In chapter two of the book, we learn about characterization, and to a degree the lesson is the same: show, don’t tell. Let the action and the (natural) dialogue help the readers form their own opinions sf the characters.
The basic idea is to avoid introducing your character all at once, by describing them and their history and the important things about them when we meet them. That slows down or stops the action. But if you show us the character a little at a time, the readers can interpret the character as they see fit.
Some specific things to avoid:
–Flashbacks. These stop the present action all at once.
–Long bits of exposition about the character.
–Presenting already arrived-at conclusions about the character.
–Absolutely don’t use maid and butler dialogue, or “feather duster.”
–Don’t tell about characteristics that show up in dialogue and action.
Rather than any of the above techniques, establish your character unobtrusively.
–Show characters saying and doing things.
–Write about what your character thinks about things.
–Give only as much background, history, or characterization as is absolutely necessary.
–When having to explain a new culture, let reader see them in real life– not lengthy exposition.
In the end, it is the same lesson as chapter one: know when to show and tell. And in the case of characters, it will almost always be better to show.
I have started reading Self-Editing for Fiction Writers in preparation for a workshop with David Farland in a few weeks. In an effort to better retain the information inn the book, I’m going to post my summaries of the chapters, here.
Chapter 1 covers a very basic topic, showing versus telling, but explains it as well as anything I’ve ever read on the topic.
Here’s the gist of it.
On a large scale:
–Avoid narrating scenes. Give them a time, setting, and action. Don’t summarize an important scene.
–Where practical, convert exposition into scenes.
–Use narrative summery to vary the rhythm of your text, so that each scene doesn’t have the same feel as every other scene.
–Summarize (tell) about unimportant plot developments
On a smaller scale, don’t tell when describing or in order to convey character emotions–resist the urge to explain: R.U.E.
I’ll be back with the other chapters as I read them.
My 11-year-old son’s basketball team lost tonight. First game in the playoffs. To a comp team one year younger than them. It was a very physical game, and pretty brutal. Lots of kids on the floor, several of them crying and holding onto various body parts. The refs asked our coach to take out our star player because he was out of control.
Now, I am no coach, and no expert in basketball, but I could see clearly why the other team won: greater discipline, and better mastery of the fundamentals of passing and rebounding. Seems like the enemy team passed 4-5 times per possession, looking for an open shot. Then, if they missed, they would get 2-3 rebonds.
On the other hand, our team acted like a pack of wild men, just throwing shots up that didn’t have a prayer. Not taking time to set up shots. Not passing. All kinds of offensive fouls. Just crazy.
Really, when it comes down to it, the other team was better prepared and better trained. No doubt about it. The fundamentals made all the difference.
My 6-year-old daughter is learning to read. I’ve noticed that she struggles a little with some letters and recognizing their sounds. No wonder she is struggling to read–she hasn’t mastered the basics.
The same will happen in any person’s efforts, in any endeavor. We must master the fundamentals before we can excel. We must know the basics, and they must be second nature to us. In basketball, I must know when to take a shot, and when to pass. I must know where to position myself for a rebound. In reading, I must know what a G says.
What are the fundamentals of writing? What are the things that must be second nature to us?