Writer’s Log: 1846

[RE: Iced, in reply to my editor…]

This story is one where I’m trying to put my big-boy pants on and write to a bit higher age level. It’s still not fully “adult” yet, despite the cursing.

There is one writing factor that I’ve recently been trying to internalize which I’ll be attempting to apply across the board. This is the avoidance of any explanation of a character’s mind or emotional state. The best writers somehow avoid this lazy writing and use only description and dialog to portray whatever is going on inside a characters mind. But for a neophyte writer, it’s natural to want the reader to understand precisely what character X is feeling — so why not just tell the reader?

~~~
Normally, Travis seethed with anger. He’d failed six times to finish the Iron Man race but, this morning, depression sucked him deeper into the nest of bedding he’d swum in all night.
~~~

Easy to write, but explaining this situation distances the reader. The reader doesn’t have to do any work, any distillation of the scene to understand Travis’ mind.
The problem, now, is that to convert that “telling” scene into a “showing” scene will take some doing. Will take some work on the author’s part to place Travis in a situation where these same emotions become evident through his actions and speech.

~~~
It was eleven pm and Travis still sat at the bar tapping his fingernail on his empty glass. He glared at the sportscaster describing the results from the twenty-first Maui Open. “Fuck,” he mumbled. He’d been forced to pull out of the race that afternoon, exhausted. “I should just give up, right Joe?” Joe wasn’t listening; hadn’t listened all night. Travis walked home the ten blocks and fell into fitful sleep. Cheerful Hawaiian birds woke him at dawn. He lay there, eyes wide, a frown chiseled into his face. I’m just not cut out for this, he thought.
“Get up, Trav,” his brother called from the kitchen. “So what you had to quit again. Now you know six ways the Iron Gods will beat you down.”
Travis cracked his frown, stretched it into a grimace and threw off his bedding. He swiveled upright and attached his artificial leg. “Go to hell, Drew.” He clumped from the room to start another day of training.
~~~

More writing to get the emotions out, but the reader had to figure them out, had to participate.

