The Saturday Morning Blogger – Show, don’t tell

The Saturday Morning Blogger – Show, don’t tell

James Barrington

I generally consider myself a pretty good writer, but that doesn’t mean I know all the rules to be a pretty good writer of fictional novels. That’s a whole different animal.

Four of our Wordsmithsix group got together this week to review our latest efforts at literary brilliance. I am constantly grateful for the input of my partners. I can see my work improving, but I recognize I still have a long way to go.

One (of many) writer rules I’m still struggling to learn and internalize is the “show, don’t tell” rule. I need to want to narrate a story instead of planting visual images in the minds of my readers. While that may be OK in a blog, it’s not acceptable in literary fiction. I have the rule pretty well fixed in my mind. My problem I haven’t fully grasped the application of how to follow that rule. I’m working on it, but it’s too easy for me to fall back into the narrator role. My wordsmithsix friends are very expert in pointing those issues out as I read my developing work. It seems like I make a few steps forward and then I have a tendency to slip on the narrative slope. Each time I’m caught doing that, I get another lesson. Hopefully I’m learning.

The concept I’m working on internalizing is letting the characters in the story reveal facts through their dialogue rather than simply spelling it out. Telling is much simpler, but not nearly as interesting.

“So on I worked, and waited for the light,

And went without the meat, and cursed the bread…” (with a tip of the hat to Edward Arlington Robinson).

And hopefully “show not tell” will take roots in my creative system and become a natural thing.

The Saturday Morning Blogger – Continuous vs. segmented

The Saturday Morning Blogger – Continuous vs. segmented

James Barrington

I have written five previous novels. None have been published. I hope I am learning with each successive effort. While the idea of having a legion of fans of my writing is appealing, I have found each effort personally rewarding whether they ever leave the confines of my hard drive or not. In each of my earlier efforts, I have essentially written from start to finish as ideas flowed, but in my current effort I’m finding that the ideas are coming in interconnected but not continuously flowing patterns.

Perhaps my disjointed story segments result from the nature of the story – a twenty-year class reunion being the “current day” and the events of the intervening years laying background to peel back the layers of motivation and character interrelationships. As I mentally “see” action unfolding, my mind begins telling me the roots of the latest developments.

I’m finding this technique challenging, but stimulating at the same time. Mainly I’m finding it a great opportunity to put more depth to each character. I believe it will produce a better product in the end. I’m also finding the wordsmithsix critique group extremely helpful in keeping me grounded with suggestions and questions that I realize I should have already considered.

The Texas High Plains Writers will be meeting today (March 18) at The Oasis on Canyon Drive at 9:30 a.m. For anyone interested in writing, there are always great ideas, great information, and great fellowship. See you there!

The Saturday Morning Blogger – Burrowing Owl Books on the Square in Canyon

The Saturday Morning Blogger – Burrowing Owl Books on the Square in Canyon

James Barrington

For anyone who has not yet discovered the Burrowing Owl Bookstore on the east side of the square in Canyon, it is a shop worth visiting. Dallas and Todd Bell own the store, but Todd’s duties as a medical doctor ensure than most of the office hours at Burrowing Owl are kept by Dallas – and her mother and daughters.

They have an eclectic variety of new and used books. For the kids, the doors of a wardrobe open to provide entrance to the kids’ books section. My 12-year-old granddaughter and I have already explored it a few times and made purchases there.

The shelves are arranged to make browsing easy, but if you know exactly what you want, odds are good that Dallas can take you right to it. They even take trade-in on your used books with credit toward purchases of other used books.

It reminds me in many ways of the “Shop around the corner” from “You’ve Got Mail.”

With a new snap of cooler weather, it’s a great place to pick up a book for reading in front of your fireplace!

Keep reading! It gives you great ideas for your own great American novel.

The Saturday Morning Blogger – Lady Eagles state championship run

The Saturday Morning Blogger – Lady Eagles state championship run

James Barrington

During five years with the Canyon News, I attended three girls’ state championship basketball game in my official capacity. The Lady Eagles won all three. Since leaving the newspaper, they won their third in a row in 2016 and are looking for a four-peat this year. Friday night they overwhelmed Mont Belvieu Barbers Hill by a score of 66-39 in the semi-final. Saturday (March 4) afternoon at 3 p.m., they will play for their fourth consecutive state championship, this time against Mansfield Timberview.

There are some amazing young athletes on this year’s team, just as on the last three, but the common factors binding them all together is head coach Joe Lombard and two-time state tournament MVP Angel Hayden who has been a varsity starter since her freshman year.

As this is being written, we have no idea what the final score of that game will be, but Canyon’s Lady Eagles have every incentive to play their best. If past history is any predictor, their best is likely to produce some amazing results in the history of Texas UIL sports.

Tom Clancy has been quoted as saying that fiction is harder to write than non-fiction, because fiction has to be believable. When the New England Patriots recovered from a stumbling season in 2001 to win their first Super Bowl championship with a second-string quarterback in the aftermath of the attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, it was “storybook” writing. The Patriots bringing the nation to its feet after such a terrible blow was something that many would have blown off if it had been a fictional story.

There have been times when real sports news has played out in life like a fairy tale. By Saturday evening, March 4, 2017, we’ll know if the 2016-2017 basketball season will add another fairy tale ending to the illustrious history of Canyon’s Lady Eagles, Coach Joe Lombard, and senior Angel Hayden.

The fact that this season is coming to an end during the middle of crises for the Lombard family adds to the drama, and perhaps gives extra incentive to the team in what is shaping up to be quite a game in the Alamodome.

