This is my penultimate post here at the ‘Mus. It’s like leaving Neverland. Just when you’ve figured out the lost boys and the ticking alligator and the pirates who don’t seem to pirate anything, you are exiled forever for reasons you can’t quite grasp except as a kind of vague feeling you’ve done something wrong. Okay, maybe I don’t really get Neverland.
In my defense, these are some of the image results for “Neverland” and “Peter Pan.”
***Fun Fact: There’s this Peter Pan comic book at my grandma’s house, and you know how Peter’s usually played by a lady in the musical, right? So there he is on the cover — drawn — and they’ve drawn his boobs in. WHY DID THEY DO THAT? The singing ladies use tight wraps and loose clothing and all kinds of Theatre Magic to appear boyish, and the comics people then go and draw the boobs in anyway, like really obviously? Anyway, no I don’t have the image to show you because it apparently doesn’t exist on the internet, but I’ll take a picture for my ultimate post and then we can all feel various feelings together.***
So. The bones of this post were originally intended for another blog, wholesome and child-friendly, where I’m making a guest appearance to talk about writing. But the post I was working on for this blog involves me reading reviews of my book, and the longer I can put that off, the better, kind of like doing taxes. No, it doesn’t matter if they’re good reviews or bad reviews. It’s like — okay, that’s all going in the ultimate post.
Anyhoo. Writing. We all have our struggles with Craft (I like to capitalize it and pronounce it “krahhhft”), and the stretch between contract and launch is the perfect time for those struggles to be brought into painful relief. My personal source of pain, were I to get it tattooed across my forehead, is:
.llet t’nod ,wohS
I’m sure a lot of writers get to the point where we just want to have the bloody thing inked, waiting to greet us with its pithy, self-righteous wisdom in the bathroom mirror every morning.
“Never say, ‘She was happy,’” our forehead tattoo will remind us. “Say, ‘She danced through the junkyard like a smiling, dancing, sparkle rainbow conspiracy-theorist fairy, the sparkling rainbows of spilled gasoline reflecting off her tinfoil hat.’”
Okay. But, you know, sometimes we should tell also.
“NEVER!” shouts our forehead tattoo. “Go write out Moby-Dick longhand and think about what you’ve done!”
(This is why we SHOULD NOT get the forehead tattoo.)
***Fun Fact: TALKER 25 IS COMING.***
OK, so readers need to make connections themselves, it’s true. It’s annoying when a book makes you want to shout, “Okay, he misses his freaking dead father! I GET IT ALREADY!”
But sometimes we — and by “we” I mean, specifically, I — end up writing for psychic readers.
Anyone who’s read E. L. James can tell you there’s a fine line between a feather and a battle-axe. (I haven’t read E. L. James, which is why my Night Elf Warrior totally sucks.) I am so afraid of hitting readers over the head that sometimes I’m not even in the same zip code as them. In my WIP, for instance, I’ve got these beasts of burden. They lope around, they carry stuff, people ride them, and they have feathers. Because they’re birds. Birds have feathers. But that wasn’t clear. I needed to say they are birds.
Now that’s not to say that Show Don’t Tell is one (actually two, for some reason) of the ten worst pieces of writing advice you can receive, as asserted by a listicle that’s been making the rounds this week. It’s good advice. It’s just that telling has these specific times when it’s appropriate, so it’s more like Show And Tell.
I asked my mum what her thoughts were on this, and she tossed me a book she wrote on memoir. It was a special moment.
So here are some guidelines on showing and telling, based partially on my mum’s book and partially on what my spirit animal intimated to me (it’s either a bear or an eagle depending on which Internet quiz you believe).
Show when you’re in the moment. When the story is happening.
Show one specific instance of a repeated thing rather than montaging, “This thing would happen occasionally.”
Tell information that enhances the reader’s understanding of the moment you’re showing.
Neither show nor tell actions or information the reader can infer on her own.