had this rough upbringing. It’s, it’s explains it, but it doesn’t excuse it,
Stephen: okay. And I ask so just FYI, I live within about a half hour or so of where Jeffrey Dahmer grew up, his hometown.
So just, we’ve never wanted to go visit. There’s not a big tourist attraction. Yeah, I would imagine
Ashley: not. At least I hope it’s
Stephen: not. I’m sure it might be for some, but so there are two movies you made me think of. One is called Behind the Mask, The Rise of Leslie Vernon. It is like a college documentary of a serial killer.
And it’s, you should watch it. I think you might enjoy it. Yeah, for sure. It’s, it’s… Not quite poking fun at the whole slasher genre, but it’s not like a serious documentary, obviously it’s got an interesting a mix in there. I think you’d enjoy it. The other one, and I warn you, you may want to skip this one, but it totally made me think of some, it’s called martyrs.
And there is an American remake that kind of sucked. So if you look it up, do not watch the later American remake. I think it was like 2008 or whatever. Go for the early original. Okay. It is, but I’m warning you and anybody else listening, I’m not recommending you watch this. Okay. Because. It is the most disturbing movie I’ve ever seen in my life, but I bring it up because there’s a lot of bad disturbing stuff going on.
But at one point I, me and my buddy do a podcast and we were talking about the movie on the podcast. Okay. And I said, Is it bad and wrong of me that I like empathize with these people that are doing all of this? And he said, Oh my God, I’m glad you said that. Cause I felt the same way. And I’m like that’s some good storytelling to make you feel bad for the bad guys, yeah, you should look those up. I think you’d enjoy them. But again, Martyrs is disturbing. Just so you know, I’ll go in hesitantly. Yes. Yeah. The original it’s just, it’s I don’t know what else to say about it. It’s one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever seen in my life.
Ashley: That’s interesting that you bring up like empathizing with the bad guy because with the Netflix show for Dahmer, I, that’s how I felt and I’m like, no, like he does all of this stuff way late, like later yeah, okay.
I could feel bad for his younger self and understand how he got to this point, but I don’t want to feel bad for him.
Stephen: You almost feel bad for feeling good or, empathizing with them. That’s a, that’s hard to get across when you’re doing something like that. Yeah, but I
Ashley: think everyone will take like heart of skulls a little differently.
I’ve had some reviews come back and they’re like, Oh, I sent by myself sympathizing with. The main character over and over again. And I was like, okay, so like this person’s a little more like sensitive. Got it. I think everyone will take something away, like in a different way, but
Stephen: That’s great with horror because everybody likes different.
Horror is one of the probably broadest genres out there really, because there’s so many things you can do with horror and when you get something good like that, that you get different people responding to different parts of it, I think you’ve done a pretty darn good job then. Ooh. Okay.
Then. Yay. So people are enjoying the book overall.
Ashley: Yes. That was surprise. As an author, you put something out there and you’re like, this is going to get terrible reviews. Like you’re like preparing yourself for the worst. And then. With reviews coming in, I’m like, Oh, okay. I didn’t do too bad.
Stephen: Nice. Okay, good. And I’m assuming with horror that this is just a standalone, not part of a series?
Ashley: I’m thinking that it’s going to be a standalone. If I write something that kind of hints to Heart of Skulls, it’s going to be able to stand on its own as well, because I do have another idea, but we’ll see.
Stephen: Okay. Are you working on another book now? I’m
Ashley: not, because I’ve been so busy with my editing clients and then promoting Heart of Skulls, and I’m like, okay, I need to take a break, but I do have a writing retreat planned in March, so at that point I’ll have no choice but to write.
Stephen: Okay, alright, and while you’re that far ahead planned, I can barely plan what I’m doing tomorrow.
Ashley: My critique partner and I just had an idea because I’m gonna go to Georgia. I’m gonna go back home to visit for a little bit. And she was like, okay we’ve been talking about doing a writing retreat for like years. Let’s just go camping and. Block out the world, sit down and actually do what we’re supposed to be doing.
Stephen: Nice. I like that. Do you have a website that people could go to, to check out your everything about you?
Ashley: Yeah. So it’s actually early. com, but it’s. My last name is spelled a little weird, so we have an extra E in there, but it’s A S H L E Y and then E A R L E Y dot com. I don’t know how we got the extra E, but it’s there.
Stephen: My daughter can empathize with you because her name’s Megan, but it’s M A E G A N. And, nobody knows how to spell it,
Ashley: at least she doesn’t accidentally spell early the wrong way. Cause I’ll be writing and then I’m like, I add the extra E and I’m like, oops, hope my editor doesn’t think I’m stupid.
