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February 23, 2011

Tell and Show

The importance of showing and not telling is vital to good writing. 
But as we can see here, telling comes first, and the writer’s transformation of what he is telling into what he is showing is vital to all storytelling. A writer’s story must tell us something--some essential truth/lesson/wisdom--if it is to successfully captivate us.

We focus so much on showing when we present and critique our pages, but often a story feels empty because it doesn’t know what it is about on the deeper, thematic levels. This is because the reader doesn’t know what they are telling. Before we know what to show accurately, we need to know what to tell accurately.

Joseph Campbell writes about the 4 vital roles that mythology play, and I always think about them when I nail down what I am trying to tell (will focus on this in a future blog entry).
But if it does not tell us this thing by accurately showing, it is not successful either--it may not even be a story. So one could say the writer’s process is one of turning accurate telling into accurate showing:
In revision, we often get the comment that we are telling instead of showing, which means we aren’t accomplishing this transformation:
We are failing to accurately show the vital thing we are telling. Often this happens when we describe what happens instead of actually showing it happen. On a larger scale, the plot might be wrong--the wrong thing happens or a character makes the wrong decision--or the character might speak out of character.

If the writing is confusing, the reader doesn’t understand what he is being shown and therefore doesn’t know what he is being told:
If the reader is bored, perhaps we are being shown or told too much:
This is also the reason why cutting is so important.

And that is my spiel about showing and telling.

February 16, 2011

Computer/Word/Keyboard Tricks I wish someone told me about

I'm collecting all the computer/keyboard shortcuts I feel like some people might not know about because it's assumed everyone knows them. These may be obvious for a lot of people, but I didn't learn half of these until I was in the computer lab at college and overheard someone next to me. Does anyone have any other ones to share?

Delete Key Vs. Backspace: I'm embarrassed to say it but I didn't know the delete key erased words in front of the cursor--as opposed to the backspace key, which erases characters before the cursor--for years.

The End key: it takes your cursor to the last character in the line.
The Home key: it takes your cursor to the first character in the line.
Shift+Home/End: If you hold down the shift key and Home/End, you select all the characters in between your cursor and the beginning/end of the line.

Control Key + Arrow: the cursor jumps by word instead of character
Shift+Control+Arrow: So now if you hold the shift key down with the control key and move the arrow, you select items word by word.

From the forums:

Ctrl+end - takes you to the end of the document
Ctrl+home - takes you to the beginning of the document

If you set the cursor then scroll forward or backward then shift and click it selects all the text in between.

Hold down the "control" key (ctrl) and hit "enter" and you'll get a page break. Use page breaks for new chapters to format your manuscript.

I put in page breaks at new chapters right from the beginning. It makes it much easier to find my place in the draft as I scroll through pages. No matter how much more editing and writing I add within a chapter, the page break is maintained. It's nice!

February 09, 2011

Last lines of a manuscript I had to shelf

‎"‎The endless sea surrounded us, and the setting sun mixed the color of the sky in such a way that it was impossible to know where the ocean ended and the sky began. I felt convinced then that there were no longer borders or edges in the world we shared. The horizon was gone, and so were our own."

February 02, 2011

The Importance of Outlining

I would rather literally paint myself into a corner than write without an outline. That paint on your clothes will come out, and if it doesn't , they were just some old clothes anyway.

When you write without an outline, you wish you could throw everything out like an old pair of clothes, but there will inevitably be things worth keeping, as if you had to get out of that corner and salvage specific brush strokes or sections of the walls, under the very real risk of getting stuck in another corner somewhere else, in some other room.

Someone once defined madness as the act of repeating the same thing over and over again even after getting the same result, expecting a different one each time. That's how I used to feel writing without an outline. It's like painting without even knowing where the walls are and then wondering why you're in some corner of the story, clueless as to the role that corner plays in the greater narrative.