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Saturday, January 20, 2007

A Discussion of Changes - "Show, Don't Tell"

Firstly, some notes of changes you might have noticed in the blog itself.

1. Chapter Quick Links: Mr. Bramage, my never failing and unrelentingly supportive fan that tells me how much he loves my work in comments (which I greatly appreciate by the way) had asked me a while back to put back links to previous chapters for quick reference. Well, now I have changed that entirely and put up an actual table in the side bar that will have all the links to all the chapters. Right now I have it set at 20 chapters simply because I haven't the foggiest of how long this story will be and that seems like a rather modest, if not under-anticipated chapter goal.

2. Novel Progress: A new interesting feature spawned from looking at all those nifty NaNo sites floating about. NaNo offers a little widget you can put on your blog or website that will show your progress in your attempt to write a novel in 30 days. I loved this idea simply because it gives me an interesting marker for people to see where I'm at. So, I put one up. It's not from NaNo, simply because I can't use one of theirs since I'm not doing this for that project. However, it will be tracking my progress in this endeavor with an expected goal of 180,000 words, which is quite a lot if you ask me. Whether I will miss that mark or cross it depends entirely on how this story goes. Nevertheless, it's there for you all to take a gander.
3. Copyright Info: It occurred to me that, although my work is technically protected by copyright law, I should put up some sort of copyright just as an added protection. No, I don't hold a patent or some such, and nobody can on a work of fiction simply because it's not a commodity that can be traded, however it is a warning to those that might potentially steal from me (for what reasons I will never know simply because it seems silly to steal from an unpublished author).

Alright, so now that that is out of the way. I thought I would have a short discussion on that infamous "Show, Don't Tell" rule, a rule which I am sure I have broken more than a dozen times in the span of these last 37,000 words.

This is, and probably always will be, one of those rules that everyone tells you that you have to follow strictly, yet, nobody really ever does. There are hundreds of published authors who 'tell' rather than 'show'. Why have we become so infatuated with this rule then? Because every single major publisher, editor, agent, and author has repeatedly crammed this rule into our heads for reasons I'm not entirely sure of.
Now, as a rule, you should follow "Show, Don't Tell", since obviously having an entire story of 'tell' would be absurd. But there are times when you can get away with it. Take for instance parts of a story where 'showing' would simply drag down the pace. Why bother having your character showing you why something is a certain when, when you can tell it in a single sentence.
Of course you'll not want to do this all the time, but if you come to a point where telling would simply make things simpler and keep your pace constant, then just tell. Let's look at some famous authors who don't exactly follow the rule.
Tolkien: We are mostly all familiar with his work, or should be, not necessarily because he is a fantastic writer (which he isn't by the way), but because his work was the dawn of an entire era of fantasy writers. His work is littered with telling. He tells you about EVERYTHING in the world of Middle Earth and doesn't use a lot of time to really show you much of what is going on. Take some of the big battle scenes that were glorified in the movie adaptations. The siege of Isengard is 'told' to us after it had already happened, for an example.
Diane Duane: I've recently become a fan of her work and while she sticks to the "Show, Don't Tell" rule more than writers like Tolkien, there are parts where she breaks away. Mostly this occurs when she refers to tidbits of information on the characters and things in their lives. Nevertheless, she breaks away from the rule on occasion, and, well, it works. I've been blowing through her novels so quickly I'm almost done with them.
John Connolly: I just recently read his novel The Book of Lost Things, a book which I recommend anyone to read. It is a thrilling retake on all those 'other world' stories involving fairy tales. There are several parts of his book where he has characters 'tell' you stories. Because his novel is designed somewhat as a twisted world of pre-existing fairy tales, there are points where certain characters (the Woodsman for example) actually tell you 'tales' that are relevant to whatever is going on. These are telling sections, and there is no way around it, however, they work. They draw you in, keep you interested, and altogether keep the pace of the story very smooth.
Those are just a few authors, and there's bound to be hundreds more (Paolini is an example, who is very adept at 'telling' us things, and despite what many may say about his work, he has gained critical acclaim).
So, should you start telling all the time? Of course not. That would lead to utter garbage, and we all know that it is nearly impossible to sell garbage, although I have to say that there are some novels out there that could be classified as garbage. You should always follow this rule, but you should also realize that breaking it isn't really that big of a deal, so long as you don't 'always' break it. This isn't to say that we aren't prone to making mistakes, something of which I am by far nowhere near above. I'm not an expert in the writing field, but I read quite a lot and realize how flimsy some rules are. I am lucky enough to say I have been published once in a College Literary Journal, which I am also capable of realizing is no marker of being an expert in the field, and in face I would say that now I look back on that writing and see the many mistakes that I would avoid in my editing these days.

So, the moral of this long winded tale is this: "Show, Don't Tell" is a rule you should follow, but don't be afraid to bend the rules a little bit, because after all there are so many writers who are making a living writing that do exactly just that.

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  1. Anonymous5:14 PM

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Thanks for stopping by mah blog!
    That word counter you have is wonderful - nicely done!

  3. Thanks for the advice.