Amazing how in the years of writing my blog, I've never touched on this subject. How did it get skipped? Perhaps because it's spoken about everywhere all the time, so it became one of those obvious things everyone heard about and is therefore sick of. I dunno. Let me try a crack at it and see what you think. Of course it's all about showing and not telling, as we have been told by teachers, writing peers, and all the other smart folk who have written awesome shit and are willing to give out advice. Well, I've written shit too, but not much yet, only on my 3rd novel. I can tell you that it's not so much about show vs tell as it is about you vs your characters. WHAT THE FUCK? You say. WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU TO SAY THAT? I know, just a newbie writer, but bear with me. Let me explain. Okay, here goes.
It's not you who is writing the book, it's your characters. This was hard to realize, because it meant I had to rewrite whole passages in my my current draft. What is it, you wonder? It's life philosophies, the outlooks, the goals, the whatever you want to call it (various sources will call it various things), but basically, it's what your characters want from life, at least from life you carved out for them in your book. It can be as primitive as getting drunk, still, it's a valid goal, and with it comes a certain belief in certain things. Like, for example, in IRKADURA I'm describing one old drunk, a chauvinistic communist to the bone (I've met people like that) and a people hater, he especially hates those who are not Russian. He curses like the lowest motherfucker and calls Jewish people stinking Jews and thieves and other colorful words, claiming that Stalin would've killed them off in no time. On top of it, he is in the hospital where behaves atrociously toward staff, like an old bitter moron. See, this guy has a certain life philosophy, it's not mine, it's his, I've met people like him, they are real, and I wanted to show it. In the past I was afraid to write things like these, thinking I would offend people, until I realized this bit about the characters writing the book and not me. I thought I needed to state things in my books that I believe in as an author, but I was wrong. My goal is to distance myself from the book as far as possible and show my characters' beliefs, to create a story out of it. My own beliefs will be the underlying fabric of the overall theme, but not of the immediate actions, and reactions, and dialogue bits, and all that story stuff. That was scary. Like, I grew up skin color blind, if a term like this exists. Not sure how I managed it, because many people around me hated foreigners for various reasons. I adored them, with a certain wonder. I don't give a fuck if someone's skin is blue, or green, or whatever color. It was always foreign to me, this hate, so I injected that into Irka, the main character from IRKADURA. She's in the hospital, listening to that old moronic idiot yakking her ears off about his hate of this and his hate of that. In this context, I'm SHOWING the story through the actions and dialogue of the characters, not TELLING, see? What I did before, I TOLD, describing how in Russia many people would be openly chauvinistic, and why, and where it originated. I cut it all out and replaced it with short episodes like the one described above.
Write in this fashion: noun, verb, noun, verb, and that is all you do. So. I'm the guilty one here of taking this SHOW VS TELL stuff and applying it to SIREN SUICIDES literally. Like, I described everything in such detail, that to some extent it bogged down the story. I thought I needed to "show". Yeah, right, I didn't fully understand what it meant. But what it really means is this, you move the story forward, that's all you do. I repeat, that is all you do. Got it? Let me repeat it one more time, to drive the idea home. The only thing you do is you move the story forward. And you do it very simply, as in, noun, verb, noun, verb. Forget about adjectives, forget about descriptions, forget about everything. TELL THE FUCKING STORY. Here. A bum woke up in a puddle of cold piss. He sat up, looked at the empty bottle of vodka. "Fuckin' waste..." He kicked it and spat, lifting himself up, sliding on wet concrete and sprawling face first with a howl. The door below slammed. There were footsteps. I can keep going here, but I simply wanted to illustrate the primitive structure of he did this, she did this, which you apply through both action and dialogue. Well, I used the word empty to describe the bottle because it was imperative to the story, and cold and wet, but that's it. Maybe I could even leave out cold and wet. Now, let me ask you this, did you imagine this bum? I bet you did. BUT I DIDN'T SAY SHIT ABOUT HIS APPEARANCE. See, now you know that if you need to throw something in, like, he was missing an eye, because it's important for the story, do it, it will stand out that much more if nothing else surrounds it. Action, baby, action, tell me what's happening, and I'm yours.
Write it like you're watching a movie in your head. Write your story in a way you would describe a movie if it was made from your book. For example, you can write that your character was afraid. But if you let me see his shifting eyes, a sheen of sweat on his forehead, his trembling hands, his shaky voice, make him say, "Let's get outta here boys", then I will conclude myself that he is scared shitless. Better, I will feel what he feels without even resorting to the word afraid in my head, bypassing it altogether. This is the kind of connection you want with your reader, on the raw emotional level, the more emotional, the better. If you make me cry, make me laugh, make me sick or gross me out, make me feel smarter than you, I will read your books forever, you will get my guts and my soul and my heart. But if you tell me how to feel, I will tell you, fuck you, who do you think you are to tell me how to feel, I want to decide myself, and I will throw your book at the wall in frustration. Well, maybe not, maybe in my head I will do it, because I'm a really really nice devochka, but in reality I will put it aside and stop reading it, or, no, I will finish reading it, because I finish reading every book I start, but I will steer clear of your books in the future. You don't want that, right? Well, don't cheat me. Let me make my own conclusions by showing me a slice of your life, of what you had to go through, and I will be yours forever as a reader.
Those are probably the biggest things I can say about showing versus telling, and of course showing is what we all love, telling is typically reserved for those dry essays we had to write in high school, describing author's intentions and whatnot. It's a great skill to have, but it's not applicable in story writing, unless your character has to write a dry essay, see, then it's a different thing, so you can still get away with it. Above all, and I know I said it many times, the solution to feeling this in your own gut, this whole show versus tell thing, is to write a lot and read a lot. Like a pattern of a wondrous prehistoric butterfly that has been engraved by accident in stone, it will emerge for you, foggy at first, then clearer and clearer. I know I'm still brushing off said butterfly's tail and I see no fucking patterns so I feel frustrated, but I know I must keep digging, and so I will, and so I suggest you do. Let's do this together, love, and write awesome books. xoxo