Monday, July 15, 2019

Sometimes It's Okay to Tell and Not Show

Writers have been hearing about the importance of 'showing' for so long that they've begun to forget the value of 'telling'--of exposition, of summary, of omniscient narration." Robert Masello, Robert's Rules of Writing, Rule 12. Tell, Don't Show

This rule sounds contrary to anything most writers have ever read or been taught.  It's of course important to show everything worth showing, such as dramatic interaction and heated dialogue.  But it is acceptable to tell a few things, too.


Utilize the power of description about surroundings, what's going on inside a character's head, or in the world of your story itself. Masello points out the opening of Dickens A Tale of Two Cities, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."  So if Dickens can do it...

Also, things that don't need to be seen don't need to be shown.  Who wants to read about a heroine getting ready for work? We know she'll shower, style her hair, put on makeup, get dressed, make coffee and eat breakfast.

Only show these things if something important happens to affect the story. Perhaps she slips in the shower and breaks her leg, or spills hot coffee and scalds herself, etc., etc.

Masello mentions something that Elmore Leonard, a master of pacing, once said.  He keeps his books moving briskly along leaving out all the parts readers don't want to read.

Anything in your current WIP that can be told and not shown? Happy writing, and thanks for visiting!

Originally published 3/14/11

Monday, July 8, 2019

Playing it Safe With the Muse

"Of all the ways writers find to waste time, waiting for the muse to show up has to be the most common, and fruitless, of them all."  Robert Masello from Robert's Rules of Writing (Rule 9:  Lose the Muse)

I think "the muse" is good old fashioned imagination--nothing more, nothing less.  And imaginations can create great stories all by themselves, or be inspired by some form of external stimulation.  A talk show topic, news story, conversation, painting or photograph can easily get those creative juices flowing.  And just asking the question "what if?" in any situation can open the door to a fascinating narrative.

Not only do I think of imagination as "the muse," I see it as "the safest muse."  Finding this elusive creature in a bottle or a pill (or a combination of the two) can lead to devastating circumstances.

Unfortunately, many of the greatest American writers were alcoholics.  Several died young from complications due to their addictions, while others committed suicide, or attempted it, often more than once.

Did their addictions enhance their artistic abilities, or was alcohol just used as way to self-medicate from the other problems in their lives?

Here's Listverse.com's Top 15 Alcoholic Writers:

Jack Keroac
15.  Hunter Thompson
14. Raymond Chandler
13.  John Cheever
12.  O. Henry
11.  Tennessee Williams
10.  Dylan Thomas
  9.  Dorothy Parker
  8.  Edgar Allan Poe
  7.  Truman Capote
  6.  Jack Keroac
  5.  William Faulkner
  4.  Charles Bukowski
  3.  F. Scott Fitzgerald
  2.  James Joyce
  1.  Ernest Hemingway

I don't know about you, but based on the lives of some of the aforementioned writers, I think playing it safe with "the muse" can lead to a longer, healthier, happier life!

What do you think?

Thanks for stopping by and have a great week!

Monday, July 1, 2019

Humor: Don't Force the Issue

"When I say humor is a great addition to most any piece, I mean humor that's actually, well...funny."  Robert Masello from Robert's Rules of Writing (Rule 78. Make 'Em Laugh)

Humor is a good way to lighten the mood of a narrative during scenes filled with darkness and intensity, and a nice dose of it is a great addition to any story.  As Masello says, "...it's the leavening agent that can lighten up even the heaviest material."  But not everyone is born with a sense of humor.  So, if humor lacks from the individual, it shouldn't be forced into print.  Whatever is trying to be written as funny by the humorless writer, might come off as sounding stiff and unnatural to the reading, or viewing audience.

F. Scott Fitzgerald was hired as one of many writers to transform Gone With the Wind into a screenplay.  What I just learned recently, from the GWTW But Not Forgotten Facebook Page, was that he was let go because he couldn't make Aunt Pittypat sound funny!  Who can ever forget Aunt Pittypat riding off during the explosions, as the Yankees are approaching to attack Atlanta?  Flabbergasted and flustered she yells, "Uncle Peter, my smelling salts..."

Some people are naturally funny.  Those that are tend to be laid back and don't take themselves too seriously.  They can see the humor even in serious situations, and are usually optimistic.

But it takes more than funny people to make the world go around. Those who aren't funny sometimes tend to be more serious, tense, critical and pessimistic.  If you've ever said to someone (or someone has said to you), "You have no sense of humor," and you've gotten a reaction like this (or you've reacted this way, after angrily slamming down a fist), "I DO SO have a sense of humor,"chances are, that person (or you) may very well not.  But that's okay, not everyone is born with the humor gene.

Now, if you're a funny person and a writer, and you have a humorless friend who's a writer, too, let him know you'd be happy to help infuse a little humor into his narrative, if he's at all interested.  Even if he claims there's plenty of funny stuff he's already written, offer to read it and see if it sounds funny to you.  If someone has to stretch and strain to be funny, and what's written is beyond their "comfort zone," that can be some pretty painful  reading.

Do you or don't you have a sense of humor? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!