I'm revising FORGED BY FATE right now, for... well... reasons, and this book--there is so much of this book that I still love desperately, but in coming back to it twenty years after I started writing it, I've noticed some things that my baby authorself was doing, thinking it was THE RIGHT WAY TO WRITE that, well. Were kind of the opposite of helpful in getting my points across.
Let's talk about Show vs. Tell.
As a baby author, I was clearly determined to show everything! Instead of telling people how a character was feeling, I used physical responses. He hesitated. She closed her eyes. He tightened his jaw. She shifted away.
Listen. These kinds of small physical movements are all well and good--but there's a problem with relying on them as the sole means by which you communicate emotion. And that problem is this: By themselves they don't actually communicate the underlying emotion at all.
In Chapter Eight of FORGED BY FATE, there's a moment when Eve is still new and still struggling to understand the world and the people around her. She's with Adam in a cave where he and the other residents of the Garden have taken shelter, and he is--well, imposing himself on her, really.
Eve shivered at his touch, and that seemed to please him. He raised his hand to her face, cupping her cheek and drawing his thumb along her cheekbone. She forced herself not to look away. Not to move. But everything inside her twisted. She wanted to crawl away into the darkness, but there were no shadows now to hide her. His face was so close she could feel his breath on her lips.
“Lord Adam!” She jumped, though the voice was familiar. Reu.
Adam closed his eyes for a moment, then turned his head slowly. “What is it?”
Now, Eve is new, so there's a certain amount of grace I need to give myself here, because trying to write someone who literally was only just created and is still in the process of understanding literally everything around her is AN UNREAL CHALLENGE to start with. But. Read that last line again:
Adam closed his eyes for a moment, then turned his head slowly.
What is it actually telling us about Adam's response, emotionally? I mean, we might guess, as readers, what past me was trying to convey. Maybe he's tired. Maybe he's annoyed by the interruption. Maybe he's actually angry. Maybe he's just power-tripping, making Reu wait on principle. You, the reader, cannot actually know. BUT. Eve does. And the reason she knows is that he's touching her, and we know already from the text that when Adam is touching her, whether he realizes it or not, his feelings and thoughts bleed through the contact.
So why was baby author me holding back?
Because of the age old mantra: Show, don't tell, a rule I was foolishly trying to live by to my detriment.
But showing, by itself, is IMPRECISE. I'm not communicating effectively what's happening, I'm leaving my readers to guess. And while there's nothing wrong with that, in the right circumstances--when the point of view character is guessing too, for instance--in this one, I was letting a mantra get in the way of clarity.
Eve shivered at his touch, and that seemed to please him. He raised his hand to her face, cupping her cheek and drawing his thumb along her cheekbone. She forced herself not to look away. Not to move. But everything inside her twisted. She wanted to crawl away into the darkness, but there were no shadows now to hide her.
His face was so close she could feel his breath on her lips.
“Lord Adam!” She startled, though the voice was familiar. Reu.
Adam closed his eyes for a moment, then turned his head slowly, his body stiff with impatience. “What is it?”
Impatience. Now you, the reader, know precisely what emotion is motivating Adam's physical response, just like Eve. His patience is reaching a limit. Time for her is running out. Am I telling, by including that word? A little bit. But in telling, in giving that word to the reader, I'm making the passage STRONGER. My writing is clearer and more effective and Eve's response afterward, is given more support.
(And yeah, I changed Eve's jump response, too, because she didn't jump. Her response was small, a start of surprise. But baby author me hated the word startle and bent over backward to avoid its usage--again, to the detriment of clarity.)
Show, don't tell is a valuable piece of advice for writers. ALL TELLING is boring as heck! We all know that! But it isn't a hard and fast rule that we need to contort ourselves to accommodate. Let it be a MODERATOR, sure, but when it gets in your way, like almost every other "Rule" of writing--it's okay to throw it out.
Glad Yule, friends!
Tune in next year for some fun announcements regarding what's coming down the pipe--or join me over on Patreon, and for as little as a dollar a month, you'll find out before the year is up :)
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