I have learned that the kindness of a teacher, a coach, a police officer, a neighbor, the parent of a friend, is never wasted. These moments are likely to pass with neither the child nor the adult fully knowing the significance of the contribution. No ceremony attaches to the moment that a child sees his own worth reflected in the eyes of an encouraging adult. Though nothing apparent marks the occasion, inside that child a new view of self might take hold. He is not just a person deserving of neglect or violence, not just a person who is a burden to the sad adults in his life, not just a child who fails to solve his family's problems, who fails to rescue them from pain or madness or addiction or poverty or unhappiness. No, this child might be someone else, someone whose appearance before this one adult revealed specialness or loveability or value.
–Gavin de Becker
Here's one way of looking at a good balance between Show and Tell. Imagine a story as a beaded
necklace. The actual bead is a scene with character interaction, dialogue, secrets, and killing. This
is where you will want to 'Show.'
Now, the space between the beads (the string) is your characters going somewhere else to talk about killing more people. It is less important and therefore you give it to the narrator and he says -'They all took a plane to Ohio.' In seven short words, you got the entire cast to Ohio.
Now it's time for another 'Show' bead.
Good dialogue doesn't duplicate real speech. It's an artificial creation that reads on the page like the conversation we "hear" in our heads after our brains have highlighted the important or interesting bits, and edited out the noise, error, repetition, and irrelevancies.
...all you have to do as a writer is make sure both the stimulus and response are presented:
in the proper order
with nothing skipped
close together, so the relationship's not obscured
Which, believe it or not, some people manage to mess up.
–Jack M. Bickham
Learn to stand out of the way and provide the energy or force the words need to find their growth process. The words cannot go against entropy and end up more highly organized than when they started unless fueled by energy you provide
Don't let what you can't believe stop you from writing what others will believe. Fiction creates the impression of reality. It does not mirror or duplicate reality. If the reader wanted unadulterated reality, he would not read fiction. He would read financial statements. . . . The writer must not be restrained by his own sense of credulity. Believing what you write and believing in what you write, are not the same. You are not required to believe your own inventions -- you are required to write them competently.
There's treasure everywhere!
Someone undoubtedly once said -- and very wisely, too -- that a needless repetition of words resulted in a style at once juvenile and unpleasant. Then someone else -- not at all wisely -- went a step farther and said that any repetition was unpleasant and should be avoided. At that moment, the theory of elegant variation was born. Never repeat a word, the holders of the theory insist; always find a synonym. . . . A word can be repeated several times without receiving undue emphasis if the word does not appear more than once in a position where it will be stressed. Repetition is always preferable to an obvious evasion of repetition.
Oddly enough, writing in a café can work, too, to improve concentration. . . . The café atmosphere keeps that sensory part of you busy and happy, so that the deeper, quieter part of you that creates and concentrates is free to do so.
. . . with an unspeakable thrill, she felt quite certain that all the things were coming (as she said) "out of the Lion's head." When you listened to his song, you heard the things he was making up: when you looked around, you saw them.
The desperate attempts of scientists to reduce language to a kind of algebraic formula in which the same symbol has always the same meaning resemble the process of trying to force a large and obstreperous cat into a small basket. As fast as you tuck in the head, the tail comes out; when you have at length confined the hind legs, the forepaws come out and scratch; and when, after a painful struggle, you shut down the lid, the dismal wailings of the imprisoned animal suggest that some essential dignity in the creature has been violated and a wrong done to its nature.
So you see the imagination needs moodling -- long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering . . . . That is why I hope you can keep up this continuity and sit for some time every day . . . before your typewriter -- if not writing, then just thoughtfully pulling your hair. If you skip for a day or two, it is hard to get started again. In a queer way, you are afraid of it.
I don't hate anyone right now, not even George W. Bush. This may seem an impossibility, but it is true, and indicates the presence of grace, or dementia, or both.
. . .you have to be your lead character's best friend and worst enemy all at the same time. You send your hero on a walk through the woods. Then you have a bear chase him. You let him climb a tree. You chop the tree down. The bear chases him into the river. He grabs onto a log. It turns out to be an alligator . . .
It is in the secret places -- pockets, drawers, purses, closets, safety deposit boxes -- that the hidden life of a character is revealed.
