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“Show, Don’t Tell”, “Conflict-Resolution” and Other Writing Shibboleths

Seemingly we live in progressive, liberal times, where everything is questioned and nothing is taken on faith, yet in one area of our endeavours we still are beholden to arbitrary rules and regulations, which we accept as absolute truth and as some kind of sacrosanct gospel.

I am referring to such writing conventions as “Show, Don’t Tell”, “Conflict-Resolution”, and “Need to have characters in your story”. If you don’t follow these conventions, then your stories are judged to not be literature and are rejected out of hand by the literary establishment. So, these conventions are like passwords that one needs to know in order to gain entry into the hallow inner sanctum of literature.

I am speaking from personal experience, for I consistently ignore these conventions and just as consistently my work is rejected by editors. Yet, I refuse to change my stance on this matter.

My view has always been that one cannot hinder one’s creativity by saddling it with artificial rules. And so, when I write, I refuse to follow any established rules of writing, such as the rule that there have to be characters in one’s stories, the rule that a story’s plot needs to follow a “Conflict-Resolution” pattern, and the need for a story to “Show, Don’t Tell”. I simply do not care for any artificial, external, prescriptive rules that one is supposed to follow when one is writing and I will always reject any restrictive, constraining limits on my creativity. I refuse to shackle and lame my creativity by any prohibitive limitations. It’s like deliberately putting chains on oneself when one is being creative – why would one do that to one’s creativity and constrain it so?

Given that fiction writing is such a complex and infinitely diverse field, existing in so many different variations, I really can’t see how one can put any external constraints on what form and shape a fictional story should take. Also, given that fiction writing is not an exact science by any stretch of imagination, I don’t see how rules such as “Show, Don’t Tell” could be considered to be absolute laws that every fictional story has to follow in order for it to be a valid and worthy fictional story.

I might also add that despite my stories not following these rules, my work, nevertheless, does have a dedicated readership who appreciate it.

As an example of a story that doesn’t follow “Show, Don’t Tell” and “Need to have characters” conventions, I include below my story “The Shadow of the Great Nebula of Orion” that was published recently in the “The Rabbit Hole” anthology. (Some editors do accept my work!)

THE SHADOW OF THE GREAT NEBULA OF ORION

One day, the nebula in the constellation of Orion, already the brightest nebula in the night sky, started to shine more intensely, emitting a piercing blue-green light. Its luminosity became so brilliant that it cast shadows during the daylight hours too, something that had always been the sole prerogative of the Sun.

Naturally, this generated great excitement, for never before had such an extremely bright celestial body been seen in the day sky. Everybody rushed outside to look at this heavenly wonder and to gawk at their double shadows, the old familiar one and the new one created by the Orion Nebula.

It was then that the world was hit by a very unpleasant surprise, for there was something quite peculiar about the shadows caused by the nebula. Instead of being mute, inert outlines of a person’s physical form, they revealed the shadow of a person’s character. Everyone’s inner anxieties, delusions and insecurities were now exposed for all to see.

No one could be found who did not possess a nebula shadow. Even newborns had a shadow accompanying them; thus, coincidentally, vindicating some psychological theories and theological dogmas, while demolishing others.

Naturally, the consequences of this new phenomenon were immense in their scope. Billions of lives were wrecked, relationships destroyed and careers ruined as a person’s innermost complexes and most tightly guarded secrets were revealed to their spouses, family, friends, work colleagues and complete strangers. The very structure of society was threatened, for its smooth running depended so much upon one’s true feelings and nature being suppressed and hidden, even from oneself. Consequently, these revelations came as a heavy shock to the many who didn’t know what apprehensions, doubts and self-deceptions they had been concealing from themselves in the remotest reaches of their psyches or in the deepest substrata of their unconscious minds.

Humanity was in a dilemma over how to cope with this situation. It certainly couldn’t dim or extinguish the nebula’s brightness. It could have tried to adapt to a nocturnal existence, when the shadows would be less distinct, but surely that would have been too radical and onerous a solution. Yet who could risk or put up with the shame, the disgrace and the burden of walking around with all of their flaws and aberrations showing?

