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Friday, August 05, 2016

Perspective switches

A little note about something I come across from time to time while editing. Do not switch the point-of-view just to get something across to the reader about your protagonist, particularly a physical description of him or his actions. It's a cheap writer's trick, it's lazy, it's unnecessary, and it breaks up the flow of the story. Moreover, you're not fooling anyone about what you're doing or why you're doing it.

There are many good reasons to switch perspective. Doing so in order to make a Mary Sue point about how handsome or determined or pretty the protagonist looks is not one of them.

On the other hand, never force heavily self-descriptive adjectives into the protagonist's internal monologue either. It makes the character sound self-absorbed and sociopathic, rather like a highly intelligent and impressively well-read man with muscles like a well-honed panther referring to himself in the third person, wrote Vox Day.

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82 Comments:

Blogger Matthew August 05, 2016 1:43 PM  

Changes in perspective are jarring enough anyway, unless explicitly signaled by section or chapter breaks. If you're going to put an obstacle in the way of reader comprehension, make sure you have a very good reason.

Blogger L' Aristokrato August 05, 2016 1:44 PM  

Are we talking first person narrators here? Cause if so, i can't believe anyone would do this.

Anonymous #1037 August 05, 2016 1:44 PM  

It's not easy to hone a panther. They hate it worse than baths.

Blogger Dave August 05, 2016 1:44 PM  

Can somebody pleasr edit that sentence at the end of the OP.

"well-honed panther" what?

Blogger Matthew August 05, 2016 1:45 PM  

L' Aristokrato wrote:Are we talking first person narrators here? Cause if so, i can't believe anyone would do this.

Well, Faulkner in As I Lay Dying, but he gets to do whatever he wants.

Anonymous Instasetting August 05, 2016 1:46 PM  

Instasetting stood up from the chair, and glanced at himself in the mirror before going out to make a speech to his adoring fans. He was tall, broad-shouldered, and had smoldering eyes, and a chin large enough to set a Moon rocket on.

Satisfied with his appearance he went out the door...

======

Outpacing the shorter men around him, Instasetting almost reached the door to the Nobel Prize chamber before the other world-renowned scientists, but one who came in from the other way, still fell back under his intense gaze, so that he swept first into the chamber to applause of the simpletons who could not understand his Theory of Conservative Dominance, but still recognized his greatness enough to give him their petty award.

Blogger VD August 05, 2016 1:47 PM  

Are we talking first person narrators here?

No, third-person. It's just a little technique that I've noticed a few authors using of late. I don't recommend it.

Blogger Dave August 05, 2016 1:50 PM  

Instasetting the Protagonist

Blogger Ken Prescott August 05, 2016 1:52 PM  

I don't use a lot of physical description unless it's really germane to the plot (cops putting out a BOLO, that sort of thing).

Blogger L' Aristokrato August 05, 2016 1:57 PM  

VD - "No, third-person. It's just a little technique that I've noticed a few authors using of late. I don't recommend it."

There's no inherent problem in doing this with an omniscient narrator; It may well be one of the points for using such a narrator.
The issue then becomes one of execution. Is it well written, does it flow well, etc..
I see your point in how many writers will use this as a crutch, but it all comes down to the quality of the final product.

Blogger Noah B August 05, 2016 1:58 PM  

Sound advice, but someone who needs this pointed out to him probably wasn't on the verge of writing something worthy of publication.

Blogger David-2 August 05, 2016 2:01 PM  

This may be off topic - I hope not as it seems relevant to me: Though I'm not a gamer, I've been watching some Star Citizen captures (Major Tom's) - and the camera POV switches frequently between 1st person and 3rd person. I assume this is controlled by the player, and is used during actual gameplay. As a stream viewer - it's jarring, in the same way VD is describing for written works. Does being the actual player in this case reduce or eliminate this? Does it accomplish anything useful in an "immersive" game to be able to switch to a 3rd party view? Just curious ...

Blogger David-2 August 05, 2016 2:03 PM  

I should add ... I've noticed the 3rd person perspective shifts that VD is talking about, not associated with chapter changes. But ... I guess VD's experience is different than mine ... but in my case: Those books have worse problems in structure/style/plot ...

