Thursday, April 21, 2011

Tell, Don't Show

In the process of writing my novel, I have posted signs around my computer to remind me of some basic things that a writer must remember.  While my favorite is definitely a tip from Stephen King (The Road to Hell is Paved with Adverbs), the thing that writers learn to recite in their sleep is “Show, Don’t Tell.”

No-one wants to read “Mary was mad.”  It is so much more fun to read that Mary’s face was the color of a baboon’s ass; she screamed, slammed the door and threw her new iphone against the wall.  Show, don’t tell.  Every word, every sentence, every paragraph. 

One year and two hundred ninety pages later, I was asked for a synopsis of my novel.  One page, describing what happens from start to finish.  I have been working on it for two months, yes, TWO MONTHS.  One page: that one page that will make someone want to read the first ten pages, then the first thirty, then the other two hundred sixty. 

Why was it so hard?  I’ll tell you why.  Show, don’t tell, that’s why.  I have been so programmed to describe, that explaining, simply TELLing, was something foreign to me.  And in writing a one page synopsis of a two hundred ninety page book, telling is the only way to do it. 

This is a good thing.  It lets me know that I have learned something through practice and am now in the habit of “showing” without having to tape little notes around my desk.  But writing the book, as I am learning every day, is only one step in the process (and in my opinion, the easiest step).  And in some of the other “steps”, the same rules do not apply. 

Breaking the rules is difficult, but I have to admit, the rebel in me finally took hold and said “to hell with it!” and began telling about my book, start to finish, brief, just the basics, just the highlights.  After an excellent edit by one of my fellow MFA-er’s (thanks, Rebecca), I now have a one page synopsis of my novel, one that I am proud of.  Last night, I swaggered to the mailbox, kissed it goodbye and sent it to my mentor. 

For the synopsis---Tell, don’t show.

Now to write a pitchline…
Two hundred ninety pages in fifty words….

No comments: