Show, Don’t Tell

The best writing allows the reader to experience the story as the characters do

Every wannabe author hears “Show, don’t tell” until their ears fall off and fly away rather than listen to another dollop of unexplained advice.

Some writing teachers give examples but most often it goes something like this: “Here, this is an example of showing, not telling” with no explanation of what makes something shown and not told.

I mean, we’re dealing with words on paper. We call ourselves (figuratively) Storytellers. How can we share a story without telling.

Ah…let me provide an example much in the vein of Great Opening Lines – and Why!.

 
Here’s a paragraph from Carson McCuller’s The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and an explanation how things are shown (I’ll provide explanations of showing using the methodology I use when ala critiquing someone’s work. First, the paragraph:

Portia read from the Book of Luke. She read slowly, tracing the words with her long, limp finger. The room was still. Doctor Copeland sat on the edge of the group, cracking his knuckles, his eyes wandering from one point to another. The room was very small, the air close and stuffy. The four walls were cluttered with calendars and crudely painted advertisements fro magazines. On the mantel there was a vase of red paper roses. The fire on the hearth burned slowly and the wavering light from the oil lamp made shadows on the wall. Portia read with such slow rhythm that the words slept in Doctor Copeland’s ears and he was drowsy. Karl Marx lay sprawled upon the floor beside the children. Hamilton and Highboy dozed. Only the old man seemed to study the meaning of the words.

Now, what is shown element by element:
Continue reading “Show, Don’t Tell”

Barry Longyear’s “Science Fiction Writer’s Workshop – I: An Introduction to Fiction Mechanics”

A Series of Open Book Exams on Writing, Regardless of Genre

This is another book I picked up years ago during my first round at writing. Longyear signed it and I’d highlighted parts of it so obviously read it before and didn’t remember doing so.

The power of this book is that it’s written from a student’s perspective. Longyear (I’m thrilled to see he’s still active. I lost track of him for several years) puts in the effort to remember his mistakes and the mistakes of others, and show the reader how to correct them. Another strength is the book’s examples – mostly from Longyear himself – with detailed explanations of what’s wrong with them and how to fix them.

 
Each chapter comes complete with an extensive Q&A/Study guide at the end, every answer to which can be found in that chapter or by combining knowledge gained from previous chapters with the current chapter. Anybody remember “Open book exams”? This is one and it’s a wonderful training program.
Continue reading “Barry Longyear’s “Science Fiction Writer’s Workshop – I: An Introduction to Fiction Mechanics””

Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Mar 2019’s Great Opening Lines)

An ever increasing sense of confinement starting with the first line

I wrote in Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Part 3 – Some Great Opening Lines) that I’d share more great opening lines as I found them.

“There was not an inch of room for Lottie and Kezia in the buggy.” – Katherine Mansfield’s Prelude in The Collected Stories of Katherine Mansfield (Wordsworth Classics)
This line is so elegant and simple it’s deceptive. It’s “not an inch of room for”, not “no room for”. “no room for” would be pedestrian, boring and unimaginative. “not an inch of room for” gives us a hint of character, mood, and atmosphere. We are shown the narrator’s attitude towards the environment the moment we start reading.
Continue reading “Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Mar 2019’s Great Opening Lines)”

Backcover Copy

Positioning, Priming, and the Importance of Backcover Copy

A recent Goodreads discussion asked “How do you like your scifi / fantasy?”

I responded “Well written.” A friend responded “Artesian or wishing?” I responded “Ah, to have a thirst for the magical.” Someone else responded, “Either way…DEEP.”

I followed that up with another response. It’s gone. Not sure why it got removed. I launched off the concept of “DEEP” because I’m told my writing is “deep” and “definitely not fluff.” Some readers wonder if I’m capable of writing “fluff.” “Even your short stories are deep.”

Gable Smiled – the first 10 pages, anyway – are being read by a professional actor at Concord’s Hatbox Theater at the end of this month. Part of that process involves having the material evaluated by the producer.

The producer and I talked on the phone, and I received a DOC file with comments; this character wasn’t described, the environment wasn’t described, the background wasn’t described, … These comments confused me. The main characters are described. So is the environment, the background situation, the this, the that. I’ve had many first readers tell me the story’s great, when can they get more, so on and so forth. I’ve also had people tell me they don’t get it, the story makes no sense to them.

And then the producer said “There’s a lack of a reader entry points into the story.”

When in Doubt, Examine the Audience
I had no middle-of-the-road responses. Strange, that.
Continue reading “Backcover Copy”

Character Development

You can’t tell the assholes from the bitches from the idiots from the arrogancia without a scorecard

The image below is of a sign at my gym a few days back. My gym routinely posts “Questions of the Day.” I wish they’d keep a list of the responses because some of them are priceless.

And it occurred to me that such a device would be a good tool for character description purposes, much like how the calendar was used to set a scene in Setting Scenes with Props.

click for larger image

 
Let’s say you want to demonstrate a character who wants to portray themselves as an intellectual, someone knowledgeable:
Emerson read the Question of the Day. “Are you talking just the nucleus or are we including the electron shells?”
Lori shook her head. “I don’t know. I just pick the question from a file. I wouldn’t know the difference between…what did you call it? Shells?”
“It makes a difference.”

We can also show that Emerson doesn’t know what they’re talking about:
Emerson read the Question of the Day. “Are you talking just the nucleus or are we including the electron shells? It makes a difference.”
Lori picked up the sign and read the question. “Not really. It’s asking about atomic mass, not nuclear mass. Even then, the nuclear weights would compare similarly to the atomic weights unless we asked about isotopes for elements side-by-side on the periodic table.”
Emerson’s face flushed. Pam chuckled in the office. She came out and high-fived Lori as Emerson hurried down the stairs.

Continue reading “Character Development”