Sometimes it just I’m on autopilot,
Stephen: yeah. No, that’s what autocorrect’s for. So Ashley, let me ask you some of your favorite books and authors.
Ashley: Ooh, okay. I love Sarah Dreamos, so my favorite series of her is the A Court of Thorns and Roses. I’m actually, funny enough, I’m reading A Court of Silver Flames right now and I have it on my desk.
Stephen: That is a big
Ashley: book. Yes, it is. I’m reading that right now, just started. And then, I love Frankenstein. I was actually just talking to someone about how many times I’ve read that book. And Dracula is also one of my favorites, so I would say those. I do love Jane Eyre as well. Like one of my favorite classics.
Stephen: Nice. Yeah. Back and forth. So for you, is Frankenstein horror or science fiction? It’s both for sure. I would agree with that. Yeah. Yeah. And so here’s a little I guess brag and I’m not gonna say it’s a humble brag. It’s just, so Bram Stoker, who wrote Dracula, his great grandnephew, Dacre, has been in charge of the estate, and he does talks and stuff about Bram’s book, Dracula, and some of the cutting edge forensics and stuff that’s in the book from the time and all that, but they’ve written two co A prequel and a sequel to the book that Dacre has been involved with the release, but then he also did like this Kickstarter and this is probably the, but you’re too late for it.
And I apologize for telling you about it now, but he found a guy that creates. Authentic originals and they did an authentic original of Dracula with the same looking cover. But this guy goes so far as to get the same paper, he sources the same paper and uses it in there. And they got the same cover that looks worn.
It looks like it’s been for, and I missed the Kickstarter, but I had been talking to Dacre and somebody was like, really, this is taking too long. I want my money back. Which if that’s not how Kickstarter works. And he said, would you be interested in the book if you give him the money and he shuts up?
So I am getting a copy of the UK original edition and it even has. I’m sorry. I can’t wait to it
because it’s in the same like mustard yellow cover, but the guy used and he even has a dust that he puts in it. So it smells like it’s been sitting on a bookshelf for a hundred years. That old dusty smell. Oh gosh. I know. I’m so excited. You
Ashley: should be. I would be fortunate. Freaking out.
Stephen: All right.
I’ll put your name down as a note to remind myself when I get it I’ll send you some pictures. Please do. It’s going to be a while yet still, but I was very excited that I could be a part of it.
Ashley: Yeah. That’s amazing. That’s I
Stephen: keep going off on tangents. You’re great to talk to. We,
Ashley: yeah, I know I’m such a, I’m such a nerd. Like I, I just can’t help it. Like I literally took a. Horror and gothic novel class in, when I was in college. So I had to read Mary Shelley for that and Dracula. So I’ve had to read Frankenstein about five times in my life and then Dracula only once, but it was so impactful that I finished the book before anyone else in the class.
Stephen: in it. Yeah. Now I remember reading it and thinking, wow, this is almost a romance with vampires. And
Ashley: it’s crazy. And it’s so ahead of its time with how provocative it is and how just like inappropriate is for the times with all of the vampires and everything and how You know, we’ve got the Mary Sue in there, but then we also have all of these other characters that are just acting crazy for their time.
Yeah. Very inappropriate and not
Stephen: ladylike. So I don’t know how much history of it you’ve delved into, but the sequel to it. Dacre helped write with JD Barker and I so happened to know somebody who was friends with JD Barker. So I’ve been in a couple of conferences talking to him and stuff, not just me.
It was a group. And he said when they were researching to write the sequel, they actually went to the same monastery and library and found the same books that Brom had been researching and he had written notes in the margins. And so they. And there was like 100 page first couple chapters that the editor had them completely cut out that got added into the prequel in a way.
So yeah, you should look up Dacre Stoker and see if he’s doing a talk sometime that you could attend, you’d probably. Love it. But all these
Ashley: things, books. Now I need those. I didn’t know
Stephen: about that
Ashley: list because of you.
Stephen: That happens to me all the time. I’m talking to the author that I’m like, hold on, wait a minute. Let me write that down. And I’m like, I don’t need any more books on my list. I’ve got a stack. I’m never
Ashley: going to finish my collection. it before I die and I just keep adding more I’m like, okay, I guess I’ll just leave it for my children.
Stephen: I’m trying to learn to read faster, but that’s not working so well. All that was books. Do you have any favorite bookstores that you like to go visit in the area?
