I recently asked some of my writing acquaintances for advice on a problem I have found in my writing style. My problem is that, at least in feedback I have gotten on my first novel, I ‘tell’ too much and ‘show’ far too little.
So, I put the question to my fellow writers: Where can I find advice on this?
It is said that if you ask five Irishmen a question, you’ll get twice as many answers, plus a great deal of gratuitous advice and general observations. That is a good approximation of the response I got to my question.
There was one thing that several people did point to, and that was a book. The book in question is “On Writing” penned by Stephen King. This book was cited as the definitive tome on the art of writing. So, with one clear point of agreement, I went to my local library and, after renewing my card, asked them to request a copy of said book. It took about a week for them to get it, and somewhere along the line, some sort of confusion sprang up (I was supposed to be notified by email that the book had arrived…and I found out it was in by going to the library to ask how much longer it would be before it arrived), but it got here at last. So, with book in hand, I walked home wondering what insights I might garner from the mind of a major author.
Well, roughly halfway through the book, the answer is “Not a hell of a lot.”
This is no monstrous, coffee-table-crushing work. If you count the “Book List” at the end, it spans a grand total of 288 pages (four of those being taken up by said list and its preface). What has slowed me down is the fact that King devotes 101 pages (yes, over 1/3 of the book), to tells us of his childhood, early writing days and struggles with alcohol/drug addiction.
I know that our lives shape us, and that a hard life can shape us in ways unexpected…but is this much detail necessary? Would not something simple and direct, a ‘less is more’ approach, be better? I hate to have to say it, but in reading King’s description of his life, the impression I got was less of a man trying to explain what had shaped his writing style, and more of a general breast-beating, ‘Look! I pulled myself up by my own bootstraps, and you can too!’ manifesto. It’s nice, but not terribly helpful in making the conveying the point of the book: to pass along tips on how to write better.
I will keep reading it, and it is starting to show me some useful things. I guess if I recommend this work to another prospective writer in the future, I’ll have to remember to advise them to skip past the first 101 pages and get right to the meat of the work.