Blogger Amigo August 05, 2016 2:05 PM  

Thanks for providing the example at the end of the post. Really provided clarity along with giving women and lambdas a swoon.

Blogger Feather Blade August 05, 2016 2:07 PM  

Matthew wrote:Changes in perspective are jarring enough anyway, unless explicitly signaled by section or chapter breaks.

Depends on the section break. If an author switches character POV by putting in a section heading called "[Character]'s POV", I quit reading immediately.

Blogger Dave August 05, 2016 2:12 PM  

wasn't on the verge of writing something worthy of publication.

So what you're saying is Vox is editing stuff that isn't worthy of publication.

Could it be that writers lapse into bad habits when they should know better? Or even accomplished authors are putting thoughts down on paper so fast they don't realize it.

Blogger VD August 05, 2016 2:15 PM  

Depends on the section break. If an author switches character POV by putting in a section heading called "[Character]'s POV", I quit reading immediately.

Best stay away from GRR Martin and me.

Sound advice, but someone who needs this pointed out to him probably wasn't on the verge of writing something worthy of publication.

That's not true. Some of the greatest SF ever published was pretty bad from a stylistic perspective. Style is only one part of a book, and it's not the most important part.

Blogger Ostar August 05, 2016 2:20 PM  

What if someone is using an unreliable narrator - could switching perspective in such a case be effective in showing the "reality" of the actual situation?

Blogger Trimegistus August 05, 2016 2:24 PM  

From now on "Sorry, I've got to hone my panther" is going to be my all-purpose excuse when I don't want to do something.

Anonymous DissentRight August 05, 2016 2:27 PM  

rather like a highly intelligent and impressively well-read man with muscles like a well-honed panther referring to himself in the third person, wrote Vox Day.

Lol, irl. This is why I read the blog.

Blogger Nate August 05, 2016 2:29 PM  

The only reason to switch perspectives is to improve the story telling.

For example... hearing Frank Wycheck tell the story about the Music City Miracle is more interesting than hearing the story from kevin Dyson's perspective. Even though Kevin is the one that scored. And hearing it from Jeff Fisher's perspective is more interesting than all of them... and he wasn't even involved.

Blogger dc.sunsets August 05, 2016 2:35 PM  

Show, don't tell.

Too much narrative, backstory or not, reads to me as 6th grade writing. I know that backstory may be necessary sometimes (like when the environment is very different from our reality) but I strongly prefer sparse narrative & bare bones description. I agree that switching viewpoint for the sake of narrative usually reads like crap and treats the reader like a puppet.

Most intelligent people resent that, I think.

Anonymous Rather, Not August 05, 2016 2:37 PM  

I hate it when my Perspective Sub tries to become a Perspective Dom. Know your role, just don't try it.

Blogger dc.sunsets August 05, 2016 2:39 PM  

@ Nate, isn't it in part that some people are simply better story tellers? It a talent, and not that common.

Blogger Titus Quinctius Cincinnatus August 05, 2016 2:49 PM  

On the other hand, never force heavily self-descriptive adjectives into the protagonist's internal monologue either. It makes the character sound self-absorbed and sociopathic, rather like a highly intelligent and impressively well-read man with muscles like a well-honed panther referring to himself in the third person, wrote Vox Day.

I assume the one caveat is if you're actually writing about a charactre who is a Gamma, in which case it's merely an accurate portrayal?

Blogger FALPhil August 05, 2016 2:58 PM  

VD, how do you feel about protagonists in the first person?

I find it harder to write, but when others do it well, it makes for a more interesting story.

Anonymous Frankenstein McBadperson August 05, 2016 3:00 PM  

@5: thanks for getting there before me. Everybody who's an aspiring writer should read AILD, _especially_ Addie Bundren's monologue. Also, (and this is going to seem weird to the SFF crew, but trust me, it'll benefit you) the major stuff from Tennessee Williams.

I'm curious, though, because I'm not sure whether I've encountered it (maybe I did, and didn't know it): what is a 3rd-person perspective shift? What's a good example? (if you can cite one that isn't SFF it'll be easier for me to find it) I can understand 1st-person shifts from a proto-omniscient perspective (a la AILD) but I'm not sure I understand how it works in the 3rd person. But if you give me an example, I bet I'll get it.