Unvarnished Fact Number Two -- there never has been, nor will be, a first draft of a fiction piece which cutting can't improve. And, as I have slowly and grudgingly learned over too many years, it does get easier as you go along. Just a word here and a word there to start with -- adjectives, especially, invite expunging -- and then it begins to appear that this whole passage, even this whole page, is not really adding anything to characterization or narrative despite its brilliant phrasing, and so on and so on until one revels in the full masochistic pleasure of wholesale excision.
Humankind is either on its way to the stars or hurtling out of a high-rise window to the street and mumbling, "So far, so good."
. . . once you have the basic idea it's just a case of fleshing it out in more and more detail until you have a plot.
If you find that you start a number of stories or pieces that you don't ever bother finishing, that you lose interest or faith in them along the way, it may be that there is nothing at their center about which you care passionately. You need to put yourself at their center, you and what you believe to be true or right. The core ethical concepts in which you most passionately believe are the language in which you are writing.
At the end of a long talk with a youngish critic, a sincere fellow whose personality (though not his values) I respect, he stared at me and then said slowly, "I don't understand you. Your talk is so much more complicated -- subtle -- than your writing. Your writing always seems to me too simple. And I replied, "But I've spent years and years trying to make my writing simple. What you see as a fault, I regard as a virtue." . . . . Any man who thinks the kind of simplicity I attempt is easy should try it for himself, if only in his next letter to the Times. I find it much easier now than I used to do, but that is because I have kept this aim in view throughout years of hard work.
There is real religion, which is about our relationship to God, which is important. But there is another kind of religion, and that is the religion that is about identity. It is about banding together in a group and defending ourselves against what we fear; when what we fear is each other. It is about not wanting to live in a world where we are in a minority, because it is uncomfortable to be a minority. That kind of religion talks about God sometimes, but it doesn't have to. It can call itself Christian or Muslim or Hindu or Communist or Libertarian or Green. I like real religion. . . . It's been of enormous importance and value in my life. This other stuff, I look at it and I fear for the survival of civilization.
If you think about something at three o'clock in the morning and then again at noon the next day, you get different answers.
For instance, consider this chapter, the one you're now reading. I didn't stagger from my bed to the typewriter and start typing. First, I staggered around the house for an hour, drank black coffee, wished I were dead, read the morning paper, and—also—jotted notes for this chapter. By the time I arrived at the typewriter, I had a fistful of notes, a terrible headache, and a hacking cough. Then I started to put one word after another.
If you want to stimulate yourself into writing, amuse yourself in wordless ways. Instead of going to a theater, hear a symphony orchestra, or go by yourself to a museum; go alone for long walks, or ride by yourself on a bus.
Line editors provide services for manuscripts in need of a thorough cleaning. A line editor is a housekeeper for your novel or nonfiction book. Their job is to sweep through the chapters, straighten out grammar, vacuum excess language from the pages, pick up those superfluous commas, suggest stronger verbs, and make your prose spic[k] and span.
You stare hypnotized at the page as the voice within composes not the story you are writing but the rave reviews it will receive in the country's greatest literary journal. Such grandiosity will kill you at the start, or any other time.
…rituals can help writers by providing stability amidst the stress of writing. Developing rituals can create a structure that helps writers get their writing done while dealing with the ups, downs, and challenges of the writing life.
The sure mark of an unliterary man is that he considers, "I've read it already," to be a conclusive argument against reading a work.
We're bugs struggling in the river, brightly visible to the trout below. With that fact in mind, people like me make up all these rules to give us the illusion that we're in charge.
Being alone is a lot more fun if it's optional.
Feeling like a fraud is one of the bad things about being a writer. You have to be a little disparaging about your work sometimes. Because of its nature, it is so closely tied up with your own personality that taking it seriously verges perilously close to the pompous. So there's a lot of talk by writers about just doing pot-boilers until one is financially secure enough to embark on a really serious work. Frankly, this is hooey. Writing pot-boilers implies writing down, and condescension is immediately apparent to, and rightly resented by, the editor. I believe that any writer who sells enough to eat off the proceeds is writing the very best he can all the time. When he stops, he stops eating.
I've read a lot of first-rate writing, and I have some critical sense; so I know where I stand. I'll never be first-rate. I'll improve with practice, I trust, but I haven't got what it takes to reach the top. However, I hope I'll never make the excuse that, "it's only a pot-boiler, after all." Everything I write, no matter how lousy it turns out to be, is the very best I am capable of at the time. My writing may be third-rate, but at least it's honest. You can't be even a third-rate writer without taking your work seriously.
Photo: "Books," by Jean Fitzhugh.