I am developing a bad habit. Particularly for fiction, it is hard to limit the number of words in a blog post. I understand, too long a post and some people simply won’t read it. But to compensate, my naturally inventive sub-conscious has driven me to revert to the mistakes of a new or inexperienced writer. In short, I am telling rather than showing. This is especially true when dealing with the thoughts and feelings of a particular character.
I recently wrote: “He felt afraid to talk to her.” There is nothing necessarily wrong with that, but I could have written:
”He wanted to talk to her, but every time he tried his mouth went dry, his palms began to sweat and his tongue swelled up like he had just come from some Novocain happy dentist.”
I recently wrote: “He looked up from the dinner table and his mother smiled at him. “It will all work out,” she said, but that triggered Tommy’s feelings of anger and upset. No one ever listened to him. No one ever believed him.” Again, there is nothing wrong with saying it that way, but I could have written:
“He looked up from the dinner table and saw that fake, plastic grin his mother so often wore. He heard the condescension. “It will all work out.” He made no verbal response. He simply put his elbow on the table, wrinkled his cheek in the palm of his hand, picked up his fork and stabbed his baked potato three or four times.”
I have written about blogging and writing before – that they are not necessarily the same thing. (Under the tab Writing Secrets above you might want to look at tip #6). This is one more example why.
Writing that is sparse and lean appears to be the norm in our day. We might call it Hemingway’s legacy. By contrast, most of the classics are filled with long stretches of rich description. Would Moby Dick even be published today? Who can say? I am reminded of Dickens who got paid by the word. He could take 2000 words just to say it was snowing and cold outside. Of course, he did that brilliantly so he got away with it back then, but in our day, it would be very difficult to break up Great Expectations into digestible blog posts.
Today, publishing fiction on line for one reason or another is commonplace. Writers need to be careful, though. In order to keep it to an attractive length (so someone might actually invest the time to read it) beware the short cuts. There is nothing wrong with telling (per se) but showing is still generally better.