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April 30th, 2006, 10:58 AM #31
Aha! It was the poets! I always said if I could, I would hunt down the person who launched "show, don't tell" on the world and now I have a lead! No, just kidding, but it sounds to me like it was all a pr campaign by poets to try and get writers to take poetry workshops and learn how to do imagery. Which is actually telling, by the way. (You don't just describe an image, but tell the reader how the image should be interpreted.)
In most fiction works, about 75% of the narrative is telling, including the telling parts of scenes. For some writers, the ones whose style uses little exposition and description, like Elmore Leonard, that amount is a good bit less. For a few writers -- Gabrielle Garcia Marquez I was amused to find -- it's a bit more. That's why I have my Leonard-Marquez scale. Leonard is actually a literary writer, but the majority of "literary" writers are compulsive tellers, closer to Marquez.
When we had this conversation come up as an old favorite in the Writing Forum, Dawn brought up the distinction as between imagery that simply describes and lets the reader determine what is being described (showing) and imagery that tells the reader specifically what is being described (telling,) the difference being describing a man hammering and letting readers figure out he's building a boat, and showing that the man is hammaring to build a boat. Which was probably the original concept and I thought pretty interesting.
But most editors are talking about scenes. In which there is usually much telling and character inner thoughts, but also action.
May 7th, 2006, 10:21 PM #32
Some poets, KatG, some poets; and some should indeed be hunted down and made to listen for hours to their poems with special Vogon poetry appreciator headsets... I disapprove of workshops, have never done them myself, though to be fair I have taught some when offered money to do so. But at least I never say "show, don't tell".
Believe me Gary, in poetry nothing is obvious....
Thanks Dawnstorm - McLeish it is, and "not mean, but be". I should have done some googling myself. That poem turns up all the time as a stick to beat poets with. Not that there's not a truth in it, of course. Personally, I believe a proper study of drama (not film) is probably a good place for a novelist to begin thinking about writing. Dostoevsky planned out his novels as plays, in acts and scenes, and it makes them very exciting. Lots of description in Dostoevsky, gorgeous stuff - but the structure makes it move fast.
May 8th, 2006, 08:43 AM #33
Do you think anyone would publish Proust today? Or Isherwood, for that matter?
No, nothing is obvious. But some things make more sense.
May 8th, 2006, 12:47 PM #34
I think Proust would do brilliantly in the current climate, actually. He'd be hailed as the new Pynchon perhaps, for the long sentences, and his invalidism would be an effective marketing hook for the media, as would the autobiographicalness of his work.
Most of the time, editors are not running around aping show, don't tell. They're just after a scene that they think is needed, or a better scene than the author first constructed. The bulk of fiction out there, of all kinds, involves a great deal of telling and exposition, and with less editing going on in general, the books seem to get wordier, not less so. Certainly, the steady increase in the length of fantasy and sf books is not due to an epidemic of showing. (Although showing does take longer.) Most of it is pov characters' inner thoughts and background info.
May 8th, 2006, 06:24 PM #35
...except that a lot of modern writing (including Pynchon) is kind of unimaginable without Proust. I expect he'd be published Gary, but he might well remain basically unknown; it's much harder for innovators to get a look in these days.
May 9th, 2006, 01:51 PM #36
Well yes of course, but Gary was saying what if Proust was coming out now, so we have to pretend he didn't have any influence in the past. But plenty of writers out there are Proustian, though not to the extreme of Pynchon with the superdidooper sentences.
I would say that it's harder for innovators to break out into the bestseller lists, but that's been the case since the 1970's, possibly longer. What is easier for "innovators" and more experimental authors to do these days is gather an audience and a widely based one, and that's due almost entirely to the Web, which not only provides a pr and discovery platform unknown before, but allows small presses to build both regional and national or even international customer bases. The "literary" coffee house community seems to be incredibly well organized and they've been flexing their muscles.
Light telling and heavy telling are both old styles in fiction that are still very common today. Annie Proulx, Geraldine Brooks, Tracy Chevalier, Zadie Smith -- lots of telling. The thriller writers, the stronger stylists tend to be less telling-oriented than the potboilers, but not as minimalist as the real noir ones like Parker and Carl Hiassen. If it's truly noir, it tends to be very sleek in style, with less exposition and very tight character pov. That is, unless it's noir fantasy, in which case all bets are off. Stories that tend to get lumped under ethnic fiction tend to be heavy on the telling side, though it's not standardized at all.
What it gets down to is, are you going to have a scene, and what is going to be the scope/size of the scene and what are going to be the components of the scene. To which there is no one right true answer, thank goodness.
But it's really always a mix. Authors find the balancing point between tell and show at different levels. The confusing bit is that when an editor or critiquer asks for less telling, they might not actually want less telling. They may instead want more emotional content. So it gets a little tricky, especially if they aren't specific.
May 9th, 2006, 02:54 PM #37
Are there any author sites or sites dealing with authors and books that really get a lot of web traffic? I mean a lot! Tons?
May 9th, 2006, 11:07 PM #38
May 10th, 2006, 08:49 AM #39
Yeah that's tons.
