Even though I am a writer, this was never meant to be a literary blog, per se. However, tonight, let us talk about writing.
One thing I strongly dislike about far too many people in the literary world is the lack of width in their understanding and appreciation of books.
Each one of them would seem to only enjoy a particular way of writing, and any choosing not to employ the same is considered a folly.
Now, nobody appreciates one’s right to personal preference, but when it seeks to lay down a framework that every writer is expected to follow, we have a problem.
Among many other things, there is one edict every writer has always heard: Show, don’t tell.
There is some logic to it, of course.
As the website of a popular editor summarises it:
“Showing makes the writing vivid and more descriptive. Showing also helps readers experience the story by allowing them to interpret the descriptions of places, actions, and scenes.
Telling, on the other hand, is flat and boring and limits the experience for the reader. It also tells editors and agents you’re an amateur. After all, if the very first rule of writing is show, don’t tell, then telling says you don’t know the first thing about writing.”
Sure, that is, in general, pretty sound advice. Setting a scene, letting the readers draw conclusions for themselves, it all makes sense right? Of course, it only works when the perspective is of a proverbial fly-on-the-wall.
The rule is applicable only if you are employing a Third Person Objective narrative. Surprisingly narrow scope for such an important rule, right?
Now, I do not use this style of narrative very often. I have a strong preference for Character Voice. I like my characters to drive the narrative, and telling what the character thinks or feels can often be a part of it. It adds meat to the character, and also adds uncertainty into the narrative.
Think of this scenario. You are writing a novel that talks about a case of sexual harassment in an office.
Which approach would you prefer:
- Every chapter written objectively, documenting the actions and words of the characters.
- Different chapters written from the perspectives of different characters. Maybe the harasser’s male colleagues describe him as a wonderful guy who always gets the job done, and his female colleagues describe him as a creep who never lets them feel comfortable in the workplace.
Is either approach better than the other? No, they are just two different ways to turn one story into two distinct books. And there is no reason why both cannot be good.
At the end of the day, it is your story, and you get to decide how you write it.
As long as you are smart about it, you can show and tell.