Blogger Spencer Rathbun August 05, 2016 3:07 PM  

I can't stand when someone picks a perspective, and then isn't following that perspectives rules. Don't spend half the book as omniscient third person, then suddenly reveal that it's not truly omniscient. You aren't playing fair with the reader.

Blogger bob k. mando August 05, 2016 3:13 PM  

trans-perspectivism.

shitlords just say no.

Blogger Quadko August 05, 2016 3:16 PM  

Trimegistus wrote:"Sorry, I've got to hone my panther"
Ha! Nice one.
"Is that what kids are calling it these days?"

Blogger IrishFarmer August 05, 2016 3:16 PM  

One of the reasons, the least reason anyway, that I don't like game of thrones. Actually I didn't like it in your book either but then again your book didn't make me feel dirty for reading it so it works better there.

Anonymous BGKB August 05, 2016 3:32 PM  

What if your character is two faced or two spirited?

Anonymous Frankenstein McBadperson August 05, 2016 3:34 PM  

I've never read the book versions of Game of Thrones, ain't likely to, and from the descriptions I've read here, probably never will.

But it works as flippin' great television.

The main reason? (Can you guess?)

A: Casting! Casting! Casting!!!!

Trust me, it's an art, like anything else.


Blogger Markku August 05, 2016 3:38 PM  

NARRATIVE SELFIE!

Anonymous Pope Cleophus I August 05, 2016 3:39 PM  

Years ago I took a creative writing class in college. It turned out the instructor renamed the class "Fiction Workshop" for the semester. The goal was to write a novel with each student taking a chapter.

Was the class a success? It did produce a novel so it was a success by one metric. Was it a good novel? No. Most people can't write about how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, so it was no surprise that the novel suffered with readability issues.

The instructor had a mantra about writing fiction; show don't tell. They are words to live by.

Blogger Nick S August 05, 2016 3:42 PM  

Trimegistus wrote:From now on "Sorry, I've got to hone my panther" is going to be my all-purpose excuse when I don't want to do something.

? You don't have anyone to hone your panther for you?

Anonymous 5343 August 05, 2016 3:44 PM  

Markku wrote:NARRATIVE SELFIE!

I don't even know what this means and I'm still really, really interested ...

Blogger Markku August 05, 2016 3:47 PM  

Narrative selfie is what Vox describes. The narrative switches perspective to take a selfie of the author's Mary Sue

Anonymous Frankenstein McBadperson August 05, 2016 3:47 PM  

"show don't tell"

If I hear this fucking idiot mantra one more time I'm going to personally strangle General Sho, and his General Sho's Chicken.

What's the correct attitude?

Oh, you thought I was gonna give you a straight answer, did you.....

Blogger Ingot9455 August 05, 2016 3:51 PM  

Vox Day forgot to mention his steely grey soul-piercing eyes and impeccable taste in wines, but as they were not germane to the immediate description he left them out along with an extensive description of his head-shaving regimen.

Blogger Dave August 05, 2016 4:02 PM  

No mention of bestselling philosopher either.

Anonymous Keener August 05, 2016 4:14 PM  

I hate unreliable narrators. I wish they were people so I could strangle them. As for the pov switching in order to describe protag., I just did that very thing. I should turn in my card. Or rewrite it. I could have zim looking into a mirror and lamenting that zir's eyes are too glowing, hair far too silky, breast-things too big and juicy, sigh, why don't the other grils like me? (snatches out P226-XXL and shoots mirror).

Blogger B.J. August 05, 2016 4:17 PM  

I'm just happy when they don't use Frank Herbert Thought Italics, B.J. thought to himself using words in his mind with his brain.

Anonymous Jill August 05, 2016 4:42 PM  

Historical novelists, such as Jane Austen, would start in omniscient and then narrow in on different characters' perspectives. It had a kind of God-like flow to it. Most people would sound hackneyed doing that these days, but then, omniscient is severely frowned on, so it's not something modern authors practice very often. I wanted to write my latest book in omniscient but found it didn't suit the narrative, or my limited abilities.

