Tag Archives: show don’t tell

My novel has arrived!

Photobucket There’s a reason for the lack of updates this time. I was planning this blog post for a long time, waiting for the proof copy of my novel to arrive… Only to realize I couldn’t afford new batteries for my camera to take pictures of it. But then I remembered there was a picture of the cover online, so… Here it is. The long awaited “my copy has arrived” post.

First things first: the proof copy looks amazing and professional. Better than I expected it to be. It’s a prize made by a NaNoWriMo sponsor, Create Space: whoever managed to write 50 000 words by the end of November got a free proof copy of her novel. Sounds great?

Well, to tell you the truth, it sounds both great and lame, because it doesn’t really mean anything. It’s not like you have your novel published, or in print (unless you decide to self-publish it with them). Still, it’s nice to have it as a real book, with your (pen) name on the cover.

And now, the bad news: the novel itself.

It is… Amateurish, to say the least. Well, it sure didn’t seem so when I revised it, so the only explanation I have is: I was stupid enough not to print it and revise a printed copy. Never, never, never attempt to judge your work unless you have a printed copy!

Sounds logical? Yes, but I skipped this step, thinking I was smarter than this (and I couldn’t afford to print 370 pages, but it’s not an excuse). I’m one of those people who have no problems reading text on a monitor, even a long one, so I guess I thought printing the novel before revision was unnecessary.

Wrong. Besides glaring mistakes in the form of “he looked at her with his eyes” (I shit you not), there are so many unnecessary and amateurish things, such as head hopping (sudden shifts in POV), awkward pace and repetitions. And it’s not like I didn’t try to fix those things in the revision! So I guess I’ve learned a valuable lesson: always, always, ALWAYS print your copy before you declare you’ve done with the revision.

Also, it’s slow. And not slow in a literary fiction, Ian McEwan “one day on 100 pages” kind of slow. Slow in a boooring kind of way. It gets better in the chapter 3, and particularly after the chapter 10, but people won’t read that far unless I make them interested in the story.

On the other hand, there are some good things. I’ve managed to capture the setting (a small town) in all its beauty (or lack thereof). Also, dialogue. I used to think I’m bad at it, but now I see it’s one of my strengths. I also seem to be capable of not revealing too much (and making the reader fill in the blanks, which is quite important, since the whole story is basically peripheral: we never learn the big things, only their aftermath, beginning, or consequences). I’m also decent at creating realistic characters, though I’d say I still need a lot to learn in that department.

This was such a good experience, the whole NaNo thing. First of all, it helped me in a very tense moment in my life, and it prevented me from becoming depressed. This fact alone makes the whole thing precious.

And I’ve learned a lot about writing, too. I’ve learned that it’s possible to write on command, so to speak, without waiting for your muse. It’s difficult to wait for your muse when you have one hour of free time to write per day, for example. So you just start writing and… It works. I never believed it’s possible, but it is. So it’s a good thing to know.

I also learned how to squeeze things, so to speak. I still ended at 90 000 words where 70-80 000 would be more appropriate, but I’m learning how to control my writing.

And I learned how to handle dialogue. And how to reveal, explain, and describe using dialogue and action, not mere description (the “show, don’t tell rule”).

I also learned how to write from a male POV, and make the guy seem and sound like a guy (even in sex scenes! Go me!), which is something many female writers are unable to do right (see Simone Elkeles’ Perfect Chemistry … or Twilight for that matter (or better, not). Though a guy sounding like a girl is not the biggest problem with Perfect Chemistry, but it’s another story). Writing from a male POV is very important for me, since my fantasy novel has a male protagonist.

Finally, I learned a few things from my mistakes. The biggest one probably being: print, print, always print your work before/during/after revision.

So I’d say the experience was positive. I will leave this novel for now (though I already penned a few things that are crucial for the second revision), and I’ll focus on the new stuff. I sure want to start writing my fantasy novel (it’s been 8 years and counting, and I’m still unsure if I’m ready), and for this year’s NaNo, I want to face what it seems like the biggest challenge: writing in English. I know I’m not ready for it, but I’ll never be ready unless I try, and fail, and try again, and fail a little less. I’ll probably start with something simple, a YA (young adult) story, and I already have not one, but two ideas (one realistic, and another with a premise so absurd that it begs to be explored).

Bad writing advice

If you’re an aspiring writer, you’ve probably heard them all, but here are some extremely annoying ones:

Write what you know

In a way, this advice makes sense. If you write about the things you know nothing about, you will not only make huge mistakes, but will also lack certain authenticity (and, dare to say, integrity). But this advice shouldn’t be taken literally. After all, writing “what you know” would limit everyone to writing autobiographies – because you can only know your individual experience and nothing more.

So, this advice is useless for us who are not into writing about our own lives. Of course you will write about the things you don’t know, it goes without saying. But it’s a huge difference between “things you don’t know” and “not doing a research”.

Show, don’t tell

Unless you are making a conscious stylistic choice, chances are you will do a lot of telling in your story. Let’s face it: writing is telling, not showing.

