Not too long ago, R.S.Guthrie released a new book called Ink. It’s about the craft of writing, and how to get better at it. I wrote a review about it here. Look for “R.w.Foster”.
I got in touch with Rob the other day and requested to post an excerpt from it and, using my writing, demonstrate what I learned from it. Why am I wanting to do this, you ask? A couple of reasons. One, I like Rob Guthrie and want to promote his stuff. I promote what I like. 2) I want to help others become better writers, as I struggle with the same (it’s in the blog tagline). The more writing we have in the world, the better the world is, in my opinion. But, enough of me blathering. You want the excerpt. It follows the jump.
This is THE RULE. All the other rules are subservient to this one. The other rules are tools to help your writing show the reader. Here’s an exercise: Remember “Show and Tell” in grammar school? You know, once a week or once a month each student would bring in something about which they could show AND tell. Now I want you to imagine this simple scene. Little Susie Frockmaker has just walked into a hushed classroom of twenty-something first-graders. She’s wearing her cutest pink dress; her mother has done her blonde hair all especially curly before she went to school; she is smiling like the goat that ate the tractor tire. And she’s carrying, in a meshed-metal cage, a huge white rabbit. Its alive, you Horror writers. Twitching, munching on some carrots. The bottom of the cage has cardboard and there’s fresh grass Susie’s dad put in there just for such an occasion. Little Susie Frockmaker takes the cage and, still smiling wide ( you didn’t know that goats that finish off tires are irrepressibly happy creatures), places the caged, gorgeous rabbit on a small table at the front of the room. There is an audible, “ooooh” as she does so, little Susie Frockmaker, nor the teacher, nor any other student having said a single word. Has Susie shown anything yet? Oh, I know the point of the “Show” part for little persons is when the rabbit is let out of the cage and they get to hold him and feel the soft tufts of fur and worry about him biting them and all manner of enjoyment, but my question still stands: Has Susie shown anything yet? I say she has, without one single word. Remember the smile and the fresh-laid grass and the cage itself? I’ll give you three choices as to what the other young children might be thinking they’ve already seen, without being told a thing:
1. It’s rabbit stew for lunch.
2. Little Susie Frockmaker just gave birth to a clean, live rabbit in the hallway just before class.
3. On the way to school, the rabbits that rule the world played a cruel trick on one of their own and caged him, forcing him to attend Show and Tell at Mockery Elementary School.
4. Susie Frockmaker has a new pet rabbit.
Now I’ll admit, I’ve grown up in some pretty small places like Iowa or Wyoming where there probably was some kid in the back happy as frog excrement that they were having rabbit for lunch (and in fact did end up having rabbit for dinner. Again.). But with that smile, beaming of pride, her nicest dress, the curls her mother did special for this day? Yeah, it’s corny (no Iowa pun intended), but it’s also true, isn’t it? Now that doesn’t mean Tell is off the books altogether. She can tell us his name. But that brat-shit Tommy Dipstick could blurt out, “RASCAL. You got him for your birthday.” (Because Tommy, of course, was an unwanted guest at the farm when Susie received her present—just as Tommy’s an unwanted guest most everywhere he shows up.) You could argue, but I’d call Tommy’s outburst showing. In fact, I didn’t even have to Tell you that Tommy was there because you likely already figured out something to that effect—and the story can later confirm or deny what guess you made, but either way, you didn’t have to be told anything. You see, that’s how you have to start thinking. In what ways can I deliver information to the reader through interesting twists in the story? Imagine how loudly little Susie Frockmaker is going to BAWL in horror when she realizes the whole surprise she’s been practically wetting herself over has been ruined by that little Dipstick. That is the simplest example of showing and not telling I could come up with. Apologies all around for making it more of a children’s tale, but I tried to give it legs just a small bit. Not very Chekhovian.
From Ink by R.S.Guthrie, pub March, 2013.
Pretty interesting, eh? Tomorrow, I’ll show you how I implemented this lesson in my own work.