About Writers, editing, Stories, writing technique

Show Me

While screening stories submitted to Sci-Fi Lampoon magazine, it occurred to me that editing means the opportunity to find new stories to share with others. What does that mean? It can’t mean only stories that the editor personally likes. Good stories appeal to a wider variety of readers than any one person can imagine.

So what makes a story appeal to a wide variety of readers? Common themes help, of course, because more readers will identify with the story. But I suspect the real key is participation. Think of it this way: Would you rather sit in an audience and listen to a comedian or a lecturer? The lecturer may tell you interesting things but the comedian will draw you in and make you participate. Would you rather laugh or be lectured?

Yup. I’m talking “Show don’t tell,” my favorite explanation of which remains the quote by Russian novelist Anton Chekhov.

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
“Show don’t tell” entices the imagination. That lets the reader participate in the story.

Writers have used many creative ways to draw readers into their stories and the ‘Net is full of examples. Chekhov’s is an immersive description.
Some are half-thoughts that invite the reader to complete the image.

“She said only, ‘He spent the night rocking my world.'”

Or juxtaposed images that show something of the character’s character.

“I drive way too fast to worry about cholesterol.”
-Steven Wright.

What is your favorite way to show the reader your characters, to draw then into your world?

Me, I favor dialogue. It can allow the reader to imagine the details.

“You had a vibrator?”
She nodded. “I pulled a lot of guard duty. You know how boring that is?”

It’s not enough to tell a reader anything. You have to show them something.

Standard

68 thoughts on “Show Me

  1. From near the beginning of Book 1 of my trilogy, where two characters get introduced–Selena M, the narrator, a singer, and an alien that has just crashed on her back hillside.
    ———
    I lay there in the dark talking to her. I asked her questions. Where are you from? Why did you come here? What happened? What was your life like? How old are you? I got no response, of course. Wasn’t sure she was still alive.
    I told her my entire life story. I confessed many things that I’d never revealed to anyone else. Including myself.
    How I was strong and self-assured on the outside, but inside? Not so much. How I’d come to the road less traveled, but had stayed on the freeway.
    How I had dumped the only guy I’d ever truly loved because of my stupid music career, and all my tours. How I often studied myself in the mirror, standing sideways, wondering if I should bother trying to keep myself slim and in shape, or whether I should let it all go and enjoy my cheeseburgers. How I knew I could never go for Clay, even though I knew he had a big crush on me, and he’d be a damn good catch for an aging chick like me.
    How I’d never even tried to publish the songs that were the most important to me because I didn’t think they were marketable, and instead churned out all these maudlin ballads. Which of course made me a shitload of money, and allowed me to buy my dream property here on the coast, psychically as far as possible from La La Land. But which left me with this empty hole here near the core of my being.
    I began to hum this one melody I’d written years before, and had never performed in public. It was my internal anthem—the music for my secret self.
    My alien companion, lying in the dark covered by a horse blanket, in a tiny, squeaky voice, hummed along with me.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thanks for this example, Mike. I’d forgotten how well interior dialogue could describe a character and set the mood of a story. I think Vladimir Nabokov did that very well, and I know that Henry Miller did.

      Liked by 5 people

    • mimispeike says:

      If an alien landed in my back yard, I wouldn’t be telling it my life story. To me, this is odd. And it smacks a bit of ‘As you know, Bob’.

      How do I do it? I have my bag of tricks. I’ll have something up today or tomorrow.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. “It can’t mean only stories that the editor personally likes. Good stories appeal to a wider variety of readers than any one person can imagine.”

    That’s an astute conclusion, GD. Without appealing to a variety of tastes, it’s difficult to grow an audience.

    I ascribe to the idea that a writer should rarely, if ever, name an emotion. Rather, I like to describe the physical way the character indicates how they are feeling. Or in dialogue that expresses the emotion. Sometimes, similes or metaphors work best.

    Liked by 6 people

    • I enjoy the intervals in your writing, Carl. The spaces between what is told show more than could mere words. But then, you’re a poet, and poets love packing meaning between the lines.

