Extracurricular Activities for Zebras

So I was reading the first few posts of my blog, and I realized that I have a lot of apologizing to do.  I can’t believe I was eighteen when I wrote that stuff.  It all sounds so juvenile now.  And it’s only been two years!  But yeah, I need to say sorry.  First, to everyone in general.  My advice was so set in stone.  Like, the way I talked about things, it made it seem like that was the only way you could approach writing.  And that’s just not true.

But worse than that was the way I treated short story writers in my first post.  I basically called them all cowards and lesser beings for not writing novels.  Then I implied that short stories are generally only a page long, and then I threw out some random advice that was either wrong or only applicable to a select few types of stories.  I also implied that they couldn’t possibly get any help from my blog, because my blog is only for superior writers who write full-length books.  And that isn’t true at all.  So I’m really, really sorry, Short Story Writers.  I drew you an apology cake.  It has sprinkles.

I actually have a lot of respect for short story writers, because I really can’t do what they do.  I just don’t have a mind for it.  Unless I’m given a specific prompt, as I was in my fiction workshops, I just can’t come up with good ideas.  And I’ve also read a lot of great short stories.  Amy Hempel is an amazing writer.  The story Brad Carrigan, American by George Saunders is absolutely fantastic, as is anything else by George Saunders.  David Foster Wallace has also produced some incredibly memorable work.  My point is, I was full of shit back then.  I mean, I think I was trying to be funny, but I failed miserably.  I think that I’m going to try to write a short story as penance.  And I think I’m going to title it “Extracurricular Activities for Zebras.”  Don’t ask why, because it’s a long story.  It came out of a conversation with a friend of mine.  (Hey, boo, if you’re reading this: Hi!!)

So am I saying that you shouldn’t read my earlier posts?  That you should ignore all the things I said before October 2011?  Nope.  Not quite that.  I still make a few pretty good points.  I’ll leave it to your better judgment which advice to take and which to leave.  I think the problem is that I started this blog with the intent of walking someone (my readers) through the process of writing a book.  But now the blog has evolved, and I’m talking about writing in general and not trying to keep to such a schedule, so to speak.  I’m also aware that a lot of my advice is geared towards fellow YA and Fantasy writers, so if you’re not into those genres, I’m sorry.  Maybe a few of the things I say will still be relevant.

All that said, I’m going to talk a little about Show Don’t Tell today, thanks to a kind comment that was left on my last post.

I always hated Show Don’t Tell because I didn’t understand what it meant.  Various people tried to explain it to me, and I still couldn’t wrap my head around the idea.  My mind just kept flashing back to preschool Show and Tell when I would put an arbitrary item on display for my class and tell them why it mattered.

I don’t remember when I finally figured out what Show Don’t Tell means, or how I figured it out.  I think I might have done it on my own, but there’s a good chance my best friend explained it to me in a way that I finally understood.  The reason I’m talking about this now, by the way, is because of my last post on romance.  It was essentially a really long way of saying “Show the romance, don’t tell it.”  If the above Show and Tell had been changed to Show Don’t Tell, this would be the result:

It really is a hard thing to define.  Even now I’m having trouble putting it into words.  I suppose, if your narrator is saying things like, “Sally finally understood why she had to quit her job.  It had taken her a long time, but she had come to the conclusion that her job was killing her, and that she would truly be free to live her life if she quit” then that’s too much telling.  Showing Sally’s new understanding of her work situation is different.  It could be shown through dialogue, like:

Bossman: Sally, I need you to do a bunch of different things for me by five minutes ago, and also I think you’re inferior to me because you are a woman.

Sally: You know what, Bossman?  I quit.

And then you could follow it up with some emotion.  Not, “Sally felt so much better.  Everything seemed a little brighter.  She wished she’d quit years ago” because that’s still Telling.  But something like, “Sally smiled as she walked out of the office.  Several of her coworkers watched, mouths agape, as she strolled out of the building.  Some of them even looked envious.  Sally took a deep breath of fresh air, and yadda yadda…”  It’s not the best writing ever, but I hope I’ve illustrated the concept understandably anyway.

Word of the Day: Compunction (n) – a feeling of uneasiness or anxiety of the conscience caused by regret for doing wrong or causing pain; contrition; remorse.


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