In the world of writing one phrase is used more often than any other when one author is giving advice on how to write: Show, Don’t Tell.
There are so many posts and blogs about this topic that it staggers the mind. And look, I just added to the pile! I digress. Somone just posted a question on how to “show, don’t tell” on Reddit. I rolled my eyes. Why? A ten second Google effort would answer the question, but clearly, this Redditor is looking for Karma. Nonetheless, I clicked and went to the post. Why? I wanted to see what humorous comments I would find. One of those comments had a link. I hovered, wondering if this was going to be a risky click, and clicked.
I was taken to perhaps the best description of Show Don’t Tell I have ever read. Here’s the link (not risky at all, trust me): Nuts and Bolts: “Thought” Verbs. Still not sure you want to click it? What if I told you the essay on that page was written by Chuck Palahniuk, author of the novel Fight Club? I’ll wait here until you get back.
Back? See? What did I tell you? Brilliant.
By the way, if that has you excited about writing I encourage you to go read Passive vs Active Voice articles. And if that excites you, then I challenge you to go through anything you’ve written and delete the word “that” out of your sentences. Try it. It will improve your writing quite noticeably. Sometimes you can’t remove it. Like in this paragraph.
All-in-all a wonderful essay by Mr. Palahniuk. So happy I read this just before I started the second draft of Freamhaigh.
Every now and then I find someone who wants to read my novels to provide a review or feedback. I love people like that because it makes my novels better in the end. However, every time I email out my novels I have that sense of trepidation. That fear of failure. Will they hate it? Will they rip my writing apart? OMG, what do I do if they do?
And every now and then I read a novel for someone else. I’ve been lucky 4 out of 5 times and they have been lovely experiences. You know who you are – thank you for your wonderful worlds you let me see first. I love seeing other author’s styles. To see how they get dialogue just right and so believable. Sometimes I wish I could write like those people.
Writing is an art. It takes a certain level of talent. My daughter can paint the most wonderful scenes, for example. Me? I have no talent for paint and canvass. Nope. So I stay away from painting and admire the work of others.
Some authors are like me trying to paint. The intent is there, but the final execution misses the mark. 1 out of 5 novels I read makes me feel very sad inside. I dread providing feedback to authors whose writing is just not very good. “Good” to MY standard, mind you. It is all so subjective, isn’t it? But, I have to write a reply to these people and try to explain why I didn’t like their novel. It leaves me drained and emotionally in turmoil. I am far too empathetic. I put myself in the other person’s shoes and I HATE myself for the words I say. I believe in honesty and so I deliver it as best as I can and try to remove the sting. I don’t always manage to do that right. But always I don’t want the person to stop writing. Least of all, because of my comments. I couldn’t bear that.
If I have given someone negative feedback, I know you probably hate me. I hate me too when I have to be brutally honest. Sorry. But please keep writing.
“Strange fascinations fascinate me
Ah, changes are takin’
The pace I’m goin’ through.”
David Bowie from “Changes”
So, I announced my retirement from the Royal Canadian Navy. I am changing my life, once again. I am transitioning to a civilian life but still working for the RCN. I couldn’t be happier. Change is merely a transition.
I have also transitioned as an author. It’s a subtle thing but the more you write the better you get and at points you can look back and wonder how you managed to get to the next plateau. I read posts from new authors, each struggling to find their way, and remember with a shudder going through those same pains and tribulations. I’m on a new plateau at the moment and it’s a wonderful view.
Then I look up and see all the other plateaus above me. It’s such a climb. But it’s worth it. The view gets better.
Musing: I’m not sure how many people see an author and think “that person is an artist.” Do they instead only think of musicians, painters, and sculptors as artists? Well, I think of myself as an artist. I always have, whether I was writing software or writing novels. Or even playing on my piano.
Writing is such a joy and expression of creativity. I marvel at the wonder of putting words together that illicit a stirring of emotion. You can write a sentence a hundred ways, much like you can paint a flower a hundred ways. It is writing that sentence until it is just right that brings joy to a writer. At least for me. Words are power. This civilisation of ours is a thin veneer of laws and beliefs that protect us from the underlying chaos. Some words make us stronger while others try to tear us down. Choose your words carefully. Try and make the world a better place.
“Turn and face the strange
There’s gonna have to be a different man
Time may change me
But I can’t trace time.”
David Bowie from “Changes”.
Today is the first day of 2018. Please take a moment to reflect back on what a year 2017 was. I think we can all agree it was one for the history books. I honestly have feelings of trepidation looking forward to 2018. The world is unstable and we have people of horrible character in charge seemingly oblivious to the negative rhetoric they foster. Sabre rattling is non-stop and we have rulers who openly embrace methods that most well-educated people and people who value tolerance shun. We all feel so helpless watching these machinations. These days anger rules reason and hatred rules compassion.
Enough of that. We should be more hopeful.
I hope everyone had a wonderful Yule. It’s a time for family and friends and reflection. ‘Mother’s Night’ has a long tradition in Anglo-Saxon lore and was borrowed by Christianity for Christmas. It is a midwinter night where we gather to feast and celebrate. The sun will hang a little longer in the sky and with it comes hope.
Be kind to this home of ours floating in space. Weather patterns are getting worse and worse. Gaea warns us. Stay safe and keep reading. Reading brings knowledge. Scientific method validates knowledge and lifts us out of ignorance. Fight those who would strip knowledge and science. And as always: embrace life.
Happy New Year!