Monday, August 31, 2009

Words On Writing - A Few Words on My Writing Experiences – “Show, Don’t Tell”

A Few Words on My Writing Experiences – “Show, Don’t Tell” By L. V. Gaudet © August 31/09 Perfection is a fallacy. Like so many things, the idea of perfection is very much “in the eye of the beholder” (a well-used phrase that can be attributed to too many individuals and contexts, so I won’t even attempt it). What each of us might consider as our version of ‘perfect’ varies as much as the combination of personalities, experiences, tastes, memories, and desires that makes each of us so unique. Rather than the impossible dream of “perfection”, we should each strive to be great. That is, to be the best we can be, as the unique individual each of us is, at what we are doing. It doesn’t matter who ‘wins’ by having the best grammar, vocabulary, or the biggest pile of story ideas. To me, greatness comes of knowing and accepting your own personal limits, acknowledging and owning your personal liabilities, and always keeping yourself open to learning and improving. In other words, accepting that you will never achieve that mythical ‘perfect’ and humbly accepting that always someone out there will have something to teach you, even if that someone is sometimes yourself and your own mistakes. This perhaps becomes even truer of something as open to personal views and tastes as writing. I began writing years ago. Writing has always been my dream. Not for fame or fortune, nor for some need to be in the spotlight. In fact, I was typically that person quietly haunting the edges of the room mostly hoping to not be noticed. I say ‘mostly’ because that is a lonely place to be and a part of you will always want some small measure of notice. In fact, I still can’t believe I actually blog and join in public discussions and put my work out there for others to read. No, for me this is my dream simply because it is something I truly love doing. I love the feeling, the thrill and the heart pounding exhilaration, the pure pleasure of losing yourself in the act of writing and passionately making that story come alive. I also quit writing years ago. That was for a number of reasons I will not go into at this time, because that is not what this is about. I made sporadic attempts to return to writing. For the same reasons I had quit, these attempts were short lived. At last I have returned to writing, hopefully for good, and with some wonderful new tools. Two of these most fantastic tools, which I couldn’t afford in the ‘before’ times, seem for many to be common household items, a computer and internet. Writing aside, these two things (computer and internet) opened up a huge world of information and resources for learning. In this time, I have learned a great deal about writing and the world of writing that I didn’t know before. As a writer I have grown and evolved in a huge way from that naive girl slogging out stories no one would ever read because I didn’t know enough to get them published even had I been brave enough to try. As I work through a long abandoned novel, that was perhaps about 75% done, I am observing a number of things about who I am now compared to then. Not the least of which is that what you will write when you don’t think anyone will ever read it is quite different than what you are willing to include when you know someone someday might actually read it. I think the thing about the actual craft of writing that I learned which stands out the most is the often repeated phrase, “show, don’t tell.” Some of that early writing was, in my current opinion, quite good. Some of it also was quite bad, and some of it simply too shocking for the average human consumption. Okay, probably most readers, if not all, would be sickened and shocked by some of the scenes that I have considerably revised. My biggest problem, which ran throughout the book, was person confusion. Back then I knew all about the need to stay true to ‘person’, whether you are writing in first person, second, or third. And, of course, the need to keep straight on who that ‘person’ is. This is where my difficulty in “show, don’t tell” came in. As I rewrite this early novel, I am seeing that I had struggled (without even knowing it at the time) with just who’s point of view this story was being told in every time I came to a scene where the main protagonists or antagonists were not in the scene. In every one of these scenes I had lapsed into that dread world of ‘telling’ the story, rather than the more vibrant ‘showing’ that lets the reader truly feel and experience the story. While the ‘person’ confusion was subtle and easily missed, the switch to the relatively dry ‘telling’ the story was quite noticeable and had the feel as though the storyteller was in a hurry to get through those parts of the story. I am confident the re-born novel will be hugely improved and a much more enjoyable read. Feel free to share your own experiences in what you most notably learned during the process of being a writer and learning about being a writer.

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