Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Saying What You Mean

Since getting back into the basics of writing, I've rediscovered the joy I originally took in writing.  We've all heard the meme that you should "show, don't tell."  And for a lot of what we write, this is a perfectly fine piece of advice.  However, if we take this as gospel to never be violated, we find ourselves paralyzed by trying to always adhere to it.

This was my problem for a long time.  I'd become obsessed with showing, to the point where I meandered around everything but the actual meaning of what I wanted to say.  So when I re-read my favorite authors and remembered that they often forewent the showing for actually telling, I was flabbergasted.  Instead of always describing the pain in the belly or the fire in the eyes, they often said their characters were depressed or angry.  It was freeing.

Of course, they don't always do this, but they don't obsess over the description to the detriment of moving the story along.  There are plenty of times when you need a more nuanced description so that the reader feels what you want them to, but sometimes you just need to briefly set the mood so that you can get back into the action.

This was where I went wrong.  Now that I'm back to writing the prequel to Homecoming, I'm using this old news with new vigor.  The main character deals with indescribable loss at the beginning of the book, and it springboards him into becoming the iconic figure he later grows into.  Showing his pain is an essential part of the story, but I've found that I don't always have to have him re-live it to advance the plot.  In fact, doing so all the time often slows the pace to an unacceptable level.

Therefore, I've concentrated on showing the depths of his pain only when necessary to set the overall mood.  As he moves along, there are some fleeting references to it, but it's much less flowery and more into "he still feels grief."  There was a time I spoke of his newfound fire in the belly and thirst for revenge, but now that such a thing has been established, I only refer to his rage, and even though only sparingly.

Showing is essential to what we need to do as writers, but overly obsessing about it shows readers all scene and no action.  It leads to exactly the kind of elitism most folks despise in arteests, so it must be carefully avoided.  Now that I'm back to helping such things set the mood rather than become the story, I can advance at a pace I enjoy, rather than one haute culture demands.

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