Show & Tell

Show, don’t tell” it’s something you’ll find a certain class of critic and some writers repeating over and over.  It sounds good too; I mean, if I only tell, the story will be rather short.  To tell Now & Forever: Lauren and Sally meet, they fall in love, there’s some crap because they’re lesbians in modern America and because they attend a religious private school, they overcome it, they graduate and live happily ever after.

Not too exciting is it?  Needless to say, I’ve got some showing to do.

Like most writing advice, ‘show, don’t tell’ is a fantastic guideline.  It, like everything else, cannot be a hard and fast rule.  Even the Rules of English Grammar, high and mighty they may be, are malleable in the crucible of creativity; just be sure you violate them on purpose, not by mistake.

Writing is a game of show and tell.  Humans are visual and auditory creatures.  We are not predesigned to communicate by little glyphs on paper or monitor, we just have the capacity to discuss a codified system of describing our natural communications methods in a symbolic fashion – we call this ‘writing’.

You’ll see mention of ‘invisible words’.  There are no invisible words.  There are words more or less obvious in the course of a sentence, but ‘a sentence’ versus ‘the sentence’ holds different meaning.  ‘Said’ is not invisible.  If I ‘say’, “I am going to the store,” then you will picture in your mind a different volume, tone, and such than if I ‘yell’, “I’m going to the store,” or ‘exclaim’, or ‘shout’, or ‘scream’.  Each word conveys a different context.  I show the dialogue “I am going to the store” but I tell the description of how I say it.  When writing fiction, you use the same language you would use to tell a story to your friends face to face – you will use it slightly differently, yes, but there’s a reason that both practices are called ‘storytelling’.

Some say it insults the reader’s intelligence to tell how something is said, others just simply don’t like adverbs so will use an adjectival phrase that has precisely the same meaning as the adverb.  The adverb is brevity, it’s pacing.  ‘She asked coyly’ is the same as ‘in a coy tone, she asked’.  One just pads the word count out a bit.  True, in some cases, the latter might hold a better sound or rhythm, so you may well choose it over the former, but the opposite could also be said.

The key to writing, and it doesn’t matter what you’re writing, from an IM to an epic series of novels, you are engaging in symbolic human speech.  You must consider how your punctuation, use of formatting, use of word choice, and – when need be – use of adverbs and adjectives will come across to the reader.  If you have no specific in mind, then you can keep some things neutral:  ‘I’m off to the store,’ she said.  But if it’s important that all readers hear that line in their minds the same way because it is critical to the moment you might try: ‘I’m off to the store,’ she sobbed.

You’re not insulting the readers’ intelligence by either confirming what they suspect, or by guiding them subtly down the infinite branches of probable scenarios that something could contain.  “Stop it,” she growled as the man kicked her harder.  Is different than “Stop it,” she whimpered as the man kicked her harder.  In this case, clearly the context up to this was a fight; this poor woman is being beaten.  In the former example, she is getting angry, she is hurting but she’s pissed and likely about to retaliate; in the latter she is in suffering in pain, pleading for succour from her assailant’s aggression.

The language we use in our storytelling is vital.  We must paint our scenes, scenarios, and situations for an audience who is not privy to the inner workings of our own imaginations.  Even when writing non-fiction, there should be an eye to what the reader will ‘hear’ in their mind as they read as you still must be certain that your text conveys with it the meaning equal to the lesson you’re providing.

It’s been said, and it might be true, that prose has suffered in the age of the word processor.  In the days of longhand and typewriter you would carefully narrate your tale, leading to accolades of the brilliant prose and resulting in your story reading as though some invisible storyteller were, indeed, speaking your words.  In the age since the word processor – both the devices (for those old enough to remember them) and the software – we treat our text as pieces of a mosaic, something we can shuffle around and turn and tug until we have the picture we desire.  I can’t say, myself, my approach is the same regardless how I compose the text, but I can say that there seems to be a distinct difference between the average piece of fiction of old compared to one of today in regards to how comfortably it can be read aloud … though I will say that some of the books of greatest impact seem to read more like older tales, than newer, and have a more tangible voice in the narrative.

We each write like that which we most enjoy reading, but the thing to keep in mind is that there are no rules.  If you don’t want to show something, because it isn’t important beyond the acknowledgment: this happened, then just tell.  Remember, if your character’s reaction, tone, expression, etc. is important, then be certain to say what it is.  Show and tell, we cannot communicate in the written English without doing both.  Not all people see the same body language, the same situations, from the same point of view, be sure to tell your audience just what is going on.  The argument that “no one on TV says, ‘I’m really upset now’” is a very daft argument about text; on TV we can see and hear that they are angry, and you can bet that the script has something like:  Helen:  Angry with Jillian.  Can we get the hell out of here now?!

Happiness and excitement

I don’t ever have to use Microsoft Word again.  The reasons for doing so can be accomplished in Apple’s Pages.  It’s even done the way I’d long suspected:  with Sections.  It just never worked for me before.