      I think the essence of “good writing” is the ability of the author to express something so exactly that not a word can be changed and the meaning extends beyond the words used so that the reader has to participate to “get it.”
      Here’s one of my favorite examples, from Steven Wright.

      “Eagles may soar, but weasels don’t get sucked into jet engines.”

      Which, oddly, pops this question in my mind: Do you think an A.I. could write poetry? Or humor?

      Liked by 3 people

    • OK, having belatedly found and then read the piece, I see that the second quote is not quoted from the piece.  It’s meant as a display of telling as an alternative to the showing done in the piece.  (Quote marks can be tricky.)  Carl’s contrast between showing and telling is a better example than Chekhov’s moonlight, which rigs the game in favor of showing.  The showing in Carl’s piece makes a much better story than the shorter but bland and dry telling, even for somebody as big on brevity as I am.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thank you, Mellow! Good to know my aesthetic instincts aren’t entirely self-crippling, anti-commercial and perverse.

        PS.I know your name is Barry. But . . . I just love calling you Mellow! That moniker is so cooool. May I call you Mellow?

        Liked by 2 people

        • My given name was inflicted by my parents.  Online, I much prefer the cheerful oxymoron that I chose myself.  It’s one of the many deliberate oxymorons that summarize something complex in a zingy way.

          Please do call me “Mellow” (or just “Mel”), rather than what I must write when signing checks.

          Like

      • Chekhov’s moonlight quote is visual, Carl’s use of show-don’t-tell is, um… interval? I’m thinking of music that communicates as much with the interval between notes as it does with notes themselves. It’s poetic, in that the imagery that comes to the reader between the lines carries the real meaning.

        There are so many ways to show-don’t-tell that I suspect much of the criticism of it is based on a misunderstanding: It ain’t video.

        Liked by 2 people

        • That is a very astute comment, GD! So much of what occurs in my writing is indeed “between the lines”: subtext. (“Always leave something for the reader to do. Let them connect the dots. Real people don’t scream at each other ‘I want a divorce because you are emotionally distant, inarticulate in voicing your needs and dismissive of my desires’ but rather ‘You left the f—ing toilet seat up again!'” –I’ve forgotten who said this).

          Mozart was once asked what he most enjoyed about writing music. He stated (on the level): “The silences: the intervals between notes.” Think about it. It is the interval of silence between notes that regulate tempo. Change the tempo and you have an entirely different piece of music; silence is as critical as sound.

          Liked by 2 people

  3. Perry Palin says:

    Sue writes “I ascribe to the idea that a writer should rarely, if ever, name an emotion. Rather, I like to describe the physical way the character indicates how they are feeling”

    A line from one of my creative non-fiction (CNF) class efforts: “A week passed between my mother’s death and the funeral. We were all crying at our house.”

    In the CNF winter short course I have taken for four years we are taught that CNF is a combination of action and reflection. Sadly, the “reflection” turns too often into telling. When we critique one another’s work, I mostly nudge people toward showing.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Same here, Perry. Writing that needs critique is often exposition that’s better shown as sensory experiences so the reader can experience the story.

      It may be uncharitable of me, but when I read something that is mere summarization and description, I suspect the writer of laziness.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. DocTom says:

