Monthly Archives: April 2014

Crawling from the Waves …

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Was it an obsession of the public? Of inventors? Of  just Popular Science Monthly? They have so many covers in the Thirties, let along interior blurbs, on amphibious vehicles. It’s as if giant airships and helipads weren’t enough any more. They would give you plans for building your own boat, but surely the future held something more complex, more glamorous, than the hollow in the water that had been used for thousands of years.

The giant below, from April of 1931, is even accompanied by photos of the inventor in his prototype — a one-man craft no more than fifteen feet long.

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Revision 06.4.2 – Tensionicide: Don’t Chicken Out

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Some scenes overwhelm with emotion or are so difficult to write that the writer flinches, and jumps to after them to recap. In many cases, you couldn’t do a worse thing to your fiction.

Actual Workshop Examples:

–Lee built up a romance through 80,000 words of Machiavellian heroic fantasy. Friends of the duo scheme to throw them together alone, at last. We’re ready to see passions spark, obligations thunder, walls fall, declarations made. We get — a jump to the next day, everything settled, everyone happy, that reads like a chapter’s missing.

–Taylor put the hero in rivalry with his chief helper, which had us wondering if the helper would turn on the hero or sabotage him. Big stakes, heightened reader attention. Then a chapter starts with a paragraph saying, “during the last few nights they had settled their difficulties, and now everything ran smoothly, with X now a loyal lieutenant.”

Readers want to live in the character’s skin. You have to give them pay-offs after build-ups. Yet some scenes most of us don’t want to go through graphically.

How do you tell the difference?

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Revision 6.4.1.1- “Tell, Don’t Show”: or, Don’t Bore the Reader to Tears

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Far too many freshman stories begin with the character waking up, getting dressed, having something to eat, going to work, all in complete detail. Part of this habit comes from Dinosaur Fiction, from before WW2. When it comes to modeling your work on it, anything before 1980 is kind of suspect in romance and before 1970 in specfi, though in other fields you can touch back as far as 1960 or so. We can also blame movies. They Show under the credits the sort of scenes we must Tell.

The freshman writer has been told “Show, don’t Tell” and gone overboard.

In fiction, there are almost always places to Tell rather than Show.

Take the trip from Point A to B. If nothing happens that changes character relationships or plot direction, you don’t need to Show it. Sum it up as, “Three days of travel with only two pirate attacks to fight off brought them to …”

“Skip two pirate attacks?!” you yelp.

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Revision 6.4.1.1- “Show, Don’t Tell”: What the Bumper Sticker Means

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Those three words are often repeated without being really explained, so they become noise. This writer’s bumper sticker is supposed to mean, “let the reader experience the story and make their own judgements, so they feel they live it through the viewpoint character, rather than you predigesting the matter and only giving them summaries of action or your summation of the characters.”

Fiction written to be read and storytelling, especially for children, diverge here. Oral storytelling uses Tell, because that’s more concise and it is a less immersive art. Listeners know they are hearing someone else tell them the story, and don’t expect close identification. Contemporary fiction emphasizes getting the readers to forget the author and themselves and move into the character’s skin. The major tool for this is Showing rather than Telling.

Tell: He awoke, and looked up through the branches of an alien tree at an alien sky.

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