Ashley: Bookstores. So in Colorado, we have Tattered Cover, which is like a, it’s a, an indie bookstore, so there’s no, it’s not a brand or whatever.
They have three that I know of where, around the area that I live in, and all the bookshelves are different, all of the chairs in there are different, and the atmosphere is just so homey. And it’s literally smells like books. So they have old ones in there too. So I’ll go there and I’ll just toodle around and do whatever and sit down in one of their chairs and read for, I don’t even know how long.
So that’s one of my favorite places to go to.
Stephen: Nice. Okay. And FYI, Kevin J. Anderson, sci fi writer he lives in Colorado. Oh,
Ashley: okay. So funny enough, I know my parents had a neighbor who was writing like thriller books, but I never got the chance to meet him before he moved.
Stephen: Nice. Okay. So we want to talk a little bit about Show Don’t Tell, do some author stuff.
But one last thing for anyone listening that likes horror, which I love getting horror authors on, I don’t get it very often and I end up talking about all sorts of stuff because it’s my favorite genre of movies and books. But if somebody is listening and they’re like that doesn’t sound too bad.
If they were walking down the street and ran into you and they said, Hey, I heard you wrote a book. Why should I get your book and read it? What would you tell them? That’s a
Ashley: good question. I would say that if you were someone that was, even if you didn’t read or watch True Crime, I should say, it’s more than just about the serial killer.
It’s about the relationship that the main character has with Natalie as well. So that’s why I say that there’s a romance, and that’s what propels him to do what he does, because Scott does end up killing women that look similar to his girlfriend because he doesn’t want to kill her, but he does.
So there are a lot of layers, I would say, when it comes to Heart of Skull. So you’re not just reading a horror, gory novel. You’re definitely also getting the other side of things where it’s a real life type of situation as
Stephen: well. And I love that. The best horror isn’t all horror and horrific.
And that’s what also makes Dracula so great. It’s not every scene with fighting a vampire. There is so much humanity and development of the characters into there. Oh, and they really expand on that in the sequel and prequel. Just so you know. I have to
Ashley: check it out. But I think that’s one of the great things about horror is that we really tap into Humanity.
And we bring that to the forefront and we’re, we try to make it so convincing that yes, this could definitely happen in real life, even if we have a terrible monster, you can take that monster and think about it in a different way. Like maybe it represents an internal struggle or something like that.
Like we really. Poor writers really tap into that kind of thing to really freak out readers.
Stephen: Got it. That’s a good thing. That’s what they want. Yes. So let me ask you, Ashley, you went to school creative writing and you’ve written your book, you’re working as an editor and working on more books, hopefully.
So what are some things you’ve learned in that whole process that you’re doing different now than you did at the beginning, maybe things that. You thought were the right way to do it, but discovered that’s not the best way. So
Ashley: talking about, whether the schooling was worth it for writing, they never taught show.
The show don’t tell technique was never grasped by anyone in our class. We had no idea what we were doing and I didn’t fully grasp what show don’t tell meant until I started my editing company and started getting certifications and I learned more in my certification than I did in my classes. Full honesty, it was actually really upsetting.
So I’m like, Oh my gosh, I paid like this much money for this certification. And then I paid this much money for a college degree and it was useless in no way. So I would say if you want, if you’re okay with me delving into my little show, don’t
Stephen: tell please go.
Ashley: So show don’t tell I’m sure as is something that’s like.
Overshared, like it’s something that’s overemphasized with people where they’re like, Oh, you should be showing and not telling da,
Stephen: da, nobody tells you what that means. No one tells you what it means.
Ashley: So as an editor, I have to walk clients through what exactly that technique involves and what you should be doing.
There’s a great emotion, the source book that’s out there. Good book. 10 bucks on Amazon, highly recommend it to every client I have because I even keep it on my desk when I’m writing or editing if I’m like trying to make suggestions to my clients. But for an example of telling, and I have a whole written thing here this is telling and it’s once upon a time there was a castle and a dragon and even a tasty looking hawk, very choppy, very to the point not the greatest opening, right?
Or, even if it’s in the middle of a book. But this is an example of showing. Smoke blew from the dragon’s nostrils, talons digging into the stone as it scaled down the side of the castle. With the beast’s mouth agape, it extended its neck to engulf the tasty hawk. We’re usually showing without even realizing it most of the time.