    Well, GD, yes and no. Over the years I’ve become very irritated with the chorus of “Show, don’t tell!” as if it were the eleventh commandment on old Moses’ tablets. I’ve had nightmares depicting infinite herds of wannabe writers marching in lockstep across a twilight plane, chanting “Show, don’t tell!” in search of the Nirvana of publication. All the elaborate “showing” in the universe of writing can’t take a crap story and turn it into anything else but a crap story. (Unless, of course, you are a literary aesthete who enjoys reading strings of pretty words for no other reason than to read strings of pretty words.)
    “Showing” is a tool, which can be used to lesser or greater degrees, but like any tool can be overused. Here’s an analogy. As part of my technical writing course, I used to teach my students that when putting together a PowerPoint presentation to think in term of the color wheel. You need good contrast for your projected words to make a strong point. I had one student who took that to heart. When he gave his presentation, the first slide appeared on the screen and the photonic impact plastered me against the back wall of our classroom — he’d used dark green lettering on a (very) hot pink background. That became infamous as the PowerPoint from hell. My point is that the emphasis on ‘showing’ can lead to excess verbiage, and all the problems we discussed in the previous post “Words, the long and the short of it” by Curtis.
    A good story is one that entices the reader with its subject matter, whether it be thoughtful, emotional, comedic or whatever, and its character development. A well written story can be utterly boring no matter how much “showing” takes place.
    In my limited experience as an editor, I’ve come across thematically good stories that have been rejected because of poor writing, but never a thematically poor story that was accepted for good writing.
    Also, since I started this with a “yes and no”, here’s the “yes.” I totally agree a good anthology can’t be based on what a single editor likes. That’s why I asked for a minimum of three when it comes to making the accept/reject decisions. But the differences I saw were all due to differences in the editors’ evaluations of the content, tone and style of the story. “Showing vs. telling” never came up.

    Liked by 5 people

    • I get your point, Doc Tom; but GD is stressing the oft-sounded-for-a-reason writing commandment “show; don’t tell” because no matter how many times you plead with fictioneers to incorporate this principle into their writing one encounters texts that are 80%-90% visual and only 10%-20% (at best) evocations of the other senses–or, even worse, mere recitations of events and authorial judgments/reportage on characters and their emotions: “He was an asshole. She was angry. Dick was weak and cowardly. Mary was strong and brave.” You want deadly dull? Here it is in a nutshell: words-words-words.

      Of course, no principle should be blindly and reflexively wielded like a hammer to smash all astute exceptions to this rule! Summarizing quickly to advance the action/plot is acceptable; the intrusion of an omniscient narrator to comment on characters’ actions/motives/personalities (though corny) is sometimes acceptable; telling to quickly fill in backstory or do an info-dump is sometimes acceptable and/or necessary. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” is telling as is “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

      The effective writer who has mastered their craft both shows and tells–and knows when to do which, where.

      Liked by 4 people

      • You sharpen some interesting points, Carl. So does Tom.

        Though I sometimes wonder which comes first, good writing or the craft? To me, techniques of the craft are used to explain, to teach, but are based on examples of good writing, so, obviously, we first needed to examine good writing. Meaning, good writing exists apart from our explanations.

        Maybe we read something so good that we examine it to see if we can figure out how to do that ourselves? But no. Something beyond technique (talent? “creativity?” vision?) has gone into that piece of good writing. Technique ain’t enough.

        Hmm, maybe someone who understands the craft of writing better than I could write a blog that explores what that is:
        “Beyond the Craft,” a probe into the essence of good writing.

        Liked by 3 people

    • victoracquista says:

      I tend to agree that this important aspect of craft is overemphasized. I think experienced writers are able to skillfully blend showing and telling. it’s a bit of an art. Break the 11th commandment? Sin now and do not seek repentance.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. GD, you’re raising that age-old question of writing teachers everywhere: Can good writing be taught? In a nutshell: Yes. Mastery (or at least demonstrated competency) of technique is essential. Is this enough? No. (“Writing well is more than mechanics, but it is not less.” ― Douglas Wilson)

    No two people will ever completely agree on what constitutes “good writing”.

    Which brings us ’round, once again, to the ancient Greek principle of arête: excellence in kind. (I’ve found no better, more succinct way of expressing this.) Before we begin debating one another as to what constitutes good writing, we must first agree on what the genre is: Detective novel or new DSM (Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders)? Memoire or science fiction? Modernist interpretive literature or erotic fiction? Thriller or comedy of manners?

    In the meantime, I urge us all (and anyone reading these words long after I publish this post) to read widely and well. And practice, practice, practice. . . . (This is the same advice almost all professional writers give, so I’ve hardly gone out on a limb here.)

