It’s my birthday. I’m 35. Ish. And that’s a big “ish.” For all of those billions of people who have been too busy to buy me a card, may I suggest you but a copy of my book instead? https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/330818. It only costs a little more than a card does. And what’s up with that, anyway? Three bucks for a piece of colored cardboard? Trust me, the book is a better deal. When was the last time you saw a birthday card that featured pack-hunting giant spiders?
Archive for July, 2013
It’s the time of year when a young man’s fancy turns to baseball. And it strikes me that the two are not all that different. Writing is like baseball because:
They both involve a lot of sitting around waiting for something to happen
It’s full of arcane rules that no one can explain
You can take years working your way up through the kiddie leagues and the school leagues and the minor leagues with the hope, but never the promise, of making it to the majors
A writer is like a pitcher: he delivers the ball, but there are a bunch of guys behind him, all of whom have to do their jobs to make the pitcher look good (although if they do, the pitcher gets all the credit)
One error can ruin your whole game
No matter how many times you strike out, you only need one pitch to hit a home run
There’s always somebody on deck waiting to take your place
Every ballpark, like every magazine, plays to different skills
Critics and umpires: Right or wrong, you’re stuck with what they say
Fans who have never even tried to do what you do can do it better than you
Getting on base thirty percent of the time makes you an All-Star
Even if you win the pennant, you have to come back next year and start all over – except now the expectations are higher
There is no instant replay
I was getting down thinking about my WIP (work-in-progress in writer-speak). I thought it was stalling creatively, that while all the scenes were necessary, I was really just filling in the time until I reach the next phase, which in this case is the final act, the last third of the book, which I had scheduled for 50,000 words, or about 6000 words from now. (Like drivers in LA who measure distances in the time it takes to get there, writers don’t measure time in minutes, they measure it in words.)
And then it hit me: Who was I creating this artificial milestone for? If the story was stalling out, then certainly it wasn’t for me, and if I do my job, this stuff is invisible to readers, so who?
The publisher. Who at this stage is completely hypothetical. But I knew that publishers like books to have a certain length to justify its cost. So when I was outlining, I had divided my book into roughly even chunks in order to block out the scenes, if you will. But now, with the scenes almost all blocked, and the big climax (with explosions, if you’ll pardon a spoiler), looming ever larger, my outlined structure had gone from being a frame to a cage.
Well, the heck with that. I’m not Dan Brown or George RR Martin. (I think their books are too big, anyway.) If you think my book’s too short, let me know. I’ll write a sequel. That’s my “write,” too.
After I promised to write this post, I became scared. Who was I to explain the mysteries of writing? How could I describe something that had taken me so long to understand? I was at times agitated, resigned, but finally I focused on the task at hand, and here I am.
Wait a second. Hold on. Let’s start over again, take it from the top.
After I promised to write this post, my brain refused to comprehend the enormity of the task. I started to sweat. My feet tapped out a frenzied beat in time with a band only I could hear, and my fingers drummed the desk. When I tired of this at last, I stared at the wall, my shoulders slumped, and sighed. Eventually, I put my fingers on the keyboard and with a deep breath, I stared to type.
This is the essence of showing versus telling. In the first paragraph, I told you how I felt. All the information was provided, you were a passive recipient. This is what I call the “television method” of writing. There’s nothing wrong with it–if you’re watching television.
The second paragraph, where I showed you how I felt by describing my actions, that’s what I call “radio writing.” In radio, as in a book, the listener can’t see your characters. He can only understand their actions by their words and sound effects. And it’s the sound effects that make all the difference.
Which would you rather listen to? A radio play wherein a character says, “Bob! Thank heavens you were able to break down the door and rescue me by throwing away the dynamite seconds before it exploded!” or Crash! Running feet! “Bob! There’s a bomb!” Running feet. Kaboom! “Bob! Thank heaven you got here in time!” Actions speak louder than words, and action words speak louder than anything.
Readers can only see your words on the page. Let the words you choose be the reader’s eyes into your story.