Diatribing Show-n-Tell — My opinion on writing

Karl C. Klein, today’s guest blogger and the author of Unnatural Girl, soon to be published by Second Wind Publishing, has consented to show and tell his views on writing:

I’m new to writing. I don’t have the benefit of a formal education. I’ve not been writing since before I born, having grabbed the doctor’s pen soon after sliding into the world, scribing some Hemingway-ese prose on my swaddling blanket.

I’m a newbie, a neophyte, a rookie, a babe, a novitiate, a novice, newcomer, fledgling, tenderfoot and a greenhorn.

I’m wet behind the ears.

I’ve been reading many critiques over the past couple years to the point where my teeth want to turn around in my head and eat my brain. (Normally I say “until my eyes bleed,” but since I’m going to climb all over cliches, I thought I’d use something fresh).

If we feel the need to suggest that someone not ‘tell’ but rather ‘show’ his or her story, he or she is not to have clue what we’re talking about. (Remember, I’m a neophyte, an outsider who doesn’t know the jargon.)

“Critics too often forget they’re supposed to help, not hurt.” Lewis Black, from his book.

“Show not tell” has become a cliche, something else a writer should avoid. On some critiques, I can see the critic with her chin raised, slashing at the air like swatting flies.

I have never in any of my critiques used the expressing in any way: “show not tell,” or in any form.

I think the writer, when told something like this, should ask: “Why?” and get a better answer than: “Agents and Publishers say so.” We can and should ask why if we don’t understand and we should demand an answer.

Here’s my general advice to writers seeking their voice (when we begin writing, that’s what we do in a long, painful process — we seek our voice, which is not to be mistaken with the generic voice ‘agents and publishers’ would like to mold their writers)

This applies to third person, but much to first person, too.

Let me get this out of the way:

Don’t preach — ever. If you want to make some spiritual, religious or social point, write an essay. It’s fine for your characters to have a point of view, but keep it real. (Which is not to say the story shouldn’t make a point — even my parabolic stories look like the message is incidental).

(here’s the show and tell in a way that’s easily understood):

Let your characters tell the story. In third person, I don’t want to hear nothing from the narrator. No opinions and no hyperbole. Nothing will set my teeth on edge quicker than in 3rd person the narrator stating: “She was beautiful!”

I think in the million and a half words I’ve committed to manuscript, I’ve used ten exclamations marks. Again, ‘showing.’

If you unfurl your scene clear and sharp, the characters should show the reader everything the reader needs to know without ‘stage direction’ (telling) or what I call “movie scripting.”

I say it this way: Have faith in your reader.

1) Don’t preach
2) Let the characters tell the story
3) Have faith in the reader
4) Avoid movie scripting
5) Avoid wordiness
6) Don’t default (assuming stereotypes as universal concepts)

John walked into the room, approached the table, greeted Sally and sat on the chair. Sally greeted him back and asked if he’d had breakfast. John wasn’t one for breakfast, but knew it was polite to accept something offered. He told her no. She asked if he wanted eggs.

“Hi, Sally.” John dropped to the chair.
“Good morning. Had breakfast?”
“Love ’em?”
“How do you like them?”
“Hell, I like ’em fine!.”

There’s a best kept secret rule in writing:.

Only one point-OH-view per paragraph. If you keep this rule in mind, you can cut out 96% of your ‘saids, asks, questioned,’ etc. Why do you wish to do that? I’m glad you asked.

If you look at the dialog above, you that see no ‘saids’ are needed. The quotes indicate direct speech and the way I laid this out, it’s obvious who’s saying what. Said’s would merely be wordy and get in the way. When reading, MOST people skip them anyway.

next line:

Sally got up from her chair.

“from her chair” is wordy. We can have faith in the reader to know she was sitting on a chair.

Sally stood.

When I do a critique, if I find the writing heavy with movie scripting, I’ll copy-n-paste a few paragraphs and mark in red what I find wrong, then rewrite the section, explaining each suggestion and why I feel it makes the writing better.

Needless to say, I invest a great deal of time in my critiques.

Good writers work in groups. Great writers work alone.


Critiquing: How to Critique Another Writer’s Story

Kim Smith, today’s guest blogger, is the author of Avenging Angel, a Shannon Wallace Mystery coming soon from Enspiren Press. Smith writes:

So you are going to critique another writer’s story? How do you feel about this?

Do you feel you have the ability to be non-personal, and give them the sort of information they will need to be a better writer? Or do you worry that you may say something that will turn them against writing for all time? It’s okay to feel all of this. Hopefully by the end of this article you will believe you can do this critique thing with no fear, or worry. 

A good first question to ask is why am I doing this? 

We all as writers need someone to look at our work and give it an overall opinion as to whether it is good or not. We all need improvement, and a helpful crit can get us to the next level with our writing.

Critting also helps the critter, too. You have an easier time seeing your own little problems when you correctly find it in another’s work. And oh yes, we all have issues. 

Of course, you want to keep your critique along the lines of helpful

A negative critique should always be directed toward the writing, not the author. Leave your personal attitude at the door, people. I mean no one wants a sarcastic, nasty crit that smacks of personal attack. No room for that at the table, not even when trying to make a valid point. It should rest with the author as to whether your advice is taken. So, in essence, critique as you would have them critique you. 

Now of course, the writer also plays a part in the critiquing effort, and that is, he or she should be willing and able to accept the critique offered.

Listen, this critiquer is giving you all of his or her knowledge, maybe your book DOES need the change. Don’t toss the baby out with the bathwater. 

How you go about giving a critique is as individual as the books are.

You can do a complete read through and go back and make comments. You can do a line-by-line as you read, and you can always combine those two, or come up with your own method. No one cares HOW you do it as much as the fact that it is useful and correct. 

Correctness is a matter to consider also, critiquers.

You must research your own opinions, too. Google that historical fact, make sure it is accurate. One time I had written something about a “red-light district” in a Civil War novel. Of course, that would have been completely impossible, because electric lights such as I had implied didn’t exist yet,. and my critters called me on it. 

Finally, think through your critique and put it into a good format for your writer.

If they need a line number to go to or a chapter place to go to, put it in the crit so they can find where you are telling them the problem is. A writer sometimes cannot see the forest for the trees, so it is good to have reference points. 

I hope this has helped you in your efforts to give and receive a critique of your work.

“Critiquing” by Kim Smith ©2008