Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Show vs. tell

I really enjoy critiquing. Yes, it's work, and I can't always do it--I have to weave it around my own writing, not to mention my Real Life. But I always learn something from doing it, and I always love seeing glimpses into such different worlds. I've just done three crits outside of my normal crit group rotation, and once again, I'm struck by how different and unique each person's writing is.

One thing the crits made me think through was when it's appropriate to tell, and when it's better to show. I think sometimes writers get a little too uptight about The Rules, as if they can NEVER be broken, ever. Eradication of adverbs! No dialogue tags except for "said"! Never tell, always show! In general, most of the time, those are good things. But I don't think it's 100% bad to use an adverb! Or to, once in a book or so, let someone snarl instead of say a line. The telling-showing thing is most on my mind right now. Here are the kinds of things you should probably show in your writing:

--key plot movements
--key emotional points
--scenes that show decisions, changes, or character growth
--scenes that show important aspects of the relationship between characters

This is what I think telling is good for:


As for the passing of time in a book, I think you need a mix. A small, specific, showing instance to sort of stand for all the other instances you aren't going to show. Besides, text on the page = passing of time in the text world.

Something that really helps necessary telling go down well is voice. If you can "tell" in the voice of your POV character, it just slides down like syrup. Rachel Hawkins's book Hex Hall did a good job with this, I thought. The voice let her tell the transitions and skip ahead to all the interesting parts she wanted to show us. And of course, JK Rowling is brilliant at balancing the two as well.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Second Sight, by Cheryl Klein (review)

Second Sight: An Editor’s Talks on Writing, Revising, Editing, and Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults
By Cheryl B. Klein
Asterisk Books, New York, 2011

A review by Rose Green

Second Sight is a collection of talks and workshops and blog posts on writing by Cheryl Klein, editor at Arthur A. Levine, an imprint of Scholastic. Some of these talks have appeared on her web site, and others not. Here they are all collected into one handy resource. If I was leaving the country and could only take a handful of books with me, I would include this one. It’s the single most practical writing book I’ve read.

What this book is not: an introduction to writing and/or children’s publishing. It will not tell you the standard format for manuscripts, nor will it tell you how to write a bestseller. It will not tell you how to get rich “like that woman from England who wrote a book” or how to get on Oprah. It has very few examples from adult books--with the exception of Aristotle’s writings, which should tell you something about the depth and seriousness with which Cheryl regards children’s literature.

Who this book is for: the intermediate to advanced writer, preferably someone who has already completed (or at least is deeply into) a first draft. There is definitely a hole in the market for books for intermediate writers, the ones who are past the introductory stages of how a book is put together but who don’t yet have an agent or editor of their own to guide them. It’s full of practical suggestions for deep revision, for finding those “electric fence emotions” (as she describes the raw feelings of middle school) and pulling them forward to connect with readers in a real, believable way. The book itself is written with authority; not just because of Klein’s editor hat, but because she herself is an excellent writer, particularly gifted at pinpointing and expressing plot structure, voice, characterization—in short, the underpinnings of a novel.

Some topics covered in the book: The Annotated Query Letter from Hell, back to back with an example and discussion of a good (real) query and why it works. Deep discussions of character, plot, theme, and voice. An excellent tutorial on how a picture book is put together, complete with a sample storyboard (which my daughter had me read to her--twice). An entire chapter detailing the editing process of one of her author’s books. (Note: if you think all the revision is over once you sign a contract, this chapter will be very eye-opening!) A revision checklist for writers. And more. If you are most concerned with getting the emotional heart of a book right, whether serious or funny or whatever, this is the book for you.

The only warning I need to give is that you may find yourself stopping often to put the book into practice. As I was reading it, I also happened to be revising a first draft of a book of my own, and found myself diving back and forth between my draft and this book, making notes and thinking through character arcs. So, bring a pencil when you sit down to read!

Second Sight will be available in February 2011 and further information about ordering can be found at Cheryl’s web site, www.cherylklein.com.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Writing bad guys

Just something I tried out this time. Think of a person or a kind of person who is a good guy for you. Someone you'd really trust and who you look up to. Now imagine that person gone bad. Everyone has choices, you know? And just because you start out as a good person doesn't mean you can't mess up. We all do--but of course, some people decide to fix their messups, and some don't. So imagine that good person, only soured, and you'll get a great bad guy.