Anonymous Jill August 05, 2016 4:48 PM  

'"show don't tell"

If I hear this fucking idiot mantra one more time I'm going to personally strangle General Sho, and his General Sho's Chicken.'

It's a silly mantra, especially when considering that all of writing is telling because books aren't movies or stage plays. Bare-bones writing without descriptive detail falls flat to me because there are no visuals except what the author can conjure in the mind.

Anonymous Ezekiel Cassandros August 05, 2016 5:00 PM  

Those panthers who refer to themselves in the third person sure do have great muscles, though.

Anonymous Frankenstein McBadperson August 05, 2016 5:04 PM  

@45 Jill "It's a silly mantra]

Yes.

[I'd do this in Greek but I'm rusty]

Sing to me, Muse, and TELL me
About that man, that many-styled man...

-- opening of The Odyssey, where Homer himself violates rule of "show don't tell."

Anger be now your song, O Goddess:
The anger of Achilles, doomed and ruinous.

Again I detect the subtle flavor of telling not showing. But Homer does go on to the opposite pole, to his credit. But then, Homer does everythang.

It's the ideological rigidness that bugs me, not the proposition itself, which can be useful, especially to the untalented and/or undisciplined.

What has he that becomes
His heart's strong core?
He has his poverty and nothing more.
His poverty BECOMES
His heart's strong core:
A forgetfulness of summer, at the poles.
-- Stevens


Blogger Markku August 05, 2016 5:10 PM  

Bare-bones writing without descriptive detail falls flat to me because there are no visuals except what the author can conjure in the mind.

It shouldn't be understood in that binary a fashion. It just means, weave character details into the events of the story, don't just list them in the exposition. They'll be cardboard that way.

Blogger Markku August 05, 2016 5:12 PM  

It doesn't mean that there shouldn't be any exposition at all, it just means that whenever you have the option of either just stating the fact, or implying it from the events, choose the latter.

Blogger wrf3 August 05, 2016 5:15 PM  

VD wrote:Some of the greatest SF ever published was pretty bad from a stylistic perspective.
Examples?

Blogger wrf3 August 05, 2016 5:21 PM  

Pope Cleophus I wrote:The goal was to write a novel with each student taking a chapter.

This should have been nominated for a Hugo. (Snopes version).

Anonymous Jill August 05, 2016 5:21 PM  

"It shouldn't be understood in that binary a fashion." When I'm reading a book and get bored, the binary is an open book or a closed book. I don't prefer bare-bones writing. I'm speaking from the perspective of a reader. Of course, the better the description is woven into the tale, the better the book. That seems fairly obvious, like saying good writing is better than meciocre writing.

Blogger Markku August 05, 2016 5:26 PM  

It's not a mnemonic for the reader, but the writer. To always make him think if this fact that he's thinking about just stating in a plain fashion in the exposition, could be weaved into the events instead.

Anonymous 5343 August 05, 2016 5:27 PM  

That seems fairly obvious, like saying good writing is better than mediocre writing.

And yet so many professional writers remain clueless about it.

Blogger Tobias Nysa August 05, 2016 5:29 PM  

Good advice. Still, a kind of dialectic can arise by subtle tricks. eg

"John stretched his neck back and forth a few times, grunted, and drained his can of beer. A smile spread over his countenance.
'Why do you always act like an idiot?' his wife wanted to know."


Not saying that is good writing. just that it does not involve a Mary-Sue narrative change

Anonymous Frankenstein McBadperson August 05, 2016 5:48 PM  

For aspiring writers, one of the most interesting perspective switches is this, well worth studying in the music:

EARLY BEATLES 1961-65: John Lennon as both the Trickster and the Ultimate Alpha, writing one crazy hit after another; Paul as his henchman. Very gifted, but still a henchman.

BEATLES 1966-70: John Lennon as beyond-the-wall lunatic, getting weirder and deeper but also more interesting; Paul his former apprentice now overtaking him though, for Alpha status. John, so lost in Yoko and his other personal issues, doesn't seem to realize it, or care.

PLASTIC ONO BAND (1970): John's post-mortem of the whole circus; very painful to listen to, but also very instructive.

