Sunday, March 2, 2008

Writing Lesson, Repetition #316

There are writing lessons I have to relearn with every book or story.

One of them is: Sometimes, if I catch one of my characters telling another character about something dramatic that happened, I have to delete that scene and actually write the scene WHERE THE THING HAPPENED! I learned it again last week when I wrote a little scene where one cowboy tells another that some fence has been cut. But where was the action? Where was the emotion? T'warn't none. So I deleted all that and wrote the scene in which the cut fence is actually discovered by the woman who lives on the ranch . MUCH better. There's surprise happening right there in the moment, and there's the emotion of first-person experience instead of the second-person telling a third person. And because there's true action in that scene, it leads naturally to action and emotion in the next scene.

Sometimes characters have to tell each other things; you can't literally *show* everything, but whenever there's a choice, readers want showing, not telling. And I'll tell you a secret: you're not really a fiction writer untill you can write those scenes--the ones where things happen-- as they happen.

Dear Nancy, Show, don't tell. Duh. Yours truly, Nancy.

32 comments:

Nancy P said...

Busy writing week again, and I'm leaving for Denver on Thursday, weather permitting, and returning on Sunday. I'll be gone a couple of days the following week, too.

Meanwhile, happy Monday to all city mice and country mice!

AndiF said...

Well then, my Monday Picture Post will be all about showing, not telling, what happened when we got warm temps over the weekend.

There was this. [LINK]

And this [LINK]

And then this [LINK]

And even this [LINK]

Yep that's what over the weekend.

FARfetched said...

Still dim here, but those are nice shots, Andi! The last one reminded me of a background screen pattern they had in MacOS around System 7.5 or so.

Hoping to rejoin the fray soon…

Beth said...

Morning, ladies! The last one is my favorite, andi, although they are all quite telling.

It's nice to know even seasoned writers have to remind themselves of the basics. I should have "show, don't tell" tattooed on my forehead. Except then I couldn't see it...

Anyway, thanks for the writing lesson, as I head back into my attempt to tell more of my story this am.

Hope everyone had a great weekend! And a good week ahead.

Rick Bylina said...

Hey, where is the complete list of 316 writing lessons? Sure would be nice to see them all.

rick...running out the door to flunk another couple hundred kids from Florida.

Maria Lima said...

Hola, folks!

Just a brief "good morning" before I scamper off to the salt mines.

Yep, Monday.

paul lamb said...

In my stories, only events that happen in the presence of one or the other of my protagonists are shown. Any other events (those that happen outside their presence or prior to their arrival) have to be told. Of course, aside from glittering narration, the "telling" can be by another character who is telling my protagonists about the event. Thus this telling can be shown to them. In other words, I think some "telling" can be well written enough to stand on its own.

Also, rules are made to be broken.

Kimberly Frost said...

LOL regarding your "Dear Nancy, from Nancy." Sometimes I need to give myself a stern talking to as well. :)

Good morning, everyone.

Conda V. Douglas said...

Ah, a reminder about what my w.g. has started calling "the dreaded tea scene" ala Donald Maass, which goes: "Did you know?" "No, did you know?"

One of my w.g. members once said, early on when we were newbies: "It's in a coffee shop, that doesn't count."

Wrong.

Thanks for the much needed reminder, Nancy.

Nancy P said...

Wow, Andi, thank you! But in that first one? Who took down the Washington Monument?

Nancy P said...

Far, about now probably EVERYthing is reminding you of something to do with ocmputers.


Rick, but it's only a repetition. You sure you want to read 315 earlier iterations of it?

Nancy P said...

The last one is my favorite, andi, although they are all quite telling.

lol! No, no, Beth! They are all quite showing. And may an older forehead offer you a bit of advice? Stamping "Show, Don't Tell," on your forehead could bring out the, er, worst in flashers.

:D

Nancy P said...

Paul, I do think that some telling is good enough to do just fine. But that kind of scene blares: Danger, Nan Robinson to me. Which only means that I make myself check it out to make absolutely sure that it really IS good enough.

Nancy P said...

Hi, Kimberly. Nobody is sterner on us than we are, I'm guessing. I see myself approaching myself with a wagging finger, even now. :)

Conda, "the dreaded tea scene," lol! Was it somebody here who advised against all scenes with conversations in cars? Of course, we know these "rules" can be too arbitrary, but they're handy little red flags. Telephone scenes are my particular weakness. When I write one of those, I know I'm avoiding something. In my last book, I think I let one stay in. You should have seen the number of them before editing. Yuk.

Beth said...

LOL, Nancy! See what happens when I post before breakfast?

As for the tattoo, VERY good point. Maybe I should do it in reverse, so I can look in the mirror and read it.

Or would that make the flashers show me their backsides, instead?

Hmmmm.....

Beth said...

Mine all end up around the kitchen table, drinking coffee. (groan) But at least it's decaf!