When we’re going into… more descriptive detail about what’s happening on the page. It’s more immersive for readers in that way than if you were saying, once upon a time dah, and listed out a bunch of things. You really want to grasp reader’s attention and make them. Stay hooked to the page, but there are instances where telling is okay.
And that’s where people come in and say, Oh, it’s overdone. Da. No, while you shouldn’t say, he was angry. You should show it in a different way. He balled his hands into fists or he clenched his teeth, something like that, build off of that to continue showing there are. Like, this is an instance where telling is okay, and it’s like an outside perspective where the guards cast wary glances her way.
That’s like the main character seeing the guards and being like, okay, like they’re looking at me in this particular way, like she’s analyzing what’s happening and it’s a bit telling, but there is an instance where it’s okay to directly include that emotion without being like he was angry. So that’s where that technique being like, Oh, it’s overused.
Like it’s overdone. Da. It’s not, we accidentally do it. All the time when we’re trying to make readers stay hooked to keep turning those
Stephen: pages. Yeah, and it is such a tough thing until it clicks and you really get it. And what helped me was I go to a lot of author fairs and when I was just starting writing, I wasn’t trying to be a part of them.
I was just visiting and I buy books from lots of different people and I bought these. Books from this guy, one of the first guys I ever ran into that was indie. So I’m like, okay, I’m gonna buy some of your books. And he had a book of short stories and I like short stories. So I said, okay. But it was more like a little kid telling a synopsis of a story.
It was in your instance, like the dragon got angry and blew fire and killed the knight. That’s not an interesting, great story, but it is a story. It’s just, what can you do to make it better? And that’s what actually helped me click. With Show, Don’t Tell is, Oh, I see it now. Let me describe the dragon tensing up and the heat of the air.
Ashley: why was that dragon angry to begin with?
Stephen: No. Yeah. So reading something bad. Really helped me understand better. So I actually, and this is something I don’t know, maybe good or bad. I made that into an exercise for myself. I would take some of my favorite books and find a nice passage that analyzing it, looking at them like, wow, this really is a great writing.
And I would take it and transform it into the most boring writing. I could taking out all the show, taking out all the description and making it. As boring as I could. And that actually reverse engineer process helped me understand what they’re doing better. And then I would try things like how would this have been written a hundred years ago?
How would it be written if it was science fiction instead of a romance or whatever? And that little exercise. Yeah, it helped me a lot because like you said, show don’t tell is so hard to grasp when people just tell you, Oh, show don’t tell, what, what elaborates. Yes. Yeah.
Ashley: One of those, or it’s okay, if you’re telling me what it is, like telling me to do it, tell me how to do
Yes, exactly. Yeah. You work with your clients on this. When you get something, do you have, what are some of the things you do have them do to get better at the show showing instead of telling or understanding it, is there any techniques or anything you use with your clients? Kind
Ashley: of do in my editorial letters, I usually like outline what show don’t tell is and the different ways it can be used.
But if I’m directly like in the document and I see he was angry, what I’ll do is I’ll take that sentence and I’ll be like, okay, like this is telling, and I’m going to show several examples of how you can show it. So then they can directly see in their book. Okay. This is what I wrote. And this is what. I’m being suggested to do, and they don’t have to take that suggestion of he balled his hands into fists or anything like that.
There’s so many ways to show different emotions. It’s just to help them grasp how they can do it and how they can implement it to their main character or a side character that they’re trying to, put focus on and stuff like that. So that’s where I am like, okay, directly in there showing them how they can do it.
Stephen: Nice. So they get a real life example of their own writing, which goes back to what I said would help be better for kids. See, it all tied together. Yeah, exactly. One of the other things I discovered along with show don’t tell that fits very well. So Stephen King says, rip out all the adverbs, adverbs paved the way to hell or something like that.
Ashley: type of quote. I also tell all my clients
Stephen: that one. Yeah. So what I realized thinking of that and reading King was. A lot of his show don’t tell is because he’s trying to get that same adverb without saying the adverb. So a lot of his description, a lot of his emotion and what’s going on in a scene is because he doesn’t want to say tiredly or shallowly or, something like that.
Ashley: Their shoulders were drooping and they just looked a little sad. Their eye, they could barely keep their eyes open. There’s so many ways. I love it.
Stephen: And he definitely for whatever you may love or hate about Stephen King. He definitely reading his stuff can, especially some of the early to mid stuff is a real master class in drawing people into the book, and that’s, in support of what we’ve talked about, if you don’t know how to spell and you don’t know grammar, we can fix that.