Those kinds of numbers could make a difference in sales. In the long run, you really need those amounts for it to have an impact on sales. A thousand more or a thousand less isn't the answer. 10,000 more or less is.
May 10th, 2006, 01:43 PM #40
The lit/contemporary fiction community is much better set up than most other areas of fiction to take advantage of the Web because they were regional-based as much as national-based, unlike the category markets, and so they already had urban networks in place. They were the type of fiction published most by small, regional and university presses, and so had those networks. Their authors are frequently journalists and columnists who work for a broad range of publications, professors who teach and are plugged into academic networks, or artists and poets who have other networks.
On the Web, you've got lit mags like McSweeney's and Salon that spend time on books, you've got sites that cover books in addition to many other mediums, like mediabistro, and you've got book-dedicated sites like Booksquare and the litblog co-op. You've got book review sites and bookselling sites, plus retailers who sell books and the publishers' own sites, large and small, with the smaller presses often having better, more up to date sites. It adds up and everybody's linked to one another.
SFF was also well set-up to take advantage of the Web because of our computer enthusiast fans, and our very active sff community. But category SFF is at a disadvantage because it's always been a national market with limited networks outside of the category. That's changing, though, and there are strong bonds between the lit community and sff, mostly through the non-category authors, and the sff small press movement is helping there.
My husband found this in McSweeney's, written by Teddy Wayne. I won't reprint the whole thing here, as that wouldn't be fair use, but here's a few bits of it I thought relevant to this thread:
FROM JAMES JOYCE'S
SUBMISSION OF ULYSSES
TO HIS CREATIVE-
BY TEDDY WAYNE
Great opening hook, but do you need 96-point Garamond for the S? Kind of feels like you're padding the page count.
Truly felt I got to know Leopold (Poldy?). Nitpicky, logistical question: Is this really how people think?
"Snotgreen" = hyphenated.
Show us how these characters process memory, language, abstractions, and the urban landscape through stream of consciousness, don't just tell us.
Caught some allusions to The Odyssey. Nice.
Balked a bit at some of Molly's "sexier" thoughts, which read like male fantasy. You can do better than this, Jim.
Kick-ass work, JJ, but way too long. Have you considered turning this into a short-short?
May 10th, 2006, 03:04 PM #41
That's priceless! I just got back a long, detailed critique of the first 100 pages of my own book IV. It was very well thought out and in some cases, extremely insightful. Still, much of the critique is similar, though more detailed, than that. I like to tell things. I enjoy explaining and describing, and I love dialogue. For me, dialogue is active, not passive and it reveals so much. I found one particular point interesting: the editor has not read the previous three books in the series (don't ask) and is therefor unfamiliar with the characters. She didn't know after reading a few chapters whether Filaree was male or female. I take that as a compliment. Clearly I don't have any gender bias!!
May 11th, 2006, 01:46 AM #42
Oh KatG, those "worshop" comments are so wickedly accurate... Love the guy catching some "allusions to the Odyssey"...
That's brilliant, Gary, you must be feeling ace-o chuffed!
May 11th, 2006, 02:14 AM #43
That should be a writing exercise: crititique the classics according to workshop rules. Only Hemmingway will remain.
Originally Posted by Gary Wassner
May 11th, 2006, 09:06 AM #44
She's reading only three chapters at a time and she just started. She had no prior knowledge of the series. The chapter with Filaree was not about her. she entered it toward the end. I'd need to reread it myself to see if I said her or she anywhere. I agree, it would be odd if I didn't. But sometimes people take things for granted for whatever reasons. If you use gender neutral names like Tony or Robyn, then it's easier to make that mistake. Filaree though is pretty obviously female, isn't it?
I have to say that this editor is really very good. My first reaction to critiques is usually the same. My knee jerks and hits me in the jaw. Then I go back and re-read the comments. Then I start to work on the text. I rewrote chapter one already last night, and it's far far better now.
She loves my writing and likes what she's read of the story so far. She thinks it could be a great book instead of just a good, midlist book, and so she's very enthusiastic about it. IT just takes so damn much work on my part, and my true love is not editing but writing new things. So I have to put book V on hold and work exclusively on this for a while. Though it's very productive, it doesn't give me the same satisfaction or thrill.
May 11th, 2006, 10:20 AM #45
Oh I don't know. Hemingway does a fair amount of telling. And I'm pretty sure he used adverbs. In many ways, his style is now hopelessly old-fashioned.
But if you look at the modern writers, it's the same mix. When an editor rings the show bell, it means something is coming off flat or under-developed and is a red flag. It just may not be a showing red flag, is all.
Gary, you might want to give your editor a one page plot synopsis of each of the first three books, with the basic plotlines and main characters. This would make it a lot easier for her to follow everything in Book IV, and make more accurate suggestions. You also may not want to put Book V completely on hold. Having something fresh to go work on as a break from editing and revising might be effective. You can make bargains with yourself -- if I rewrite Chpt. 2 of Book IV, I get to write Chpt. 3 of Book V, and so on.