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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Resisting the Urge to Explain (RUE)

Most every writer has heard the exhortation -- show, don't tell. And some may heard -- Resist the Urge to Explain (RUE). But why. The basic reason is that as a writer you are trying to allow the reader to draw her own conclusions, rather than hitting her over the head with it.
Because I am at THAT stage of my latest ms, I am rereading writing craft books. There is so much to the craft side that skills can need a bit of polishing, and I find it helpful to remind myself of things. Depending on my mood, certain thing resonate with me more than others. Currently, I am rereading Creating Characters by Dwight V Swain.
The vast majority of the time I do not think about RUE, I just write. And I trust in my ability to get it right during the editing process. In other words, in the first draft, I allow myself the freedom to explain, to tell and to otherwise sketch out word pictures. It is as the ms takes shape that the word pictures also form. BUT if I send the ms in with lots of telling, and explanations, my editor will not be happy. And there are times that the word pictures are there in the first draft. (Daemons are funny creatures who like to give glimpses)
So ultimately, I am not trying to tell the reader the emotion or the motivation. but show it. Or to trust the reader to get the emotion through the context. It is done through being specific and adding little details.
Depending on the POV character's mind, what they notice changes. For example, the first snowfall of winter is magical, but when the character is confronted with 70th snowstorm of the winter and is struggling to get home, the snow piles up in sinister shapes and forms treacherous drifts that blow over the road.
What a character notices and how they notice it plays a part in forming character. The more specific the writer gets, the more vivid the picture in the reader's mind.
So what does that mean for me as a writer -- simply that at times I start with the general, vague and abstract and as I revise I move to the specific, precise and concrete. Everything in a story is present through the filter of a character's POV and therefore they are going to notice what is important to them. Vividness brings a story to life. Explanations and telling can slow the pace to a crawl.
But the point at which the writer moves away from telling to showing depends on the writer. In other words, it is okay to write bad pages when writing the first draft. Sometimes, the editing mind doesn't like it, but it works in the long run for me.

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