Archive for June, 2012

If you’re a writer, you’ve probably heard “Show, Don’t Tell’ a million times. It’s one of those maxims you can’t escape. But I’m going to stick my neck out and declare…

I think that advice has led to a lot of really terrible writing.

Before you come at me with your sharpest pitchfork, let me explain my madness. I do believe, in many ways, it is good and useful and wise to ‘show’ things. There is a time and place for the camera pan, the action shot, the external focus. But a novel is not a screenplay. A movie is a string of external cues–visuals and sound–that tells a story. The viewer relies on these cues to make sense of the plot and all its underpinnings–the internal, intangibles such as emotion and theme.

The novel is an entirely different medium. A novel conjures a singular experience, not just through external description (what a camera can capture), but also by internal perception (the heart and soul an ordinary telephoto zoom can’t record). In a novel, there’s a lens that trumps all.

The human lens.

The fictive stream of consciousness. The thingamathink that pulls us under the skin of a character. The internal processor that that recalls events and interprets every moment of action in the context of a character’s deepest hopes, dreams, memories and fears.

Yet...motivated by well-intentioned advice, so many writers neglect this lens and start out writing novels like screenplays. They try to live by ‘show’ alone–moving characters here and there on a stage, describing everything in objective, surface-level terms the way a wide-angle camera shot would. This cheats the reader and sentences them to a parade of colorless, cliched gestures and descriptions.

John’s eyes widened in anxiety. Mary’s heart hammered. Glen’s jaw clenched. Raul’s brow quirked. Anna’s lips curled in a smirk. Neville clenched his fists at his sides. Snakes slithered in Jonah’s stomach.

Ugh. These gestures and reactions are all generic. They illuminate nothing about character, personality, conflict or plot. As Francine Prose so aptly writes in Reading Like a Writer, “they are not descriptions of an individual’s very particular response to a particular event, but rather a shorthand for common psychic states.”

Meaningless shorthand. Yes. But darn it, they show and don’t tell. And that’s the rule, right?

WRONG. WRONG. WRONG.

I am nothing more than an puny, unpublished, unknown Writer/Librarian/Beatle-Maniac, but I will not recant. I will not! Because writing fiction is a form of storyTELLING. I agree with Joshua Henkin when he calls ‘Show, Don’t Tell’ the ‘great lie of writing workshops.‘ I say go ahead and slip under that murderer’s/ballerina’s/magician’s/vampire’s skin, tap into that stream of consciousness and TELL that story, infusing every moment that matters with personality and voice.

And if you still aren’t ready to drop your pitchfork, please look at these ‘show vs. tell’ examples before you skewer me:

Showing only (Excerpt altered. All telling parts omitted/edited):

“We just stand there silently. The grimy little station comes into view. The platform’s thick with cameras.
Peeta extends his hand. I look at him. ‘One more time? For the audience?’ he says. I take his hand, holding on tightly.

Showing with Physical Gestures: (Excerpt altered. Telling parts omitted/edited and replaced with physical gestures/reaction):

My stomach twists into knots. We just stand there silently. The grimy little station comes into view. The platform’s thick with cameras. When Peeta extends his hand, my eyes widen. ‘One more time? For the audience?’ he says, his jaw relaxing. I take his hand, holding on tightly. A shiver of dread runs down my spine.”

Showing and Telling (Excerpt as published, unaltered):

I also want to tell him how much I already miss him. But that wouldn’t be fair on my part.

So we just stand there silently, watching our grimy little station rise up around us. Through the window, I can see the platform’s thick with cameras. Everyone will be watching our homecoming.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see Peeta extend his hand. I look at him, unsure. ‘One more time? For the audience?’ he says. His voice isn’t angry. It’s hollow, which is worse. Already the boy with the bread is slipping away from me. I take his hand, holding on tightly, preparing for cameras, and dreading the moment when I will finally have to let go.”

Suzanne Collins, THE HUNGER GAMES

I think writers need to so show and tell. Still disagree? Did I miss something? Have I forgotten an important point? I’ve braced for impact, so fire away!