Inevitably, cults arose that chose to embrace with enthusiasm this new state of affairs. For them the Orion Nebula was The Bearer of Truth, The Great Enlightener of Mankind. Just as the Sun brought outer illumination, so the Orion Nebula was deemed to bring inner illumination to the world. The adherents of these sects took pride in letting others see their most intimate neuroses, and experienced catharsis in coming face-to-face with their fears, self-delusions and insecurities for the very first time. Having accepted their shadows, they felt more fulfilled and whole than they ever did before.

And then, just as suddenly as it flared up, the Orion Nebula dimmed to its usual luminosity. It didn’t take long for people to readjust to having only one shadow again. Lives, relationships and careers wrecked by the nebula were quickly rebuilt and almost everyone resumed living their old lives, maintaining total silence about that awkward period when their failings were revealed. It was as if the exposure of their inner selves was nothing more than a minor faux pas that is ignored in polite company.

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About Writers, blogging, inspiration, Stories, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op, writing technique

Vonnegut on Writing Great Short Stories

“Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, and not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style. I am not urging you to write a novel, by the way — although I would not be sorry if you wrote one, provided you genuinely cared about something. A petition to the mayor about a pothole in front of your house or a love letter to the girl next door will do.”

“As for your use of language: Remember that two great masters of language, William Shakespeare and James Joyce, wrote sentences which were almost childlike when their subjects were most profound. ‘To be or not to be?’ asks Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The longest word is three letters long. Joyce, when he was frisky, could put together a sentence as intricate and as glittering as a necklace for Cleopatra, but my favorite sentence in his short story ‘Eveline’ is this one: ‘She was tired.’ At that point in the story, no other words could break the heart of a reader as those three words do.”

“English was Conrad’s third language, and much that seems piquant in his use of English was no doubt colored by his first language, which was Polish. And lucky indeed is the writer who has grown up in Ireland, for the English spoken there is so amusing and musical. I myself grew up in Indianapolis, where common speech sounds like a band saw cutting galvanized tin, and employs a vocabulary as unornamental as a monkey wrench. [ … ] No matter what your first language, you should treasure it all your life. If it happens to not be standard English, and if it shows itself when your write standard English, the result is usually delightful, like a very pretty girl with one eye that is green and one that is blue. I myself find that I trust my own writing most, and others seem to trust it most, too, when I sound most like a person from Indianapolis, which is what I am. What alternatives do I have?”

“My teachers wished me to write accurately, always selecting the most effective words, and relating the words to one another unambiguously, rigidly, like parts of a machine. They hoped that I would become understandable — and therefore understood. And there went my dream of doing with words what Pablo Picasso did with paint or what any number of jazz idols did with music. If I broke all the rules of punctuation, had words mean whatever I wanted them to mean, and strung them together higgledy-piggledy, I would simply not be understood. Readers want our pages to look very much like pages they have seen before. Why? This is because they themselves have a tough job to do, and they need all the help they can get from us.”

Source: Kurt Vonnegut Explains “How to Write With Style”
http://www.openculture.com/2014/11/kurt-vonnegut-explains-how-to-write-with-style.html

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About Writers, blogging, inspiration, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

Inspiration’s Elbow

Inspiration is the gentle pressure that sends writers into a fictional world of interesting people and situations. These nudges are as varied as creativity can make them. We know it can be anything, come from anywhere or nowhere. It’s unpredictable. Some writers might get a good idea if they were busy falling down an elevator shaft.

J.R.R. TOLKIEN was grading college exam papers, and midway through the stack he came across a gloriously blank sheet. Tolkien wrote down the first thing that randomly popped into his mind: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” He had no idea what a hobbit was or why it lived underground, and so he set out to solve the mystery.*

As he lay on a sofa after dinner, LEO TOLSTOY had a vision of an elbow. The image expanded into a melancholy woman in a ball gown. The mysterious lady haunted Tolstoy and he eventually decided to write her story, Anna Karenina.*

(*See more examples by Celia Johnson https://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/the-ideas-that-inspired-the-hobbit-animal-farm-8-other-famous-books)

What has nudged your creativity? Where have some of your own ideas come from? Tell us in the comments?

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