That is the lesson I’m trying to teach myself now.

~~~

Second attempt at version #2. Not much shorter (19 words). A few extraneous details were pulled. I like Joe ignoring him and the birds waking him up.

It was eleven pm and Travis still sat at the bar glaring at the sportscaster describing the results from the twenty-first Maui Open. “Fuck,” he mumbled. He’d been forced to pull out of the race that afternoon, exhausted. “I should just give up, right Joe?” Joe wasn’t listening; hadn’t listened all night. Travis walked home the ten blocks and fell into fitful sleep. Cheerful Hawaiian birds woke him at dawn. He lay there, a frown chiseled into his face. I’m just not cut out for this.
“Get up, Trav,” his brother called from the kitchen. “So what you had to quit again. Now you know six ways the Iron Gods will beat you down.”
Travis grimaced and threw off his bedding. He swiveled upright and attached his artificial leg. “Go to hell, Drew.” He clumped from the room to start another day of training.

 


15 responses to “Writer’s Log: 1846

  • Phil Huston

    He’s back! I just read the two examples. Extreme examples. “He thought” didn’t the italics and the line tell us that? Wordy is one thing. Verbose another. Cut the second one in half. At least. Leave the good descriptive stuff in, cut the bullshit. You can do it. There’s you mindset scene. Ask yourself this – do you need the bar? Could he leave disgusted with himself and cut the bedroom? Dig this. All we know about him is this bit. Is there backstory that would solve that or is this his introduction? Precision, nony. Period. That doesn’t mean bare naked or paint me a picture. This is a question for writerly concerns.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Anony Mole

      I’m sure I could trim it by half, with work. And yeah, we’re in isolation here. With context around the passage, we could easily use it to help with the showing. But the point stands. It’s easy to write telling. It’s fast and direct and exact – and lazy. But, it can be useful sometimes. However, I’m fully onboard with your theme – step out of the way and let the characters and setting tell the story.

      Like

  • Phil Huston

    I see you’ve been tagged by “like” farmers. This was about self editing, so who can tell me what do-it-yourself writer, before editors, penned a classic tome about false flattery? Might even take a second google. Never mind. Shakespeare’s “King Lear.” What? Machiavelli, Dante you say? What about Ephesians? No? Yeah, that book’s been edited. More than once! My senior year in high school where I took a second elective English class “Great Books”, old Ms. Truax the grammar nazi said that if one wanted to learn to write and how to tell a story, long or short, read Shakespeare and the Bible. I know a woman who teaches at Berkeley. Her class is called “Scene by Scene.” And that’s how it works. Think story line globally. Write and edit scene by scene. What? Shakespeare and the Bible? Indeed.

    Liked by 1 person

  • floatinggold

    It seems like both pieces could work for me, as a reader. The thing is, that the first one is a lot more concise (saves time), but the second one gives us a lot more details to the situation. It build a whole story, instead of just taking us from point A to point B.
    Interesting to see such differences.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Phil Huston

    First, go here – https://www.louiseharnbyproofreader.com/blog/how-to-punctuate-dialogue-in-a-novel

    Download or cut and paste it. I have Beth Hill’s, equally good, only more of a grammatical approach. This one does grammar, but you need part three, the shit that there is no justification for – oh, by the way, here’s what the character is feeling here. I quote – “Like Rimington, Herron doesn’t tell it twice. There are no cluttering speech tags or repetitive explanations that tell us how each speaker interrupted the other. The pace cracks like a whip and we’re offered an authentic back-and-forth.”

    Those with hears should hear. Don’t tell it twice, no cluttering speech tags. If the dialogue and scene are saying it, get out of the director’s chair and let them act. He said, hopeful that in his pleading those in most need of it should hear the word, and the word was good, and the word was learn to identify the writerly crap that cannot be justified as storytelling other than to assist one in believing they have written, and are in control. Speed bumps are also in control. Think about them every time the urge strikes to ‘splain your story inside your story. ‘Splain it to the critics, let the story ‘splain itself.

    One should never strive to be anything or anyone else, but one should read and understand literature, structure, style etc. As Picasso said, “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” And another fave, from Baryshnikov – “I don’t try to dance better than anyone else. I try to dance better than myself.” Self improvement is the path, better stories are the outcome. I you don’t raise your own bar, no one else will. Anything else is just an excuse.

    Liked by 2 people

  • Mr Nothing

    Gets one thinking.
    If I were driven by logic then I would present the point I want to make in as concise a manner as possible.
    But I am not, — at least not always.
    Editors, depending on their background, will sway you their way.
    One will want you to cut to the meat and another portray the barbeque.
    You, on the other hand, write the story, and the emphasis is clearly on story, not an account or a report but, your vision.
    Being the cognitive, absorbed blokes that writers are, — I like failingatwriting’s comment on Vonnegut — we need to take what an editor suggests, as objectively as possible, and see if it fits into our idea of the story and our (evolving) style. Because, I don’t strive to be a David Foster Wallace or Ernest Hemingway (immense respect), but to be the purest, sincerest expression of myself in the expanding knowledge about writing and writers.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Anony Mole

      Well said.
      In the end I believe that’s what writer’s end up doing, selecting from the gamut those techniques that appeal to them for any one project.
      My issue is that I’m still ignorant as to what techniques exist, why they exist, and when I think I should use one or the other.
      I picked up two random books by headliners and the first chapters were full of Character A seethed, envious… Or collapsed with relief. But also had obvious showing to accompany it.
      So there may be a rhythm thing here. If the pace and hum of the story would suffer from having a sideline of involved showing vs just a few words that wrapped up a flash of behavior, then I wager that pace and rhythm wins.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Hariod Brawn

    Yeah, narrative exposition still has its place, otherwise things can get a bit oblique. I like your draft — first sentence a bit top-heavy, though? Feels like it needs an f-stop after ‘glass’?

    Liked by 1 person

  • failingatwriting

    I practice that a lot too. My first drafts are always littered with telling (I guess because I’m telling myself the story). When I edit, I weed a lot out. But I still leave in some telling because some times it just highlights something, or it makes a scene more funny or ironic or even poignant. I can’t think of a great quote, but I feel like Vonnegut was really great at both showing and telling in his books – he just knew when to use it!

    Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: