Oooooooh writing. That’s fun. I mean, usually. Sometimes it can be arduous, though. Sometimes it can be painful, sometimes exhilarating, sometimes boring, sometimes scary, sometimes exhausting. Yet, it’s usually always fun. Now, this is a rant so I’ll start with the thing that has been plaguing my writing experience lately (Well, one of the things, I’ll tackle dialogue later.)
But first, let me grumble a bit about the saying “Show, Don’t Tell”. I know, I know, this saying is pervasive, and but just as common are people complaining about this saying. I hope, though, that my thoughts might be beneficial. Because, I sort of agree.
Hold on though, what is the difference? Yeah, and that is where I don’t really agree. The old coinage is trying to tell you (ha) that your descriptions, especially in fiction, should not tell the reader how to feel or think about some bit of thing. You should be handing them pictures and letting them come to conclusions. That, well that’s great and all but, where is the line? If I were to say:
Billy shook in his seat, rocking back and forth in front of the bathroom.
I am clearly implying he needs to pee. That’s only an okay sentence, but I’m showing. What about this:
Billy couldn’t wait any longer; it felt like his bladder was going to explode.
That evokes some more feeling, but am I not stating that he has to pee? I admit, it’s not a great sentence, but that’s not the point. Or is it? If description should evoke feeling, does it matter if it shows or tells? And this is a crux of the issue. The important thing has little to do with whether you state facts or write pretty language, and more to do with how you and your readers feel.
So herein lies my problem. Descriptions are haaard. I love long wordy showy sentences that talk about how the sun dances on the girls smiling face, but after the first few paragraphs I stop caring about how green the grass is. I end up skipping my own descriptions sometimes. I’m sitting there thinking Gosh darn will he get to the story already? and it takes me a minute to realize it’s my own writing. Because showing is good, but telling gets to the point. And sometimes, you shouldn’t do either.
I find my largest issue comes from over describing. And that is an easy fix. If I have a paragraph detailing the features of this rock that literally has no importance to the story, I can cut it. If I want to say there is a cool rock, I can just tell the readers that.
Lester saw a cool green rock. Then he walked down the trail and did plot-related things.
Because sometimes, the only thing you notice about a rock is that it is cool and green. And perhaps it’s the depth of color, or the swirling pattern, but a paragraph about how darn cool this little rock is doesn’t do the story any good. In this case, I’d probably just through the rock scene out the window, because it really doesn’t matter tot he readers, nor to Lester.
Now, there gets to be a problem. Sometimes useless details help make a story feel more real. This is where I say Chekhov’s Gun is a bit over simplistic. Just because the gun Lester sees in Chapter two will never be fired, does not mean I should not talk about it. Because there are details that characters, if they are supposed to be real people, will notice. Perry may comment that the weather is warm today, and that might not have any bearing on the plot, but it can have a lot of bearing on the story.
So, I have to balance things. How much do I think is irrelevant, how much do I think is important for my characters and world to feel real. I also have to balance descriptions that don’t leave enough for the imagination. Because garsh dang it my reader need to imagine this door exactly how I am picturing it or the whole story will be ruined! It’s hard to come to terms with the fact that the people who read our writings are more than capable of picturing an ornate door, and letting them do that is part of the reason they are reading.
Because our readers are nearly always smarter than we think they is, and we owe it to them to write in ways that don’t bore them, and don’t take the fun out of imagining the story, but also give them enough adjectives and nouns to get that brilliant mind of theirs going.