    Personally, I practice what I preach.

    PS. I get what you’re hinting at: that any given piece of writing may be technically accomplished but lacking in merit due to any number of detracting aesthetic and/or moral reasons. But this question of what makes a particular piece of writing exceptional, compelling and relevant can only be answered by writing entire libraries of literary criticism in response. (Which has been done. And no two volumes in that library agree with one another.)

    Liked by 6 people

    • “Good writing” requires creativity and Wikipedia defines creativity as a phenomenon whereby something somehow new and somehow valuable is formed. A dubious definition, to be sure, but I do think of creativity as a phenomenon forming something new – and that no more results from applying known techniques than does gold result from stirring a pot of molten lead.

      Consider it this way: Knowledge of language and writing techniques are required to communicate new ideas in new ways but do not make the new ideas or the new ways to communicate them. Something else happens or we have nothing new to communicate.

      I don’t understand creativity but I suspect it cannot be reduced to reason. It seems to occur at the edge of knowledge.

      Liked by 5 people

  6. DocTom says:

    Well, folks, I understand what you’re saying. Clearly, “showing” can come down to the use of a more “showing” single word, e.g.: Joe entered the room (so?). Joe walked into the room (so?). Joe shuffled into the room (ah!). Joe strode into the room (ah-ha!). Joe slithered into the room (Yikes!). Joe stomped into the room (oh-oh!).

    The point I was trying to make was summed up by Carl perfectly: “The effective writer who has mastered their craft >>both shows and tells<< (emphasis mine, this page doesn't do BOLD)–and knows when to do which, where.”
    But an effective writer also must know how to craft a good story. The problem I try to point out is that “show don’t tell” has almost reached the level of a platitude when discussing writing. Sometimes it seems that the first criticism on any piece of writing is “show, don’t tell”. The first should be: is this story worth rewriting? Or, are the characters one dimensional (if that)? Have I read this bloody story a thousand times before? Plot, characterization, and originality are all important first steps. You can send a poor wretch back to their computer over and over with instructions to “rewrite that sentence”, but what’s the point if the story sucks?

    Liked by 4 people

      • victoracquista says:

        Good example but to a point. There is a lot more information conveyed in the showing version.
        There is a line from, I believe, an Orson Scot Card novel: “The door dilated.” Is this telling lacking in any way?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Victor: Exactly! I can’t define show-don’t-tell, but I’ve read great examples that tug at the reader’s various senses. I found your example, “The door dilated,” kinetic. To me, anything that pulls the reader into the scene qualifies as more than just telling.

          Like

          • victoracquista says:

            I think you are onto something GD. I like the notion of kinetic or perhaps even magnetic. The writing pulls you into the story, I agree that it’s hard to define with a clear demarcation what showing and telling mean.

            Liked by 1 person

    • I hear ya, Tom! It’s like any other bit of life wisdom: conditional and only as useful and helpful as the person employing it.

      If I had a “happy ending” for every bad salesman I’ve heard boast, “So when I come to the end of my presentation I never ask IF they are going to buy; rather I shove contract and pen at them and demand to know ‘cash or finance deal?’ Forced choice!” I’d be nothing but a desiccated, gibbering husk.

      No! you f—ing moron I want to scream, “forced choice” is only useful as a temperature-taking tactic once you have built earned trust and sincere rapport with the prospect. Pull that cheap shit on any semi-intelligent, cynical and hundred-times burnt, hence-now-chastened-and-suspicious person and they’re going to shut down on you instantly. NO SALE! You smug, idiotically grinning exemplar of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

      Same thing here re: “show; don’t tell”. It doesn’t apply 100% of the time; nothing does.

      (“So Genesis opens wrong . . . ?”)

      Liked by 5 people

  7. Here is an example of the slipperiness of categories when we try to apply them in the messy real world.  I take Carl’s “I was blindsided … divorce” on 10-11 to be an example of telling, not showing.  Not having seen it in context, I cannot guess whether I would take it to be one of the cases where telling is OK.  Maybe it’s one of those cases where telling succinctly works better than showing at length, as in Carl’s reply on 10-12 to DocTom.