Susan Goodwill told me a great story at WRW last year. When she was writing BrigaDOOM, she was looking for a new place to have a conversation, so she sent her characters up on the roof. Where they found holes drilled in it, and an amazing view of Lake Michigan. She didn't know the holes were there, nor the view. She found a new plot twist, and some great description.

Nancy P said...

Beth, lol!

I LOVE that Susan G. story. And the moral of that, to me, is that sometimes we just have to go ahead and write that talking scene--in the car, on the phone, wherever--to see where it goes, or doesn't. For me, those scenes (most of which end up getting tossed) let me think out loud on the page. But oooo, to find holes in the roof and a great view! Nice.

Jen said...

Telephone scenes are my particular weakness. When I write one of those, I know I'm avoiding something.

This made me laugh because I just wrote a chapter comprised entirely of three telephone calls back to back. The purpose of it, though, is to establish the protagonist as having been in a long-lasting mode of avoidance. Finally confronting that avoidance is a primary conflict in the rest of the story, so I think there'd be much less satisfying contrast and character development if I didn't open that way.

In a disclosure that will surprise exactly no one, I break a lot of rules when I write. :)

Nancy P said...

Hey, Jen. Well, yeah, if there's a good reason for doing it, do it.

Anybody reading this--don't get hung up on the idea of rules or no rules. This isn't about conforming for the sake of conforming, or rebelling for the sake of rebelling. This is about writing the strongest, most involving scenes, whatever that may mean. The idea, and the only idea, is to be conscious of what we're doing and to know there are choices to make. Beginners usually don't even know there are choices between, say, showing and telling. They don't know what those are.

In any given scene, what works best? If showing makes it better, then show. If telling is more effective, then tell.

Jen said...

I just thought it was a funny contrast in juxtaposition; I wasn't trying to disagree with you, Nancy, and I hope that's not how my post came across. I wander afield from various accepted norms whenever it feels right but I'm actually very nervous about this making my work unmarketable.

Nancy P said...

No, I know, Jen. I should have made some comment about the fact that it truly is a funny juxtaposition.

I get over-worried about beginners who may glance in here. I don't want them thinking there are rules they have to follow, or get their backs up in resistence to the idea of rules. Unless they're my rules, of course. That would be fine. :)

Beth said...

As one of those sorta-beginners (I'm not sure when I get to shed that label), no worries, Nancy. You do make it clear that rules can be broken, if done correctly. (We did an entire workshop on that last year at WRW.) But you better know what you're doing, and why.

Jen, I love the idea of phone calls creating distance, showing avoidance. I never thought of it that way, and it sounds perfect in that situation.

(Scribbling another rule in the Nancy Book of Not Really Rules But Kinda.)

Beth said...

I didn't mean to ignore you this morning, far - looks like we posted at the same time. Good luck in the fray - come back soon!

Nancy P said...

There are sooo many ways to be a beginner in writing, though I know what you mean, Beth. Every novelist I know feels like one all over again at some point in a new book. There's no "writer" who posts here who seems like a true beginner to me. Everybody's working hard and producing a lot (more than I do, frequently), and everybody's got quite a bit of experience in one form or more by now, including you with the book that is FINISHED and the new one you've started.

Kelly McCullough said...

Hey all,

Drive by today. Got a couple of book proposals that need to get finished after I get the beta draft done and I had big chunks of the plot of those fall in place today. Can't write as fast I need to right now.

TTFN

P.S. Andi, I absolutely love the last of those pictures.

Beth said...

{{{Nancy!!}}}

Good luck and congrats, Kelly! All of that sounds really exciting.

Thanks, Nancy! I don't know that I'll ever feel as though I've learned everything I need to. It's nice to know that even experienced novelists feel that way.

Is a book ever really finished?? :-) I guess once it's on the shelf at B&N...

Jen said...

I get over-worried about beginners who may glance in here.

I understand. It must get very stressful being a role model!

Jen, I love the idea of phone calls creating distance, showing avoidance. I never thought of it that way, and it sounds perfect in that situation.

Thanks, Beth, that helps me feel better about having made that narrative choice. I'm always worried about how things will convey to a reader, and how much of my intended meaning will make it across the gap, I'm sure you can relate. :)

Is a book ever really finished?? :-) I guess once it's on the shelf at B&N...

I read recently over at Paul Lamb's blog (hi Paul!) that John Irving has actually taken a pencil to his bound and published books, and I laughed for at least fifteen minutes because I can so easily see myself doing the same thing.

YAY Kelly! ::waves & grins as you drive by::

boran2 said...

Hi all. It was an especially busy Monday. I'm glad that it's over. I suppose that I could craft a picture rather than talk about it. But that might take a while. ;-)

Beth said...

Boran, your work is a prime example of show, don't tell. Although it probably would take less time to tell us about it!

Hope the rest of your week is less busy.

Nancy P said...

Quck hi to the late boran2. :D

boran2 said...

Hi beth and nancy! < waving >

Nancy P said...

::waving back!::