Book Reviews and Writing Tips

Book Reviews and Writing Tips

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Showing, Not Telling, in Fiction Writing

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We have all heard this “Show, don’t tell.” But how do we apply this in practical terms when it comes to conveying a feeling or thought without exposition?

Right now, I’m really dealing with how to handle this issue with my new novel, which is the first one I’ve tried to write in first person. I’m finding it to be a lot more challenging than the customary third person is.

So far, I have written three novels all in third person. One takes place in medieval times, so there was some research involved even though it’s a fantasy novel. I still wanted it to take the reader back to that time.

People in different eras have different speech and speech patterns than what we use today. This is particularly true if you’re writing historical novels. But, we have to be careful not to try to be too authentic with this speech because today’s readers won’t understand much of what your characters say and you could distract them by your effort to be genuine. I think this is much the case with my Y/A novel about an Irish potato farmer’s son. I didn’t go all out here on the “Irish-speak,” but I probably could have held back a bit and it would have still been okay.

When writing a historical piece it’s probably best to immerse yourself into the society of the period your work is taking place. It’s good to ask yourself, what were the prevailing political, social, and religious viewpoints? How would people express themselves? Were they open about expressing themselves? Be careful not to let modern sensibilities get in the way of what your characters would do. Let the way they really speak and think be available to your readers.

The degree to which your characters express their opinions and ideas, or ponder over them, or the language they use, depends on a few factors:

We all need to keep in mind that people of different generations and backgrounds generally speak differently. The speech of older characters would be distinct from younger ones unless there is an exception, for example, a teenager has switched bodies with an elderly person and is trying to pass visually and vocally as the senior citizen. This of course is an unusual scenario.

In addition, speech and thoughts of well-educated characters would be different from those with less schooling. We must never assume that either of these characters is less intelligent than the other one is, but their vocabulary and level of sophistication will probably differ and we want to show that in our story.

Fiction writing will be more vivid with individual characters that are distinct from one another. It will keep things more like real life. After all, when you look around we are all different. This brings up the question, how does one’s personality affect their words and thoughts? A shy person will definitely think and speak differently than an outgoing one. An uptight, angry character will think and speak differently than a carefree individual.

Another thing to think about is the length of speeches and thoughts. Some one concerned with the deep questions of life would tend to go on about something a lot longer than a child that is speaking. The amount of speech needs to match the character who is speaking. So while we are trying to concentrate on all of this to make the writing a great read, we also have to keep in mind that sentence lengths and paragraphs have differing dramatic effects too. Long passages tend to be soothing, but can get boring if they go too long, while short bursts can create and maintain tension. This last thing is what I’m trying to do in my new novel.

In time, I’ll see how successful I am at doing all of these things.

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