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SANDMAN REVIEWS


A gripping psychological read with characters that reach out and grab you. A real page turner.

SOPHIE KING
bestselling author of The Wedding Party and other novels

Sandman touches our primary emotions: jealousy, love, fear, hatred, and grief... Kingsley has written an intriguing mystery/psychological thriller with interesting, believable and well-developed characters. There are twists, turns, red herrings, and a healthy dose of hair-raising fear and suspense to keep even the most fickle reader captivated. The dialogue is authentic, and, along with the scene-painting narrative, you’ll feel like you’re on the beach witnessing the unfolding action.
Highly recommended to readers who enjoy a great mystery!

WILLIAM POTTER
Reader’s Choice Book Reviews
(5 Star Rating)

Show not tell—for starters!

An author should be able to write in any style he or she wants, right? In theory this is certainly the case, but in practice, what you can get away with in mainstream publishing depends on who you are—or, more precisely, how famous you are.
You might assume that if you copied the style of a well-established author you would be well on your way to being accepted by an agent or publisher. Unfortunately, this can prove to be a dangerous assumption, as I hope to show in this article. But first, what does 'show not tell' really mean?
Take this example from Chapter 7 of a book called Not Dead Enough by top-selling thriller writer Peter James:

It was promising to be that rarest of things, a sublime English summer's day... The views from up here made you feel you were almost standing on top of the world... most of the members were out on the golf course this morning and had seen all those views so often they barely noticed them any more.

How about that for 'telling'? Clearly this author is telling you this as if you were by his side. Shortly he will be relating what happens to one of his characters but, meanwhile, step aside with the author and enjoy the view.
The first story-tellers in the world were just that: story-tellers. Children's stories are often like that, so we learn about this technique at a very early age. Many of our classics make the author's voice so prevalent that the flow is interrupted by the author's opinion on the story or even a character—which is really intrusive. And that is the point. If your awareness of the author's hand is coming through into the text—intruding into the story—then this temporarily shatters the illusion of the other world you should be working so hard to create. The publishing world often talks about your 'suspension of disbelief'. In other words, you can allow your disbelief to be turned off, for the sake of the enjoyment of a story, providing you are not constantly jarred into remembering it is just a story. If you suspend your disbelief you become more emotionally involved; the result is far greater enjoyment for the reader and a story—and author—to remember.
This is why the writing adage 'show not tell' is very important if you have yet to find an agent or publisher. They want you to prove you can suspend the reader's disbelief and pull him into your story-world. You must do it. It's one of the rules, so listen up! Okay, so many established novelists do a fair bit of telling—some even do it relentlessly and still have praise heaped upon their work—yet copy this technique and you are quite unlikely to get an acceptance. Unfair? Maybe, but that's life! So let's consider why this is so.
A trick you can employ in order to get over the same information is to run it through the consciousness of one of your characters. Take the following rewrite of the above excerpt from Peter James' book:

Fred felt happy. It was promising to be that rarest of things, a sublime English summer's day... The views from the hill made him feel he was almost standing on top of the world... Standing, appreciating the view for a moment, he reflected that most of the other members out on the golf course that morning had seen all those views so often before they barely noticed them any more.

Put this way, that earlier passage is now just telling you about Fred's thoughts. Put the original way, the author asks you to forget Fred for a moment and come with him to appreciate his opinion of the view; in so doing, he ruins your suspension of disbelief. The more you do this—tell rather than show—the more you reinforce the subconscious feeling you are reading a book whereas you should really be immersed in the book.
It is also possible to trim the changes above even more to give more immediacy, as in the following:

Fred felt happy. It was promising to be that rarest of things, a sublime English summer's day... The views from the hill made him feel on top of the world... Standing to appreciate the view for a moment, he reflected that most of the other members on the golf course that morning had seen all those views so often they barely noticed them any more.

