Thursday, July 21, 2005

I Got Questions, Day 2

Howdy on Thursday. I’m still catching up from questions left on Tuesday. (Lots of good stuff, by the way.) Here goes:

So what do you do when you get writer's block? Keep pushing through gritting your teeth and bearing it? Or hop off someplace to try and let it simmer and wait for it to click?

Keep pushing through. When you have a deadline, you don’t have much choice. Oh, and I do get up to kick a cabinet now and then.

Oh and it is over the top to have one character run up another character's back and crush his spinal column with his jaws?

Okay, I take back my “lots of good stuff” statement.

I keep reading on websites and mags for writers that you should know your genre so you can target agents/publishers who specialize in that field. But I have yet to find an explanation or definition of what each genre is. Like...what exactly is the difference between mainstream, women's lit, inspirational romance, literary, blah, blah, blah?

The problem here is the difference between actual genres and general terms that tend to be catch-all phrases, and aren’t really genres.

Mainstream: this is more of a general catch-all term than a real genre. Mainstream refers to novels that could be read by men or women, and that don’t fall into the known genres of suspense, romance, etc. I think mainstream is less and less useful as a term these days, because now there are so many subgenres. For instance, you might say that John Grisham novels are mainstream, or Nicholas Sparks novels. But now there’s a subgenre of suspense called legal thriller that Grisham falls into. And Nicholas Sparks’ novels could also be called by that other general term, women’s fiction. Which is . . .

Women’s fiction: a novel about relationships. May or may not have a romance element. Read mostly by women. My Bradleyville series could be called women’s fiction. However, its actual genre in CBA is contemporary.

Inspirational romance: A real genre. The traditional conventions of a romance call for the hero and heroine to meet early in the book, and despite all kinds of obstacles, end up happily ever after. An inspirational romance weaves in the faith elements of Christianity.

Literary: again, not a real genre. This term could apply to a book in any genre, depending upon how it’s written. Generally, literary books are character-driven rather than plot-driven. They take more time with in depth character development, description, and beauty of prose. Their plots may move quite slowly, as much of the “action” takes place inside the character.

So, know your genre, yes. But genre doesn’t include any of the above titles except inspirational romance. The recognized genres in CBA are historical, romance, contemporary, suspense, western, and futuristic.

As far as show and tell, it's about grasping the difference as I write and knowing when it's okay to tell. I understand telling is static, whereas showing is active, but sometimes it's hard to identify. I don't want to go to extremes either, which is what I see happening with some rules.

I agree, following “rules” to the nth degree can get ridiculous. All rules are guidelines, really. This show vs. tell thing can be hard to distinguish. And sometimes telling is just fine. Sometimes we have to tell. The trick is to give the longer telling passages some beauty of language, some unique voice—something that makes it so interesting, the reader doesn’t care if it’s telling.

My editor points out sentences like this to me as telling: She wondered why it had to be that way. Better to change it to a thought, which is more of a showing: Why did it have to be that way?

I suppose if I had to rewrite the rule, or explain it a little better, I might say something like: Show when you can. And when you have to tell, wow ’em with it.

The main problem with telling when you can show is that telling ends up skimming the surface of emotion, which is never satisfying for the reader:

Telling: The further she read, the more confused she felt.

Showing: The words made no sense. She hunched over the paper, fingers digging into her cheeks, and read the passage a second time. A third. What did this mean?

The first way above doesn’t dig deep into the character’s head. It paints no vivid picture for the reader. It merely tells what the character felt. But we don’t want our readers to merely know what a character feels. We want them to feel it themselves. The only way they’re going to do that is to get deep into the character’s head.

So if you’re approaching a passage in your scene, ask yourself, “Is this something I want the reader to feel along with my character?” If so, best to stick with showing the scene, fully depicting the emotions. If it’s a descriptive passage, or a passage that transitions from one scene to another, it’s okay to tell—just do it with some flair.

If y’all have follow-up questions to this issue, please let me know. If you want to show a three-to-four sentence passage from your wip to see if it’s telling when it should be showing, or whatever, please feel free to do so. This issue is much easier understood with the use of examples.

Closing out for today. See ya on happy Friday.


Anonymous said...

Here's a short paragraph from my wip. POV character is the pastor...

Sandra drew near, every motion fluid, gaze fixed on the blonde imp wriggling under Pastor Gillespie’s grasp. The gentle scent of wildflowers wafted through the air as he rose. Was that the sweet fragrance of heaven he detected?

Is this telling or showing? It seems more like telling to me, but at the same time the wording feels appropriate.

Is telling OK in this paragraph?

Is there a way to show the same thing without telling, and if so, should I do so in this case?


Anonymous said...

Anonymous, I read your paragraph as being from Pastor Gillespie's POV, and I think you're showing. He sees Sandra drawing near and comments on her motion and where her gaze is fixed. He smells her perfume, and ponders the fragrance.

If you'd said something like "Sandra drew near. Her presence made Pastor Gillespie swoon." I think THAT wold be telling.

Of course, I'm a total rookie and could be completely wrong. But don't I sound convincing? :)

Wayne said...

BTW, that second anonymous was me, Wayne. For some reason it didn't take my name.

I only say this so you all won't think the first anonymous has some split personality disorder. :)

Ron Estrada said...

Here's another "rule" question. Active and passive verbs. There are times when I think a passive verb is more appropriate. For example, when a character starts something that won't be finished before another character begins a new action. For example, from my current wip (going from memory here):

My hero is getting an "offer he can't refuse" over his cell phone. My heroine is standing next to him, listening in:

"I'd like to make a proposal that we can both profit from, Mr. Keane."

Megan produced a notepad and began scrbbling furiously.

Ryan scowled. "I'm not much of a businessman, pal."

The notepad appeared in front of his eyes. "Accept his offer" was written across it.

So, my point here is where Megan "began scribbling." Is that appropriate because she doesn't complete the action until after the next paragraph? Or, as my crit partners tell me, it should be "Megan scribbled..."?

Dineen A. Miller said...

I add my curiosity to Ron's. Began is a pesky one. Sometimes it just seems to say exact-ly what I want. Is it one of those words we can use sparing-ly? (Pun intended on the -ly words. LOL!)