Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Conflicting Advice

Although I've committed myself to the indie market as a writer, I still read what comes from the traditional houses regarding how to write because one can always learn something useful.  Besides, if I don't think what they're saying is right, I can always ignore it.

A case in point is the continuing assertion that you should always "show, don't tell."  I think this is fine advice...to a point.  The problem is that literary agents and editors in publishing houses want to stick to this like biblical canon with regards to new authors.  I say new authors because some of the more established authors I've read violate this all the damn time.

Yes, you should always paint the picture when you can.  However, there are times when telling helps do that.  You sometimes need to say a character is anxious rather than portraying the beads of sweat rolling down his face or the flips his stomach is doing.  Not only does overdoing the showing aspect increase the size of the book unnecessarily sometimes, but it can also make you look like a pretentious asshole.

Go back and re-read some of your favorite authors.  Stephen King and JK Rowling do a great deal of work in allusion, but they also just come out and flat tell you what is happening sometimes.  If you pay attention, it's not hard to figure out that they do this when they need to get a point across but don't need it to delay the story.

It's okay to say that you're main character is hungry.  It's okay to say that the hero stabbed the villain in the chest.  Intersperse this with more vivid descriptions when applicable, but don't beat yourself up if you don't always tell us that, "Greg ran his blade across the fleshy part of Tyrone's throat.  Blood spilled from the wound, drenching everything in crimson."  There's a time and place for this, but it isn't all the time.

I came to this realization on a plane recently while reading over someone's shoulder(yes, I'm nosy, but I was also inconspicuous).  The man was reading a Jack Reacher novel.  Now, anyone who reads this blog regularly knows of my antipathy for Lee Child.  However, despite what I may think of the man personally, he has great talent and sells a lot of books.  The passages I caught were lean on the showing and long on the telling.  The pages used words like "hungry," "nervous," and "clumsy."  That's because the point of the pages was to focus on the conversation between the characters in order to propel the story rather than on individual emotions - that came later.

It made me understand that too many writers agonize over rewording to eliminate telling when that might not be necessary.  Get your story out there.  Go back and edit some, but don't stress.  If you achieve the effect you're looking for, then don't worry about the doctrine Nazis who will scold you.

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