Wagner's on line 4, anybody want to pick up?

Blogger L. Jagi Lamplighter Wright August 05, 2016 6:21 PM  

I have to politely disagree. It is the popular style right now to keep everything in third-person-tight perspective. This was started by people like Hemingway and Elmore Leonard and is very popular for mysteries and thrillers, where you want the action to flow quickly, and you don't want the reader to know anything the character doesn't know.

But most older books and many kids books are written in omniscient, which I, and some other readers I have spoken to, sometimes prefer. Omniscient is not as streamlined, but it allows for subtleties and depth that the other can lack.

Omniscient is not good for thrillers or mysteries--or for fantasies written in that style. But it can do very well for children's books, romances, and high fantasy, where you want a more old-fashioned

Modern writing teachers emphasize "show, don't tell." but most of the best books of the past are a much larger percentage of tell than modern books, and they are still excellent upon rereading.

Why, become modern books can become awkward and soggy with every scene being laid out with full dialogue. A mix of show and tell, some scenes in full detail, others summed up, often leads to a more enjoyable book.

All that being said...any of these things can be done badly, and if we were both looking at particular passages, we might both agree that particular passage was awkward and not done well.

Markku, "narrative selfie" is hilarious.

Blogger tublecane August 05, 2016 6:29 PM  

@39-Yeah, with "show don't tell" who even needs a narrator? All narrators do is tell me stuff. Shut up, I don't need your damn words. I can just watch movies and see people do things.

Seriously though, open any novel from before whenever "bare bones" conquered the world and they're constantly just telling you stuff. Not merely family history in chapter one, but all the way through. It's jarring. "Show don't tell" is modernistic, and a fashion that will eventually fall out of style. Or maybe it won't, and we'll all die of literary exposure in the bareness of it all.

Blogger tublecane August 05, 2016 6:33 PM  

@57-About dialogue, there are masters at it, like John O'Hara. I was shocked when I read him for the first time, accustomed as I was to run of the mill Bare Bones mumblings. But you don't have to be that good if you haven't unnecessarily burdened yourself with "show don't tell."

Blogger Bob Loblaw August 05, 2016 6:51 PM  

From now on "Sorry, I've got to hone my panther" is going to be my all-purpose excuse when I don't want to do something.

Just don't be surprised if nobody wants to shake your hand afterwards.

Blogger Bob Loblaw August 05, 2016 6:52 PM  

Depends on the section break. If an author switches character POV by putting in a section heading called "[Character]'s POV", I quit reading immediately.

That sort of sounds like a "note to self" that erroneously didn't get removed in the editing process.

Blogger dc.sunsets August 05, 2016 6:54 PM  

Bull. Shit.

I gave up reading fiction for decades because "best selling" authors spent 6 pages describing some aspect of the scene that was irrelevant to any plot movement.

If I can skim your book & still miss nothing important you suck as a storyteller. If every fourth sentence moves the plot zero forward, your editor has wasted irreplaceable minutes of my life, making me want to exact revenge.

Children tell stories that are all narrative. Only their parents & grandparents find that charming.

Blogger dc.sunsets August 05, 2016 6:57 PM  

Hey Frankie, If Homer published today his self-published ebook would sell 4 copies, assuming he had that many living parents & grandparents.

Blogger dc.sunsets August 05, 2016 7:01 PM  

That seems fairly obvious, like saying good writing is better than meciocre writing.

Make my day; tell me how many self-published ebooks you've read this month.

In the age of anyone publishes, (and for that matter, even famous authors seem to get little editorial help nowadays) the number of stories printed where action conveys necessary narration is damned few, it seems.

Anonymous Frankenstein McBadperson August 05, 2016 7:02 PM  

One thing you Alpha Game types might like to pick up on...

(I understand your theory, I think; but it seems to me that's it's an incomplete explicator of human SMV behavior, but a useful start...)

When I was in high school, I was sort of a bit in demand amongst various local rock groups, to do solo sets of John Lennon songs, a lot of times while the rest of the band took a break. I usually did them mostly a cappella, to pretty good success.