Thanks to an idea from Steph Pellegrin and PJ Hoover, today is all about sweet bites and decadent reads. So without further ado, I give you my #DESSERTEDREADS matchup:

WICKED AS THEY COME by Delilah S. Dawson

Flap copy:

When Tish Everett forces open the ruby locket she finds at an estate sale, she has no idea that a deliciously rakish Bludman has cast a spell just for her. She wakes up in a surreal world, where Criminy Stain, the dashing proprietor of a magical traveling circus, curiously awaits. At Criminy’s electric touch, Tish glimpses a tantalizing future, but she also foresees her ultimate doom. Before she can decide whether to risk her fate with the charming daredevil, the locket disappears, and with it, her only chance to return home. Tish and Criminy battle roaring sea monsters and thundering bludmares, vengeful ghosts and crooked Copers in a treacherous race to recover the necklace from the evil Blud-hating Magistrate. But if they succeed, will Tish forsake her fanged suitor and return to her normal life, or will she take a chance on an unpredictable but dangerous destiny with the Bludman she’s coming to love?

Okay guys, I’m such a picky reader. Nine times out of ten, I pick up a book and toss it aside within the first fifty pages. No high concept premise, no hunky stranger keeps me reading if the writing somehow isn’t there. I’m also a bit idiosyncratic–an author has to push particular emotional buttons to keep me turning pages.

And boy, oh boy, WICKED AS THEY COME  pushed all those buttons and never let up. To say WICKED AS THEY COME resonated with me is an understatement. I read the book in one sitting, grinning all the way.  The moment Tish met Criminy Stain, I was hooked. I didn’t care what happened, as long those kept circling one another.

Tish is everything I want a heroine to be, a gal who inherited a winsome mix of ‘manners and moxie’ from her high-spirited grandmother. No wonder the locket pulled her to Criminy’s world. He cast a spell to summon his soulmate and equal, and she certainly fits the bill.

And ohhhhh, Criminy. Bludman. Gypsy King. Magician. Seductive, Sinful Smart-Aleck Savant. He’s irresistible, yet never forces his suit. For me, that makes Crim the perfect alpha male–the charmer who doesn’t make demands, but lets his best qualities command the moment. Yes, pulls out all the stops to allure Tish, but he leaves the choice to her. As he watches her and waits for her to discover her heart’s true match, the tension builds and builds. I loved every minute of it.

And I love sharing this recipe with you–BLACK MAGIC CAKE is every bit as sweet and sinful.

There are EIGHT MILKY WAY BARS in the batter of this cake. What else do you need to know?????!!!!

1 cup butter or margarine, cut up

3/4 cup chocolate syrup

8 (2.05 ounce) Milky Way bars, cut up

2 cups sugar

1 cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 large eggs, lightly beaten

21/2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease 12-cup Bundt pan.

In 4-quart microwave-safe bowl, combine butter, syrup, and nougat bars. Heat 5 minutes, whisking once. Whisk until smooth. Whisk in sugar, then buttermilk, vanilla extract and eggs. Stir in the flour, cocoa, salt and baking soda.

Pour batter into pan. Bake 1 hour 30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out almost clean. Cool in pan on wire rack 10 minutes. Loosen cake; invert onto rack to cool.

Frosting:

Melt in microwave: 1 stick butter with 3 tablespoons milk and 3 additional Milky way bars. Whisk in 1 teaspoon vanilla. Pour over cake.

Binge! And thanks for sharing in the #DESSERTEDREADS FUN! If you write up your own matchup, don’t forget to post it to the hashtag. And let us know if you’d like to see this type of blog-a-thon in the future! What ideas do YOU have???

I blame Stephanie Pellegrin.

She just had to to tweet pics of her Coca-Cola cake. The cake looked so gooey and delish, it got P.J. Hoover and I talking about cake-offs, which led to tweets about blog recipes, which led to tweets about books and recipes which led to THIS:

#DESSERTEDREADS = Cake Recipe + Book Review +

Friday June 22 = EPIC BLOGNESS

Who’s in? Who’s up for a whole day dedication to decadent reads paired with sugary, iced perfection? If you are, join us by blogging a fave cake recipe with a fave book review. Bonus street cred for blogging about a stellar ‘deserted/desserted’ book that’s been out for awhile, but hasn’t quite gotten the love and attention it deserves. Any cake. Any book. Tweet it up at #DESSERTEDREADS before and all day Friday, June 22. Steph, P.J., and I would love to post a link to your luscious post, so keep those tweets and linked comments going.

Help us make this celebration ridiculous fun and SUPER SWEET!