Monday, July 24, 2006

Of Frying Pans and Fires


Clearly an over-achiever, Miss Write, has taken on yet another responsibility as an editor at Chippewa Publishing LLC.

In a recent post she comments on the tell, not show beginner's syndrome that bedevils editors who prefer the show, not tell.

I'm always keen to read this sort of advice from different sources because the individual expression of that advice can drive the point home in ways previous descriptions by other authorities may not.
Basic review is never, ever amiss, btw. One can get lazy without realizing it.
In addition, such remarks can trigger further examination of related problems.
How many times have you read a story where the writer proudly avoids the tell by show - and delivers a cliche?
Rather than telling s/he was hot and sweaty, they show "damp tendrils clung to his/her brow."
I'm always tempted to pull mine out about then.
Somehow there's seldom any description how sweaty/hot can make one's head itch or how hot 'n sweaty produces knots and tangles in the hair at the nape of one's neck. Or runs into the eyes and stings and burns.

Tami also mentions one of the very best methods - at least to my mind - of avoiding the tell: Have another character or successive characters make the necessary observations.
Nevertheless, we often read of perspiration-damp tops outlining her perky/full/be-nippled mammaries or his manly/muscled/god-like chest.
Hubba-hubba. Not much over-used, is it?
Almost makes one yearn for heat-rash and crotch-rot to afflict the character(s) in question.
Naturally, being of of a recidivistic turn of mind, I wondered if one could on occasion get away with tell, not show...

It was hot. Sizzling hot. Hotter 'n hell. She had the urge to break an egg on the sidewalk just to see if the thing actually would fry.

Yep. It's hot here, too. Fried my brain.

BTW: Bonnie is still in Maass production. Lots of good stuff there, too.
AND: Flood has up another in her Monday interview series.

25 comments:

Flood said...

I have to write about someone with crotch-rot now. You definately inspired me today!

Congratulations to Tami.

EA Monroe said...

An excellent post by Flogging the Quill on Show Don't Tell and easy to understand. I hope the link works. If not it's in his archives on writing.

http://www.floggingthequill.com/flogging_the_quill/2006/week6/index.html

Thanks for your posts on you-know-what! ;-) You should do one on the overused "verbs."

Ric said...

Excellent example, Bernita. - so good that it doesn't sound like 'tell' - has action, etc.

I think this concept is one of the hardest for writers to get right. In my head, I know what information I want to convey, so I simply write it down - ie tell the reader. Then you have go back through and 'show'.

EA Monroe said...

I copied the link and pasted it, so even though it disappears in the comment, it took me to the article.

Bernita said...

Eeek, Flood.
Just because some things impel me towards the crude and vulgar, doesn't mean you have to follow through, you know.
Oh damn, forgot the Interview. Will fix that.

Yep, EA, Ray does some good stuff - both showing and telling.
On what? Sex? Not a four-letter word.
What sort of verbs? Any particular context?

Thank you, Ric.
I, for one, think you do an excellent job on "showing" - an accumulation of subtle,simple actions that show complexities beyond any brief "tell."

jason evans said...

You're right, seasoning with a little "tell" adds flavor. You can't "show" every single element. Once in a while, the reader needs a break.

MissWrite said...

Bernita, you are a true gem. And thank you for the plug. LOL

Honestly though, as bad as cliches get, I'd much prefer that to 'She felt tired' etc. I had a manuscript pass my desk (very quickly I might add) that had the word 'felt' TWENTY TWO times on ONE page. OH, and did I mention it was the first page? I wanted to cry. It is amazing I have any hair left at all.

Bernita said...

I hope so, Jason, or I'm in deep, deep doo-doo.

Hee, Tami, had the feeling you'd just read something like that

kmfrontain said...

Oh, I giggled when you mentioned loss of hair, Tami. Very apt way of describing the disbelief that comes of receiving a submission "very not ready" for publishing. But they can't see it, these writers. It's like the singers on that stupid show I hate. What is it now? American Idol. That's it. These writers haven't realized yet they're writing off-key, so to speak. It's like those singers that believe they have the perfect voice. I feel sorry for them, when I'm done pulling out my hair. And now that you brought this up, you and Bernita, I realize this was one of the reasons I rejected a sub recently. It was an uber tell sub.

Well. I don't always look at the mechanics when I read something, because I'm looking for a good punch to my reader's gut first off, but now that my nose has been dipped into the poo, I'll remember the stench better. ;-)

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Thatnks for the shout-out Bernita...