    Like DocTom on 10-11, I consider SDT to be a rule of thumb.  A good one?  Yes.  A precise and universal rule?  No.

    Liked by 4 people

  8. Carl’s piece, “Atrophied: A Story of Love Going, Going . . .” , is telling, but there are spaces between the tells that add to what has been told. The spaces progress as the relationship is shown to disintegrate. The telling directs our attention to the spaces between the lines, wherein we figure out without being told that this relationship is finished. Is this show-don’t-tell? I think so, and a brilliant example at that.

    Show-don’t-tell is just making the reader see the story in their own mind’s eye.

    Liked by 2 people

    • It’s also a story with a start, an end, and no middle. It’s like watching a hyper-edited version of “A Christmas Carol”: “Bah, humbug!” “God bless us, everyone!” :::roll credits:::

      PS. I would argue, however, that there is plenty of “show; don’t tell” in this story. Did I say Cheryl was angry and seething? I did not: I described her rigid back, shrugging off an embrace, and reported on her clipped, curt verbiage (yet one more clue to her mood). Did I say I was rather disengaged and clueless? I did not: I described my sitting down to the computer and continuing a week’s-long PC game (a hint that perhaps the narrator’s primary focus was not where it needed to be). Did I say at story’s end: “I was emotionally devastated and reeling”? I did not: I showed the narrator collapsing upon the couch and thinking : “Odd–my legs wouldn’t support my weight.” Those are all examples of “show; don’t tell”. The fact that the entire story is told from a 1st-person perspective doesn’t mean that the tale is all “tell; not show”–leastwise, not in the sense that English majors use the phrase. (Technically, though, sure! 1st-person is ALL “tell”, right? I mean, it would have to be–unless a 3rd-person omniscient narrator interrupted from time-to-time to comment on the action. That would be weird–and rather comical. Hmm . . . Story idea . . .)

      Liked by 4 people

  9. Tom beat me to the comment I was going to make, amending the rigid rule to a more flexible approach. Yes, all stories can only be a combination of show and tell, and some authors have the knack of using ‘tell’ to great effect – I’m thinking Murakami, for one. As for not naming emotions, I tend to that view myself, but I recently read Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis, stuffed full of ‘He felt angry / confused / bitter / upset’ etc. And curiously it works, because it’s part of the author’s voice.
    I think POV plays a large part here. Consider ‘I brushed my straggly blond hair.’ Why would the character mention the quality of her hair? She sees it every day. To me that’s an example of the author deciding to tell us about her hair. Switch to third person and it’ll depend on how internal the POV is – the more internal, the less justified it woud be, but if it’s external, why not? All the more so if it’s omniscient.
    Dickens dipped in and out of character POV and authorial narration, and it works a treat. But he was an absolute master of the craft.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Astute comments, Curtis! On a related note, I once laughed aloud when some writing teacher, somewhere (I’ve forgotten the original source) commented: “Writers are always telling us about the color of someone’s eyes: ‘His eyes were gray and flinty as arctic seas. Her eyes were glowing emeralds of smoldering passion. His eyes were cold and blue as an alpine sky.’ Gray, green, blue, brown, black–who cares?! Why do so many writers feel compelled to tell us what the color of a character’s eyes are–and then link that color to some torturous simile or metaphor?” (I’m guilty as charged here. It’s an almost irresistible compulsion when writing character description.) “Far better to describe a character’s appearance in terms of what their over-all impact upon the viewer is. Do they give an impression of weakness? Strength? Are they arrestingly thin, muscled or corpulent? What are their nervous tics and/or mannerisms? How do they move? Speak? Laugh or cry? The color of a character’s eyes tells you exactly nothing–unless, of course, they’re yellow, pink, or bright red. That would require an explanation.”