I can’t take the credit for learning this, though.  My lovely and talented editor figured it out.  She’s even more loathe to touch Office than I am — which is to say she steadfastly will not load it for any reason whatsoever.

In other news I’ve finished my proofread.  I’ll be spending tonight and tomorrow getting the files generated and uploaded.

I’m calling the release date the 29th, though Smashwords will have it the 28th because of their insistence on putting the file up as available the moment it’s uploaded instead of — like everyone else — after you’ve had the chance to make sure everything is correct and waiting for a final, blanket SUBMIT button to be pressed.  Oy.

Continue reading

Further reasons I dislike Word

I am determined to meet my release date goal — though I’m realistic enough to know that I could end up as much as a day or even a week off.


Microsoft Word 2010.

I’ve used Word in the past, and hated it.  I hated it most when I could save a file in it, come back to the same machine and install and open the file that machine and install had created and the file opened … but things weren’t as I’d saved them (formatting and such were lost), but I could open the same file in something else — Star Office being a preference at the time — and most of the previous formatting was there.  I didn’t use Word for ages.  Back then it was Word ’97 and 2000, if I recall correctly.

Now I use Word at work.  And I’ve been typing my stories in it when I can’t use iWork‘s Pages instead.  Yesterday it decided to be quite cruel.  I went to open Love or Lust to do that days editing … and the file self-destructed.  1.2Mb suddenly was 128kb.  And the last backup of my changes was 2 days prior!  Ugh.

never have had a problem like this with WordPerfect, Lotus Works, Star Office, LibreOffice, Open Office, AbiWord, Pages, Claris Works, and easily a dozen others whose names I’ve long since forgotten.  Only Microsoft could mange to, in over a decade of development, make a problem worse rather than better (if less frequent).

I’m not happy.  I’m glad I do not have to pay money to use this garbage.  I will be trying to work double time to make up for the set back and then do so beyond to give myself headway in case something else goes wrong.

Word for Mac is so … not Apple

So I’ve found exactly one reason to use Microsoft’s Office program Word.  If it’s possible to have headers and footers that are different on one set of pages, or even a single page, than the rest of the document — including restarting page number count — in Pages, LibreOffice, OpenOffice, Abiword, and others I’ve never found it.

I did a lot of my typing of both Love or Lust and Ready or Not at work where I can’t use Pages (thank you Apple for Pages on iCloud coming soon), anyway, but normally I would just open them in Pages at home and Word at work and not worry about odd little artifacts creeping in until the final version.  Sadly I thought I had got to the final version before I noticed I’d missed some serious typos.  Well, by then I need to keep the .DOCX file unsullied for my CreateSpace print edition (the whole reason to need the variable footers & headers settings).

Well, to keep to my editing schedule I’ve installed Office 2011 on my Mac so I might work on my days off instead of just at work (my original plan for dealing with this unexpected extra proofreading run).  I must say, as much as I detest the Office 2010 at work for being unintuitive and horribly lacking in any aesthetics to speak of (very awesome icon, and far cooler than any Windows version I’ve ever encountered, but that’s about it).  I’ll grant, though, that the reviews saying it’s infinitely stabler, smaller, faster, and generally a better program on Mac than on Windows is quite true.  It certainly is much more usable on the Mac than on the PC, but Pages is, with the aforementioned exception, infinitely more so.  Suffice to say, unlike previous situations where I was able to obtain legitimate free copies of their software or OS when I felt that I had overpaid, I think that I paid a fair price by getting it Free.  I might even have, had there been a trial version to check it out first, have paid as much as us$5 or so for it.  I think, though, I’m far happier with the $20 for Pages (in fact, I’d gladly have paid the full us$79 that it was back under the iWork ’09 name and still called it a bargain).

For those looking for word processing that gets out of the way, lets you get the job done, look at Pages.  If you need to do weird, esoteric things to the document — export it as a Word file from the file menu then go to work or visit a friend or get to Kinkos or something where you can open it in Word to do the weird esoteric thing to it before upload or printing.

Hurray! Word count progresses!

I’m kind of glad I decided to do chapter 9 and on through the end of November as part of NaNoWriMo. It’s working out pretty well. I normally need little to no incentive to write, it’s usually more common for me to need incentive to stop writing. But we all have bad days, and I was beginning to have a pretty bad autumn so this gave me the little bit of a boost I needed.

Any wondering why my word count is always a multiple of 5 (except when I make a typo entering my word count update) it’s because of how I write. Everything is done pen on paper first then typed later. It’s easier for me. I can type very fast, but the keyboard and word processor get in the way, also … as fast as I type is nothing compared to the speed I can think and write so, there you have it. Also means I don’t have to try to figure out where to put a laptop or tablet (which I’m an awful, horrible typist on) every time I get inspired. I just need a solid surface of approximately 8½ inches by 11 inches, infinitely easier to do.

I’m off to revitalise by brain with some video games, then it’s back to the grindstone.