Another well-known crime writer, Elmore Leonard, has ten famous rules of writing. After his ten rules, he summarises it all as follows: 'If it sounds like writing I rewrite it'. If something sounds like writing then you focus on the writing and not the fictional scene. (Purple prose most definitely sound like writing, for example (prose so overly extravagant, ornate, or flowery that it breaks the flow and draws attention to itself). Describing a flower is one thing, but drawing attention to your flowery language is another. That is not to say good prose cannot have a literary tone.
When writing 'SANDMAN', I tried hard to make sure scenes were as viewed through the eyes of one of my characters. (I also restricted each scene to the point-of-view of one character alone.) I am aware that I have occasionally told rather than shown—somewhat briefly, I hope—in order to reduce the wordage. Hopefully this is sufficiently rare that a reader's suspension of disbelief is very short. The following example from SANDMAN does, I admit, begin in a 'telling mode' (because the first paragraph here needs to identify the lone observer in the scene), but by the second and following (unshown) paragraphs, from Chapter 2, it shows you the scene through the observing eye of the scene's principal character:

The lad with rolled-up jeans pushed his boat into the water from where it was beached near the end of his garden. Jumping in, he sat down and rowed with a slow, fluid motion. Golden reflections from the low morning sun danced on the calm waters, and the only noise he heard was the soft plop of his oars as they moved in and out of the water. A shallow mist hung low over marshland at the easterly tip of Blackberry Point; several horses dreamed by the water’s edge as if floating on cloud. A light breeze caressed the boy’s deeply tanned skin and he sensed the coming of a hot, sun-filled day. He savoured the freshness of the air greedily. It was good to be alive.
After a couple of minutes he stopped rowing, stowed the oars, and moved back to the stern where he sat by the outboard. In no hurry to start the motor, he was content to stare across glittering waters while the boat drifted gently. Squinting against the brightness of the sun, he looked towards the long sandbank that separated the harbour from the sea. Beyond, only faintly discernable through the morning haze, he could see the distant outline of the Isle-of-Wight. The beach huts along the golden line of sand reminded him of colourful beads on a necklace. Nature had painted a glorious picture here, but it was the touch of man that lightened the mood and confirmed it was a place of fun. Sand and sea; fresh air and the sound of breaking waves; it was a combination that created a special magic.

By the time you get to the 3rd sentence ('Golden reflections from the low morning sun...') you are aware 'the lad' is the observer.
Some might accuse me of including purple prose in this excerpt, but I prefer to consider it a method of setting the scene: allowing the reader to see it as the observer does: beautiful and appreciated. I was trying to write an evocative work where the reader becomes immersed in both the setting and the storyline, for the two are integral in this novel. I have also tried to reduce any 'purple hue' by interspersing the scenic description with actions.
Publishers and agents have to rely on less experienced readers to filter submissions from their 'slush-piles' of manuscripts, therefore a few basic rules must apply. 'Show not tell' is one of those unwritten rules. Generally, an author who 'tells' just goes on telling, and this shows an inability to make his story as plausible as required in a debut novel.
So does this mean I am suggesting you can show rather than tell in your second novel? Not really. Once you crack the technique of showing rather than telling, carry on that way because the results are far more satisfying for the modern reader. Can you get away with it after the first novel? Maybe you can if you have established a good agent/publisher relationship and get good reviews, but do you want to provoke a reader's disbelief? I would think not, and I would therefore recommend you look out for this when editing and try to avoid it. Can you catch me out? Yep, of course you can. I've already admitted that expediency sometimes demands a short-cut, but there is a difference between occasional telling and constant telling. A brief 'tell' hardly gets noticed, except in the opening paragraphs. Being pragmatic, I just think we should try to avoid telling as much as possible. That's not to criticise published authors who choose to tell. Many famous authors do just that, and the volume of their readers shows it is not a problem for them.
Let's get back to my original point: 'show not tell—for starters'; by this I mean those authors 'starting out'. Fame might be a passport to freedom, but remember you have to prove who you are before you are allowed a passport! Telling is a lot easier than showing, and if you have to get books out and perform loads of other duties, it makes writing very much quicker to tell. I don't think it ever makes a story better, though, so while you have the time, and if you accept it is a better approach, always show, not tell.


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