The Saturday Morning Blogger – Nandy Ekle’s reading challenge

The Saturday Morning Blogger – Nandy Ekle’s reading challenge

James Barrington

Nandy Ekle’s “Reading Challenge” caught my attention this week. You can scroll down to find it if you missed it before. Having had limited time to write this week, it seemed like a good time to make some observations about reading.

We started reading to our daughters and grandchildren as soon as they came home from the hospital. Some of our earliest photos of our children and grandchildren are of them sitting in our laps looking at books as we read to them.

For a few years, my 15-year-old granddaughter and I greeted each other with the words, “What are you reading now? Usually a conversation would ensue about what we were reading. Often, we would exchange books when we finished and read what the other had been reading. I was introduced to Rick Riordan and his Percy Jackson books. My younger granddaughter is into those now. I am really glad that they have both discovered the great wealth within the pages of books.

Nandy’s reading list is not specific books, but books that fill specific categories. I’m sharing the list with my grandchildren, so they can delve into a variety of authors, styles, and genres. Some of the suggestions will be easy; others may be more difficult, especially with my grandchildren’s modern given names.

I have recently been reading some biblical apologetics by Hank Hanegraaff. I am finding them informative, thought-provoking, and entertaining.

One of my personal favorite fictional novels is A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. I had named Slaughterhouse Five by Curt Vonnegut as my favorite before discovering Owen Meany. Both of those authors are graduates of Phillips Exeter Academy (PEA) in Exeter, NH. Having lived almost a decade in Hampton, a town neighboring Exeter, I came to appreciate the area and the Academy. I’m told that the Academy has a library in the reception area of their application office that is filled with books written by PEA graduates.

The Bible has to be my all-time favorite. To pick a single book within the Bible would be impossible. There is so much to choose from as well as so many genres. There is something new to be learned with each reading.

Thanks for looking in on If you don’t have time to write, by all means, read.

The Saturday Morning Blogger – The roots of a story

The Saturday Morning Blogger – The roots of a story

James Barrington

This week I will lay some of the groundwork of the novel that is taking shape in my mind and on the computer screen. It is a story of small town life and how the lives of classmates change between their high school days and their twenty-year class reunion.

Teenagers tend to think that what they are in high school will profoundly impact what they are in life. Those of us who have been there know that to be both true and false. High school can solidify the groundwork for our decision-making patterns throughout our lives, but the details are much more profoundly affected as we move into real-world decisions.

There are many allusions in literature to “crossing the Rubicon” and observations that “you can never go home.” Some real life choices are irreversible, but Christians come to understand that even bad choices don’t have to be the end of the discussion. Sure, the effects of some choices are irreversible, such as murder, for example. But the eternal consequences can be changed as long as there is life in our body and a repentant heart. Saul of Tarsus and King David are both examples of that.

The novel that is my current project has a working title (subject to change) of The Reunion.

The story opens with class members gathering for their twenty-year reunion. The jocks, the nerds, the students and teachers, all come back to remember and renew, but it only takes minutes to become apparent that high school stereotypes frequently break down under the stress of real life. The “popular kids” have largely fallen onto hard times, while the class nerd has become a soldier on and off the nation’s battlefields. Disaster has struck the home town and the pieces are still an open wound.

Nothing happens in a vacuum. The battles of the world have had real life impacts on this small Texas town and acts of war on the opposite side of the world impact people and places everywhere.

Examining the lives of the classmates exposes the good and bad choices they made as youngsters and how those choices built derelicts and heroes. Some of those outcomes are immediately evident, while others fester inside, marking some for success and others for failure. But even those labels are tenuous, depending on the measuring rod.

Undercurrents run through the town that are generally invisible except to those who are directly involved, and the stalwarts of the community come face to face with the darker sides of the world that are as easy to ignore as turning off the television. When evil and avenger come home to the same reunion, the classmates can be left wondering which is which.

We’ll begin developing the characters and story next week.

Thanks for reading!

New WordsmithSix Member – James Barrington


The Saturday Morning Blogger

I am James Barrington, and honored to be the newest addition to the wordsmithsix family.

My wife, Darlene, and I were married in 1973. We have two grown daughters and six grandchildren. Half of them are here in Canyon and the rest are in New England.

With a master’s degree in public administration, I spent 30 years working in local government. Twenty-four of those years were as city manager in three different communities, in Texas, Florida and New Hampshire.

After moving back to Canyon in 2006, I have done photography and news reporting. I retired in 2015 in time to take on “Elder” responsibilities with University Church of Christ and make a trip to Israel in November of that year.

Since then I have been busy with visiting the sick and shut-ins of the church.

Having written five unpublished novels since 1991, I decided to start writing again, as time permitted. With the help of Harry Haines, I’ve begun studying the craft, seeking to improve my fiction writing. Needless you say, I have done a lot of writing over the years in the form of legal documents and memos and letters to government officials. I have been interested in writing fiction since my high school days.

I enjoy writing, just for the sake of writing, but I am beginning to learn that there are “rules” for fiction that are far different from technical writing and journalism. Each style has a different purpose and different rules to help the writer accomplish that purpose.

I have personal Facebook and Twitter accounts: James S. Barrington and @oneJamesopinion respectively. My email account is

With an assignment to contribute the weekly Saturday blog at, I expect I’ll be writing about a variety of subjects. I plan to open with a few thoughts about the novel I’m working on now, with some previews and some of the “before and after” versions I’m learning from my colleagues in our critique group. I’ll probably go off on a few tangents about some of the earlier works I’ve “completed.” I suspect I’ll do some serious editing of some of those works as I learn more of the craft of fiction writing. I personally think I had some good story ideas, but simply fell short on the craft of telling those stories as works of fiction.

Thanks for tuning in to my self-introduction. I always appreciate constructive criticism and ideas for future blogs.