I read about my craft regularly. While I’m pleased with my progress over the last year, I am in no way anything other than a noob at this gig, and I don’t pretend otherwise.
Another writer brought this site to my attention – Ursula K. LeGuin did a Q&A blog where she answers questions about craft. How fabulous is that???? You can find it here:
You need need need to read the entire fifty questions. She is just marvelous.
One of the questions I really liked was about Show vs Tell. I hear the groans now. We ALL know that phrase, have said it, have heard it in regards to our own work. I personally am quite familiar with it. I rarely meet exposition I don’t like. But I think this question, and the answer, are a wonderful way to approach it. It’s something I’m finding now that I am three works in. Sometimes, you gotta tell. Because it’s a story, and you’re telling it.
Paige: I have been writing fiction (fantasy, light sci-fi) for several years now, and my question is the age old one about showing not telling. My narrator is telling his story through a journal that shuffles back and forth in time. How can he tell his story without “telling” as much as showing? Thank you for any advice or guidance you can offer.
UKL: No matter what sacred laws the Moseses of the Iowa School of Writing handed down on their stone tablets, the fact is, stories are not shown, but told.
Movies show stories, graphic novels (partly) show stories, but we story-tellers tell them.
“Show don’t tell” is good advice for beginning writers, and for preachy writers. And it reminds us all not to lose the onward pace of our narrative among infodumps.
But if your narrator has a complicated story to tell, let him tell it. Let it be as concrete, as visual, as vivid as possible, of course. Keep it always moving forward (or in your case, sometimes backward!) — in any case, moving.
Showing can be quite static, after all; but telling always involves moving on.
There you have it. From a pro’s pro. (Or is that prose pro? LOL, not enough sleep last night!)
There’s also this tidbit, which I 110% subscribe to.
UKL: How can you judge how well the first page of a story works until you’ve done a first draft of the whole story? There’s no way you can tell until the whole thing is, however roughly, there.
And then, more often than not, you find the first page, the first several pages, are just throat-clearings. Necessary preliminaries. Clearing stuff out of the way. Circling around, nose to ground… till finally you pick up the scent and you’re off into your story like a bloodhound on the track.
So then when you revise you throw away the whole beginning.
If you don’t trust me, trust Chekhov. He said you can always throw away the first three pages of a first draft. I didn’t believe him till I tried it.
Goes along with my editor’s recent comment that the first chapter is hell, and then things calm down from there.