      Liked by 6 people

        • GD: Here’s a quip only a Boomer would get: “His eyes were the yellow of custard matter dripping from a dead dog’s eye.” (Thank you, Mr. Lennon. I’ll skip lunch now. You may be the walrus but that lyric rendered me green-gilled, tongue-out, tic-tac-toe-grids-in-place-of-eyes cartoon-character nauseated.)

          Liked by 1 person

      • Perry Palin says:

        Carl,

        You are clearly unfamiliar with the “gray eyes gambit” that earned me top honors in my undergraduate studies all those many years ago. In my literature classes, whether writing an answer to an exam question or writing an essay under deadline, when I was unsure of what I was doing I would work into my narrative that the long-dead subject of my efforts, whether poet, essayist, or novelist, had gray eyes. Who knew what color eyes he or she had? Certainly not me, and apparently not my professors. They must have assumed I had done my research to find this nugget that even they didn’t yet know, and they gave me top marks. The “gray eyes gambit” never let me down.

        Liked by 5 people

        • Ha! Describing something the reader doesn’t know and won’t check causes the reader to assume it is correct. Amazing, how quickly, and comfortably, people assume. I wonder, could this become a generalized writing technique?
          Oh, wait… politicians have already mastered this art.
          nm

          Liked by 2 people

    • DocTom says:

      Well again, Curtis, it depends. If I were trying to convey the character’s depression she might very well think “…straggly brown hair.” With all the currents news about Facebook and Instagram and body shaming I would not find such a description odd.

      Liked by 5 people

      • Very true, Tom, thanks for pointing that out. I should have specified ‘where no specific circumstance requires it’. That particular example came from a submission (can’t remember to which anthology) where the information came, as they say in French, like a hair in the soup.

        Liked by 3 people

  10. mimispeike says:

    I’m going to kill two birds with one stone. I’m going to write my piece for the next Showcase, then analyze it. I write – no goal, no strategizing – as it tumbles out of my brain: words that say what I want to say, phrasing that feels right to me. I’ll take a hard look at my show/tell ratio and discuss it.

    Dialogue always figures – short bursts of confrontational chatter – or painful remembrance in inner monologues – to break up the exposition I always shoehorn in.

    My characters all have complex histories, and many a humungous chip on the shoulder, that make them who they are. You need to have that stuff to understand them. But I try like hell to make it entertaining.

    That’s my defense for this here 3rd-person omniscient narrator interrupting from time-to-time to comment on the action.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Mimi: You’ve put your finger on exactly what makes your writing so entertaining: the wit; the startling, comic intrusion into the narrative of the omniscient voice; the general smart-assery. I MUST have a silk-ribboned, hubbed-spine, slip-cased, richly illustrated version of a Sly! novel–someday. . . .

      Liked by 2 people

        • mimispeike says:

          Oh God! You know, guys, book one is completely written. I have to give it one more read-through, and pay full attention to those terrifying commas, italics, quotation marks, and etc.

          Maybe I’ll tackle a chapter or two between each Maisie illustration and Showcase entry. I have around twenty-five chapters in book one.

          Two, three chapters a week, that’s not so terrifying. I have the first eight or nine chapters on display on MyGuySly.com. If anyone would find time to read a few chapters and evaluate my grip on punctuation, it might give me the confidence I currently lack.

          Liked by 2 people

          • Mimi: Don’t sweat the use of commas. (Though I advise, given your style, that you employ the Oxford comma throughout your text. Example: Oxford: “The store stocked meat, fruit, and vegetables.” Non-Oxford: eliminate the second comma. I follow this latter, more modern stylistic practice to enhance reading speed and flow.) If your book is picked up by a reputable house a line editor will go over your text with a gimlet eye.

            Liked by 2 people

            • I like the Oxford comma because it prevents some subtle ambiguities.  While context will often let readers decide which way to jump (or jump w/o noticing that there is a choice at all), I want readers to budget mental effort to whether they buy what I am saying rather than to wondering what the Hell am I saying.  So I almost always try to be unambiguous.  Ain’t easy.