We can help you. You can get better, but if you can’t draw people in your story, the rest of it’s irrelevant. They got a. Really feel a part of your story to enjoy it in some way, cause Lee Child with Jack Reacher does not draw me into it the same way Stephen King does. I don’t feel a part of the world so much as I’m like, interested and just engaged with, Oh my gosh, what’s happening next?
Totally different styles.
Ashley: Yeah that’s. That’s what I try to emphasize. I’m like, okay what are you looking to get out of readers? What is your goal? What do you want them to feel? What do you want them to take away from your story? That’s such a big thing that you need to think about that.
Not a lot of us really sit down and think about when we’re writing a story, it’s usually like what comes later, and we got to actually sit with it and think about it. That’s where I come in and I’m like, okay, you should start thinking about this, how to market and get your book out there, get it.
scene, get people interested. And then, what’s the first thing that people judge when they go to into a bookstore, the book cover, second thing, the synopsis, but they’re going to open up to that first page, read the first line, the first paragraph, maybe even the first chapter before they decide whether or not they’re going to buy
Yeah. And if they’re not engaged, which that’s a whole nother discussion, because I personally have not enjoyed critique groups, especially as I’ve written a few things myself, because. Critique groups don’t seem to help me get better. And most people get so focused on that first chapter that, yeah, you may draw somebody in, but then you get a bad review because the rest of it sucked.
There wasn’t enough and critique groups. Oh, you’ll appreciate this. So the one critique group I go to, there are two gentlemen who are very. Alpha predominant in the group. And they are thriller writers, both of them. Some new guy got up there and he’s writing a horror story. And it was several pages before you understood that this main character that we had been following around was actually a ghost.
And you didn’t get that at first. And they said, Oh, that should be like in the first paragraph, first page, you need that. And I said, You guys do not understand horror whatsoever. I says that will totally destroy the mood of the horror book. That will make no horror readers want to read. And they argued with me and I’m like,
Ashley: it’s a great twist to reveal later on.
And then that’s like that moment where it goes. Okay. I want to find out why this person is a ghost. How did they get here? What are they doing here? There’s so many questions to answer.
Stephen: And I, I argued with them. I’m like, it is not a thriller story. Horrors have a different arc and and I, that’s important.
I think for people to understand that you need to understand your genre and what makes it great. You wouldn’t have a romance where they don’t kiss. But I can name a lot of thriller books where nobody kisses, so if the romance writers are, reading a thriller, they’re like where’s the kissing, yeah.
Ashley: One of my favorite things that I found while I was writing Heart of Skulls was I found a beat sheet, like the save the cat beat sheet dedicated to horror. And I, that helped me out so much, even though it was like more dedicated for. Like a horror story with a monster. You can still take that and switch the monster with an internal struggle.
And it still has the same beats. It still follows the same flow. It’s it’s just, it was so great. And it was so useful. I actually, I think I posted that to my blog somewhere. So if anyone’s listening, I want to go check that out. It’s somewhere on my website.
Stephen: Got it. We’ll put a link up to your website.
And I would argue with that. The Save the Cat is another thing I didn’t quite understand. The Hero’s Journey I didn’t quite understand. Cam Weiland does a lot of podcast and writing. And her is just a little different. Similar to both of those. I said, okay everyone says I got to use hero’s journey or save the cat.
And it’ll be a good book. I’m trying to like cram all these scenes into this structure, but I’m not understanding the structure. So again, once I’d written a little more. I started to see it and without even realizing it, I wrote something. I’m like, ah, that doesn’t fit there. I need to move it. And this is better here.
And I’m like, now I get it. There’s save the cat right there. And I didn’t even realize it. Yeah. You gotta get some writing under you. Yeah. And
Ashley: not just even using save the cat, using similar resources where it’s okay. You, some people just need like that different explanation of even if they read save the cat, maybe it doesn’t click, but they read the same thing from someone else that explains it a little differently.
And that’s what makes it click. Like you need multiple resources for those types of things before it’s like you have your
Stephen: aha moment. You absolutely agree. And Doing it hands on, Cam Weiland has that whole database of the movies and books and it says, here’s the pinch point in the first conflict and all that.
I went and read tons of those and I’m like, okay. Now I still don’t get it, when I actually took a movie I had watched and tried to apply the beats to it, then I had to do it myself, I had to have enough knowledge to know what the end result was supposed to be, but I had to sit down and do it myself and going back to the show.
