Thursday, January 16, 2014

Done! Not Yet...

On the drive home from my critique group meeting, I was considering my blog post for today, and I kept thinking about a comment from one of our members:

"I thought I was done with this story."

To me, that is one of the worst feelings, when you think you have finished something, send it for critique, and even though you expect some changes, you get slammed with comments and are left wondering if you can even salvage the piece.

Most of my submissions have been chapters, so I have always undertaken the rewrite, and the few times I've been through this, it has turned out much for the better.

Tonight it was a short story from our member.  Unfortunately (or fortunately) he had been the only person to submit something for review, so we had all evening to discuss his story and its meaning and the motivation of the characters, et cetera.  And we had a lot to say. 

I hope he does the rewrite, because I really enjoyed the story.  My main concern with the piece was that it contained a lot of exposition and narration.  I threw out the old "telling v. showing" comment.

I personally hate it when I hear that "advice," and for a long time I really struggled with what that comment meant.  Every time I thought I had it figured out, it would pop up in the margin, red or blue ink, glaring at me:  "This is telling."  Or:  "Show me!"

Arghhh!  How????  I am showing you what the person is thinking, or what the person is doing.  What else is there?

Thank God this conundrum became much clearer for me through my creative writing course.  I have sticky notes to remind me when I need it.

Jack Hodgins in A Passion for Narrative says that:

      "To 'show' is to make the reader see, hear, smell, feel, and even taste the story.
       To 'tell,' on the other hand, is to ask the reader to trust your conclusions without
       giving the evidence, and to hope that a secondhand version of events, dealing in
       abstractions and generalizations, will do."  (54).

(I do have other notes, but I can't at this moment find the reference in the book where I got them from, so I will have to save those for another day.)

Basically, "Shawna screamed in Brian's ear and scared him," is telling.

"Shawna crept across the carpet until she was right behind Brian, took a deep breath, and screamed, right in his left ear, 'Gotcha!'" would be showing.  We can figure out from what happened that Brian was scared.

Pretty basic examples here, and it can get muddy, for sure.  I mean, you have to do some telling some of the time.  Usually.

Anyways, I would love your comments on what you know about "showing v. telling."  I'm still learning.  I'm pretty sure I will always be learning ;)

Works Cited

Hodgins, Jack, A Passion for Narrative.  McClelland & Stewart Ltd.  Toronto.  1993.

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