I’ve always been told that the very best writers ‘show don’t tell’. Not sure if this is always true but I’m happy to believe that it covers a good ninety per cent of the cases, so it’s something I always try to keep in mind in prose and poetry. And personally, I don’t think there’s anything more dull than a book that lays out every single detail in a litany of absolutes.
Anyway, as it turns out, my favourite example of ‘Show Don’t Tell’ doesn’t come from a book; it comes from a tv series: Boardwalk Empire – the opening credits to be precise. From the moment you watch the opener you know you’re in for something a little bit special. What I really love about this sequence is how it tells you everything you need to know about the world of Enoch Thompson, just by watching him watch the sea:
Even the way he steps away from the ocean with dry shoes demonstrates that, in his world at least, Enoch Thompson is untouchable.
Well worth a watch (the whole thing, not just the credits).
Another blog belonging to an unpublished writer, no less.
I’m even going to start it with the those seldom-heard words: ‘This one is going to be a little bit different.’ And I genuinely intend it to be. As often happens in life, things don’t always turn out quite as you’d like them to (and as proof of this, I refer you to the phrase unpublished writer a few lines up from this one), so I think it’s only fair that I point out what I’m going to be chatting about here – which is pretty much anything: my favourite books, my favourite writers, odd bits of music I hear on the telly, cats (we have two and a funeral pyre of shredded wildlife in the garden to prove it). I might even throw in the odd picture or two (I travel a lot). But mostly I’ll be talking about writing, so I guess that’s a good place to start.
A few weeks back, I posted my first novel on the Kindle bookstore:
Regarding Avalon is a science-fiction crime thriller I completed about a year ago. Since then it’s spent another six months doing the agency rounds before arriving back on my desk with about twenty firm but gentle ‘no thanks’ tucked under its arm. To be honest I think I was luckier than most since I did receive some very encouraging feedback, and very fair reasons as to why the book wasn’t taken on. One agent said she’d love to represent it, but already had an author who was working on something similar. Another said that it lacked an international feel (the book is set in London, and aside from the frequent forays into virtual reality, doesn’t travel much further than that).
Another said it just made him feel ‘a bit queasy’.
Oookay, upward and onward.
Now at this point, with a stack of rejection letters tutting gently from the coffee table, you find yourself with something of a decision to make.
Do you assume that twenty agents just don’t ‘get it’ and that someone in the next round will have the intelligence and foresight to see they hold a literary goldmine in their sweaty little hands?
Or do you think that twenty people with centuries of experience in selling fiction may actually have a point?
A detached rationality is what’s needed here; if you’re a new writer then picking answer number 2 will most probably save your novel.