Don’t tell that you got to do it yourself. You can read All the books you want, I’ve read Stephen King’s book a hundred times and all these other articles and podcasts and everything else on show don’t tell, but until I was able to look at my writing and say, yeah, I can expand that and get the reader more drawn into it is when I understood it.
Ashley: that’s, it’s like a hands on kind of deal you can read as many craft books as you want, you have to have that sit down moment with your own writing and be like, okay, how can I make this better? You have to be able to admit that to yourself before you
Stephen: keep going. Yeah, and too many writers…
that have been doing it maybe a couple of weeks, a couple of months, they want to know what craft book should I read? What more book? I’ve got these 50 of them and what more should I get? And how do we publish and how we do this? And I know I’m not super experienced, but I’m like, what are you writing? I’ve been working on the same thing for five years.
Oh no. You need to go write like 10 other things before you even worry about reading a craft book before you worry about the publishing. And unfortunately I don’t have enough. Chutzpah to say, I really know what I’m talking about, but that’s what I’ve discovered for myself that I try and pass on.
Ashley: I agree. Like I’m very selective with the books that I recommend my clients where I’m like, okay, here’s a list of three. When you read these and you feel a little confused, I’ll have more for you. Come back.
Stephen: Yeah. Take it slow. You’re way better off to just sit down and write another short story to write another book and put it aside.
And then worrying about. Editing it once again and revising it once again and reading another craft book, you know i’ve seen people at these critique groups that read a craft book and then they bring their stuff back and it’s You didn’t apply anything you read Yeah, it’s great that you read it, but that means you have to like to apply it.
And I’m guilty just like a lot of people. It’s, Oh, Hey, I got 300 books on my shelf, but I have story genius right here on my desk. And I haven’t got that one. This is
Ashley: one I usually recommend to people story genius by Lisa Krohn. Cause it’s one of those where you worry about it when you’re done with that draft and then you go in and try to apply.
The things that are in this book, but it’s not like something you worry about while you’re writing.
Stephen: I would recommend to anybody listening to find, like you said, a couple, three or less craft books, ones that speak to you that someone recommended. And read in detail and apply it. Don’t read to get done with it.
Read a little bit, highlight it, read it in depth, and then go and apply it to your writing right then and there. Whatever it is that you’re learning, apply it and then go read more. You’ll get way more out of reading one book in depth like that than you will buying the 300th book on your shelf.
Ashley: For sure.
I totally agree.
Stephen: All right, so we’ve been chatting quite a while and I’ve been batting. Babbling quite a bit. I hope everybody got something out of the your show. Don’t tell, because I think our tangents, my brain works sometimes, especially like you said, when you start getting passionate about it, it’s like, ah, oh, Hey, I see your heart of skulls right there in the background.
Ashley: And I also have the save the cat outline for heart of skulls.
Stephen: Beautiful. Did you print that out yourself? Cause that’s looks like 11 by 17 or something. Yes, I did.
Ashley: Yeah, it’s just a printout for the cover because I got it and I wanted to be able to see it every day once I had it. And I haven’t taken it down.
Stephen: I will say a lot of people use Word and I think more authors I talked to use Word, but I found Word hard to use when I really wanted to. Have the flexibility to move things and I can much more easy, easily visualize save the cat, the hero’s journey, the beats in the cork board on Scrivener than I ever could on Word.
Ashley: Yes, I love Scrivener. I will, I refuse, I edit in Word because I have no choice. I need like track changes, the comments and all that, but Scrivener is what I use to write. I will not use anything else. It’s.
Stephen: It’s my go to and people say, Oh, it’s just so confusing and so hard. And I’m like, really, do you use all the functions of word or did you just open it and start typing?
Ashley: Word is complicated. I still can’t even grasp everything that it can do. I’m just like, these are the specific things that I know how to do. And then that’s it. But that’s another tangent. I’m
Stephen: sorry. Yeah, exactly. So we’ll have to have you back on and we’ll just call it the tangent show. And we’ll talk about all the things we didn’t talk about today.
That sounds like there’s probably a lot.
Ashley: I’m there for it. Let’s do it.
Stephen: So March, you’re going to be on your own writer’s retreat. We’ll make a note, get back in touch with me and we’ll find out how that writer’s retreat went and see what new things you’ve learned that we can talk.
Ashley: Yes. I’m totally down.
We’ll do it. Great.
Stephen: All right. Ashley, it’s been great talking to you. I’ve had a lot of fun. I wish you a lot of luck on Heart of Skulls. I love horror.
Ashley: Thank you so much. And thank you for having me on. It was truly a
Stephen: pleasure. Yeah, great.