              Liked by 2 people

            • mimispeike says:

              Thank you GD. I will package it up and get it off tomorrow. I’m trying to finish my next Showcase entry.

              Sue! I have a big problem. This one runs to 2000 words, and I love it as it is. I believe you mentioned we could submit more than one entry. Could I break it into two parts? I will see that part one ends neatly. If you’re beguiled by it, move on to part two.

              If you say no, I will try to edit down further. I may be able to lose two or three hundred words, but not a thousand.

              Here’s what I have at present:

              Part one – “In 1927, Maisie Mulot was box-office dynamite.” 812 words.

              Part two – “Whatever you know (or think you know) about W.C. Fields, you’re most likely wrong.” Balance of 2000+/- words.

              Liked by 1 person

  11. MELLOW: RE: COMMAS: (I replied directly and the columnar width had shrunk to 2-3 words!)

    This endless debate about which way to “properly” employ the comma gets surprisingly heated at times (not here). I’ve gone back-and-forth on this matter/stylistic practice myself and settled on this: Anything that enhances over-all reading speed is to be welcomed. I therefore eschew the Oxford comma unless leaving it out creates confusion. As a certain famous book noted: “Eats. shoots, and leaves.” and “Eats shoots and leaves.” are two entirely different sentences.

    But note this, Mellow: use of the Oxford comma is not always “better”. Consider: Kyle is trekking a Congo trail with his friend who practices the arcane arts of mosquito milking and vine dancing. If you write “Kyle hacked his way through the brush with his best friend, a mosquito milker, and vine dancer.” you have miscommunicated to the reader that FOUR people are trekking that jungle trail!

    Use the Oxford comma when necessary to eliminate confusion and/or if you want your prose to look and read (an extra micro-second pause in the sentence) “old-timey”. Otherwise, I argue: You’re just cluttering up sentences with unnecessary punctuation and slowing the reader down. And how can that ever be a plus?

    Liked by 2 people

    • mimispeike says:

      Actually, commas are the least of my problems. I write clauses inside clauses, stray thoughts within thoughts, some quoted speech. It gets damn complicated. It’s all clear to me, but I wrote it.

      GD has offered to come to my rescue. I will follow the directions of one way wiser than I am.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Two thoughts:

    My instruction in writing was as an intelligence analyst, writing briefs for senior people. Very tight (no more than half a page – usually less – with a three-line summary). The epitome of telling, not showing. On lesson was – go through the draft and strike out all adjectives. Then go back and find the words that express the missing adjectives, for there are no true synonyms (ok- they exaggerated, but the core principle is sound). It still works, and the thesaurus helps me find that one true word, even to show.

    Mention of Murakami above. I would add Icelandic sagas. They are told sparingly, with very little showing, but are great literature. My old mum and I both teared up at the climactic scene in Brennu Njal.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Adams has posted an amusing review of the sagas on Good Reads, Peter:
    ………………………..

    This is probably the ass-kickingest story I have ever read.

    “Egil’s Saga” kicks Conan’s ass from one end of some stupid fictional continent to the other.

    Did Conan ever get so miffed after being given sour curds and malt liquor as a guest (instead of meat and fine ale, which were being hidden by the greedy host) that he held his host against a pillar and vomited on his host’s face with such force that his host’s teeth were all knocked out?

    Did Conan ax another boy to death at the age of six on a ball field, leading his mother to remark, “he’ll make a fine viking”?

    Did Conan ever steal a bunch of food from a longhouse and then realize that the occupants wouldn’t know who’d done it, so he rode back to scream his name and set the whole place on fire?

    “Egil’s Saga” might not have much to tell us about honor and decency, but as a crazy, kick-ass story about early Norwegians settling Iceland and getting buck-wild crazy, it’s beyond awesome. (less)

    Liked by 2 people

    • Egil not only makes Conan look like a wimp but was a fine poet as well. He once composed a several hundred-line praise-poem in strict metre in one night (to avoid execution – the praise was for his captor).

      Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s