The interesting thing about John Lennon songs is how often he sounds emotionally wounded and hurt (which he was), whilst nevertheless retaining clear Alpha status (often by playing the Trickster), but he always regroups and phrases his agony in commands; even commands to himself, but still commands.

--Hey! You've got to hide your love away!
--Help! I need somebody! HELP!
--I'm gonna let you down! And leave you FLAT!

That sort of thing.

Something to munch upon, whilst munching on your munchies.


Blogger tublecane August 05, 2016 7:17 PM  

@62-There's a disconnect in your post. First you're complaining about the author wasting your time, then you talk about stories that are "all narrative," leaving me with the impression that you think narration is irrelevant and a waste of time by definition. I don't even understand this mindset. Only someone trapped inside the "show don't tell" prison could come up with it.

Here's possible news to you: you can narrate plot. You can narrate everything! Also, just because the author "shows" things doesn't mean he's not wasting your time. Showing doesn't mean moving the plot forward.

I wouldn't want the entire book to be narration, but if I had to choose between all narration and all action I think I'd pick the former. Because it's more likely for that to be a whole story, I'd wager.

Anonymous Frankenstein McBadperson August 05, 2016 7:31 PM  

I can't help thinking that this debate should be put on intermission, along with some nice chilled shrimp and a good cocktail sauce (who doesn't like chilled shrimp with good cocktail sauce?!), whilst you all step aside to read "The Haunting of Hill House", "The Intoxicated," and "We Have Always Lived in the Castle" by Shirley Jackson (pbuh), so you can see how these sorts of oscillations are done by a master. Then the discussion can resume profitably, and also with a belly full of good shrimp. What's not to like?

Blogger bob k. mando August 05, 2016 7:39 PM  

46. Ezekiel Cassandros August 05, 2016 5:00 PM
Those panthers who refer to themselves in the third person sure do have great muscles, though.




that's because it's a Sex Panther.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OThqZEMBf7M

Blogger Noah B August 05, 2016 8:18 PM  

Typically one sees a change in perspective accompanying a change in the focus of the plot onto a new character. Aside from that, I can't think of many writers in any genre who have pulled off abrupt and frequent changes in perspective very well. Of what I've read, only Vonnegut comes to mind.

Anonymous Instasetting August 05, 2016 9:15 PM  

D.C., I read a ton of self-pubbed ebooks. Love my Kindle Unlimited. Also, free or .99 books are nice.

Currently...
"The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin" by JC Wright's wife is good.

"Schooled in Magic" and "Empire at War" boxed set by Christopher Nuttall and edited by same for second.

Doubleback by Bob Blink...which might have been more. This series is one the Ilk should like.

History of the US by Cecil Chesterton, brother to GK.

Mage--Elemental Magic series...its ok.

There are a few more I'm not sure about, but that's okay. I can easily return them if they don't turn out to be to my taste.

Blogger Brian Niemeier August 05, 2016 9:30 PM  

@57 Gotta agree with my editor :)

A good rule of thumb: make the choice that's the most fun for the reader.

Anonymous andon August 05, 2016 9:34 PM  

@ #67 - there's a place in Vegas that has $1 shrimp cocktails.
or at least they did when I was last there, ~ 10 years ago

Blogger The Other Robot August 05, 2016 10:18 PM  

I hope this means MOAR BOOKS!

Anonymous Bosch2000 August 05, 2016 10:44 PM  

@39 "Show, don't tell"

Wait, have I had this wrong all these years? I always assumed it meant "Don't make your subtext text." Give the reader subtle character or theme information, and let them draw their own conclusions from that.

A wearingly-common example is having a plot revolve around the public's appetite for violence and how the media is just 'giving the audience what it wants' whilst filling the story full of violence and then ham-handedly drawing attention to in a manner that suggests they're standing behind you as you read, screaming "DO YOU SEE? YOU'RE PART OF THE PROBLEM. DO YOU GET IT, STUPID?"

Since Social Justice Fiction exists to lecture, not entertain, you see a lot of it.

I suspect SJF also has a Secondary Function: it lets ugly, dysfunctional authors fantasise about being popular and sexually-attractive.

It's really rather sad.