In literary terms, “showing” means describing situations, plot, dialogue, and allowing readers to fill in the blanks. You don’t tell feelings, you show a person is angry by her actions and the words she says. This is a good advice, but shouldn’t be taken as a strict rule.

The trick is to tell effectively. Just determine what works for your story and your style. There are great books full of “telling” (“The Virgin Suicides” and “Jazz” just being two examples of it), and horrible books full of showing (political thrillers seem to be particularly prone to this).

Don’t use adverbs and adjectives

“Twilight” might be a good example of what can happen if you don’t follow this rule, but seriously, you should not alter your writing style to match this advice. Adverbs and adjectives can kill a story if overused, and they sure can make writing seem pretentious and / or flowery… But they can also enrich the story, if used correctly.

Write in third person singular, in the past tense

… Because we all know first person is amateurish, present tense is pretentious and any other option is just unreadable.

Don’t use prologues (and epilogues)

I used to think this is US-centric writing advice, because, honestly, it’s not something I’ve heard before I visited some American writing forums. But it looks like it’s quite prevalent: even J.K. Rowling named her prologue to Harry Potter “Chapter 1″ (though she was famous/powerful enough by the time the seventh book was published so she got to keep her epilogue). But this is advice I don’t get. A prologue is an integral part of the book; you should know when to use one and what to put in one, but I wouldn’t say it’s “forbidden” to use it.

Write for yourself

This advice is bad because it’s impossible to achieve. Nobody writes for herself. People may write because of themselves and to make themselves feel better, but nobody writes for themselves. People write for a Perfect Reader, and even this Perfect Reader is them, it’s not the same as writing for yourself.

I Finished My Novel

Yes. Finally. I finished my NaNoWriMo novel. And yes, it’s long overdue, because NaNo ended in November (more about that in a minute). But this is a very special moment because last time I finished a novel… It was more than 13 years ago.

Of course, it’s just a first draft. There’s a lot of editing to do. Currently, it stands at 102 000 words. Out of these, around 86 000 were written in November, during NaNo, and the rest (the last 6 chapters) in December. You could tell I really slowed down in December (be it because I’ve encountered a problem with the plot (yes), or because I lacked the motivation and the rush NaNo gives you). In any case, I managed to finish the first draft on December 30th. I still need to write one short scene in the middle and include a couple of pages between different sections of the book, and then I will have to start cutting. My goal is to make it around 80 000 words.

Additional details

The working title was “Hardin Hades” (in lack of a more inspirational one), but towards the end I’ve decided to change it to “A Postcard From Hades” (or something along those lines). The problem is, the title seems like something more appropriate for a horror story.

Also, I still don’t know what the novel is “about”. It’s obviously, more character than plot driven, but it’s not as heavy as some literary fiction is. Alternatively (and I cringe at this), it can be seen as romance, or young adult. The problem is, there’s way too much sex for YA.

Speaking of which, the sex in the story is not erotica, but very Judy Blume style. It’s the only way those scenes could be written. (The only way that makes sense).

What I learned

I learned that I still have “it”. I still have the urge and the need, and I still have the will needed to write, plot and outline.

I learned I still enjoy it, very much.

I learned I still can’t write short: in my mind, this was a small novel, and I wondered if I’d be able to make it 50 000 words long. But it turned out to be more than 100 000 words.

I also learned I am not as bad at writing dialogues as I thought I was. Some of it came naturally to me, and writing most of it was really easy. On the other hand, I learned I have a problem with so-called transitional scenes, in which I have to describe stuff that happened but not directly show it (and no, contrary to what writing advice says, you shouldn’t always stick to “show, don’t tell” rule. Some things you have to tell (and not show), or else your novel will be either very long or fragmented).

I learned I can write explicit rape scene, but not a regular sex scene from a male POV.

And, very importantly: I learned I’m able to write “on command”, meaning, whenever I find time, no matter how small it is. This is very important, because of the time management.

In any case, I am really excited about this, and, dare to say, proud I finished this novel. It’s not my first, it’s actually my 13th, but it’s been a while. NaNoWriMO came at a perfect moment, and it helped me a lot. It gave me hope and support in a moment I really needed it.

Of course, it also helped me with my writing. My style is still unpolished and not as sharp as I want it to be, but I feel like I’m making a progress. More importantly, I am enjoying it, and I am more and more inspired to write something new. Maybe I should really start working on a novel I’ve been outlining for 7 years now (a fantasy novel I still don’t feel ready to do… But I will have to start at one point because it just won’t be any easier to do it. When novels are in your head for so long, they grow to great proportions, great significance, and it just puts a lot of pressure on you to actually start and write it).

Also, I got an idea (well, updated an older idea) for a dystopian novel about cloning. This one might have a potential. And yes, I know we don’t really need more dystopian novels about cloning (and I’m certainly not as skillful as some writers to pull it off), but it’s ok, because it won’t really be about cloning but something else (as usual). A really intimate story, you could say.

I just wanted to share this with you. :)