It was hot. Sizzling hot. Hotter 'n hell. She had the urge to break an egg on the sidewalk just to see if the thing actually would fry.

As newbie writers do you think we could get away with this kind of statement? It's got a lot of cliches in it. Aren't we supposed to avoid them?

MissWrite said...

Has anyone else had a problem posting comments in the last 1/2 hour or so? I tried twice to respond and it kept eating it. ARGH.

KM-Get your nose outta that! It stinks. What's really sad is that these manuscripts get into the slush because the writer has somehow managed to produce an enticing query letter. It gets pulled out of the slush because they have also managed to create a synopsis (there is that evil word again) that promises a decent plot, yet they fail to deliver in the actual manuscript.

What's even more disheartening is that these are COMMON things that have article upon article written about them. Things that are easily researched. And yes, KM, you are very correct, the writers just don't realize they are singing off key.

MissWrite said...

Bonnie-As I said a little earlier, I can stomach the occassional cliche, especially if it is done with some flair, a lot more than I can stomach flat, unimaginative writing.

That said, I certainly do not want to see it on every line, in every paragraph, or on every page any more than I want to see telling.

I sure wouldn't throw out a manuscript if it occassionally told something. Sometimes it goes in line with the rythym of the piece and adds to it. But if it is just a matter of lazy writing, and is everywhere on the pages, then it hits the round file box really fast.

Bernita said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bernita said...

Yes, Tami.
Blogger is boogering again.

Eh, Bonnie, to amplify on what Tami said, it depends on where, when and how.
These cliches are not standard exposition.
It's from a close third POV.
Every character does not observe and assess their environment in original, creative terms.

Candice Gilmer said...

I can't poke fun at some of those things, because I've done it all. I know I have.

It's taken years of practice and work, but I'm getting better.

I should be, anyway, my first book is coming out! Yeah! ((happy dance)) And as far as I can remember, there are no "sweaty, lined breasts," or the word "felt" isn't on page one 20 times. :)

EA Monroe said...

Ah heck, Bernita, my attempt at humor failed -- too early on a Monday morning. I was just trying to avoid restirring the Sex Pot, especially on Show & Tell Day.

For what's its worth, for me too many adjectives "tell" more than "show" and do not evoke powerful associations, especially adjectives like mysterious, awe inspiring, unique, picturesque. Or too many hyphenated adjectives that could be one word, or serial adjectives. Or abstract abjectives that give an opinion (pitiful, atrocious) rather than a "concrete" visual description that lets the reader experience the scene for themselves.

Another -- drab or weak linking verbs, like Tami's "he/she felt," and seems, feels, appears, thinks, looks, smells, tastes, saw, heard, plus lots more. Time to use MSWord's, Find (search & destroy) function and rewrite.

kmfrontain said...

On the other hand, she says whilst being a wicked little devil's advocate, there are times you wanna just skim a bit and tell the reader what's what. It's an overuse of tell that kills a story, not minor bits here and there that are used for quickly getting to parts where you want to show.

Anthony J. Rapino said...

Thanks for thekind words at Flood's, and thanks for plugging the interview.

-Tony

Dakota Knight said...

I've been struggling with the whole show, not tell thing in my writing. I didn't notice how much I did it until I had to give critiques during a recent workshop. Bernita, I learn something new everytime I visit. Thanks a bunch!!!

S. W. Vaughn said...

What be this "show don't tell" business? Is that one o' them there insider-type secrets, like the handshake?

:-)

You're right, Bernita -- it's good to both refresh the memory and get a different viewpoint. Thanks for the links!

(BTW, about that little snippet you have up: as a reader, I like that sort of thing in a good, smart, occasionally laugh-out-loud romance. I don't even notice the cliches.)

Bernita said...

Sorry I've been retarded more than usual this morning.

Perfection would be no fun at all, Candice.

Those are good points, EA, on expositional expansion - particularly with the editorial adjectives.
Like, Karen though, I think it's the over-use of words like "felt, smell," etc.
They are basic and we need them in places, sometimes just as beidges or to add a bit of minor but necessary scene building.
~looking at her "She felt like throwing up..." and deciding to leave it~

Tony, you're welcome. It was a thoroughly delightful interview.

Thank you, Dakota. Truly, I think many of us struggle with it.

Sonya, thank you.So much depends on context, and no rule is absolute.

M.E Ellis said...

I can relate to Candice with the word 'felt'. I just had to change about 20 of those in one of my WIP's. I didn't even notice them, my editor did - thank Gawd!

:o)

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