Blogger John Wright August 05, 2016 11:38 PM  

@63
To the contrary, the catelogue of ships in book four is better than nine tenths of the things published today. Some people just cannot taste the difference between steak and spam.

Blogger Tom Kratman August 05, 2016 11:45 PM  

Calling an exception to this generally sound rule. If it's a straight women looking at a man, or vice versa, appearance, if especially attractive, is often the thing they'll first key on. This is probably true for gay looking at gay and lesbian looking at lesbian. It _can_ be true for gay looking at a beautiful woman, too.

Blogger tublecane August 06, 2016 1:10 AM  

@74-If the mantra were as you say, instead of "show don't tell" it'd be "be subtle." But as a silly catchphrase that's about as useful as "be good." "Show don't tell" isn't useful, either. It might be, maybe, if it were "don't always tell; show sometimes," but that's not catchy. "Show don't tell" is pseudo-useful.

Anonymous Jill August 06, 2016 3:09 AM  

"It's not a mnemonic for the reader, but the writer." I was on a road trip today and was not able to respond to this earlier. I'm a reader who went through a creative writing program. I can often see the negative impact of the "show don't tell" mantra in the books I read (and edit), though I understand its purpose. I wrote a short story mocking the absurdity writers go to in order to fit the close 3rd person, show-don't-tell mindset; I think it was called something deeply profound like "In the Dollhouse of Modern Fiction." I'm also an editor whose job is to reign in writers' worst excesses. So I get both sides of this.

"Make my day; tell me how many self-published ebooks you've read this month."

At one time, I read a lot of self-pubbed fiction from authors I knew and trusted. Now I spend all my time reading for editing jobs. I read one self-pubbed book last month, and it badly needed an editor. It went in and out of showing and telling, but that wasn't what was wrong with it. It was just sloppy writing, sentence structure, etc. Nothing wrong with exposition -- if it's good.


Anonymous Frankenstein McBadperson August 06, 2016 3:24 AM  

"I'm also an editor whose job is to reign in"

Reign in?

Garcon! This editor is under-cooked. Bring me another one.

Anonymous Avalanche August 06, 2016 8:40 AM  

Slightly OT, but I still remember (with horror? anger? dismay? all three?!) a book I read back in the '70s. (I think it was CJ Cherryth; but I may be maligning her incorrectly.)

Having read enjoyably some 5-6 earlier ones, this one was (I dimly remember) either another with the same characters or another in the same universe. Protagonist lands (indentured servant?) on an icy/snowy planet to go hunting for something... Now, these were GOOD books (to a 18-yr old?); well-written and engaging... And this particular one (after) was AS engaging as the others.

So, I'm hypnotized, reading along the action, and totally immersed. And suddenly, new chapter, I'm reading in current tense. (Kinda like running along at speed and suddenly tripping onto my face!) Threw me completely out of the book -- and I had to go back several pages to figure out whatthehell happened! Had I not *just* been reading in past tense? Had I just MISSED that the book was in present tense all along?! (Nope; it seemed she/someone had decided that to "make the action more action-y" the tense change could do it?! Oh no No NO!)

Did finish that book, but was not hypnotized by it the rest of the way through. And then couldn't carry on with her books. It was SUCH a put-off!

Anonymous Turner Ashby August 06, 2016 10:51 AM  

I don't think it was C.J. Cherryh. The description of the protagonist's hunting someone on an icy planet fits *Well of Shiuan* (1978). That's the second Morgaine novel, and I don't know the Morgaine books as well as I know the rest of Cherryh's work, so I guess it's possible I could be forgetting that section.

But you say you read the book in question "in the '70's" and Cherryh began her writing career in 1976 with the standalone *Brothers of Earth* and the first Morgaine novel, *Gate of Ivrel*.
So you couldn't possibly have "read enjoyably some 5-6 earlier [books]" of hers at that time. Even in 1979, there would only have been four other Cherryh books extant, and one of those would have been the *sequel* to *Well of Shiuan*, which I presume you'd have been unlikely to read before it.

Anonymous Jill August 06, 2016 11:54 AM  

"Garcon! This editor is under-cooked. Bring me another one." LOL, it was like 3 in the morning when I couldn't sleep. Please forgive.

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