M. K. Theodoratus, Fantasy Writer, blogs about the books she reads--mostly fantasy and mystery authors whose books catch her eye and keep her interest. Nothing so formal as a book review, just chats about what she liked. Theodoratus also mutters about her own writing progress or ... lack of it.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

To Tell or To Show -- The Secret to Why Writers Lose Readers?

Recently got burned in a critique because I told rather than showed. Granted it was a first draft of a work in progress, but the comments started me thinking about the great show vs tell debate. Can a writer tell a story anymore? Or, are they forced to follow the movie paradigm to get published?

Since I needed to review Patricia Briggs' recent mass paperback Fair Game, I thought I'd look and see what she'd done. Why review a best seeling author? Well, if you believe the comments on Goodreads, her fans pant in anticipation for her new books. ... I assume you wouldn't mind some hints on being a big time author too.

Fair Game, the fifth in Brigg's Alpha and Omega series, gives a twist on the werewolf's obsession to protect his mate. The storyline features the Marrok's enforcer and son, Charles, taking a back seat while his mate, Anna, is sent to the east coast to help capture a serial killer. Her special calming skills as an Omega wolf are needed to keep the werewolves and other preternaturals from exposing their more violent habits when trying to work together. In spite of his problems with his own demons, Charles must give Anna enough space to work with the local werewolves, Feds and local cops to solve the crime without her becoming a victim of the murderer.

Setting up characters in an on-going series is a balance. The writer must introduce each continuing character without an info dump that'll turn a readers off. Many long term writers have been sinking into the morass of giving too much back story thereby decreasing the tension. Briggs doesn't. Let me give you some examples of how she introduces characters without an info dump.

On introducing Anna at the start of the book: "Go home," Bran Cornick growled at Anna.
      No one who saw him like this would ever forget what lurked behind the Marrok's mild-mannered facade. But only people who were stupid--or desperate--would risk raising his ire to reveal the monster behind the nice-guy mask. Anna was desperate.
     "When you tell me you will quit calling on my husband to kill people," Anna told him doggedly. She didn't yell, she didn't shout, but she wasn't going to give up easily."

Actually that introduced two characters in action [plus demonstrating a bunch of other techniques commented on in writing blogs]. 

On introducing Charles: "Anna knew exactly when Charles drove up, newly returned from Minnesota where he'd gone to take care of a problem the Minnesota pack leader would not. If she'd been deaf to the sound of the truck or the front door, she'd have known Charles was home by the magic that tied wold to mate. That was all the bond told her outright, though--his side of their bond was opaque as he could manage, and that told her a whole lot more about his state of mind than he probably intended.
     From the way he let nothing leak through to her she knew it had been another bad trip, one that had left too many people dead, probably people he hadn't wanted to kill."

On introducing secondary character, Leslie Fisher, who was featured in the prologue: "Special Agent Leslie Fisher stared out the window that looked out over downtown Boston. From her vantage point she had a lovely, very-early-morning view. Traffic was still light, and though it would get a lot heavier as people came to work, lack of parking kept the streets from being as crazy as Los Angeles, the last place she'd been assigned. In the FBI, she got to move every few years whether she wanted to or not, but she'd always thought of Boston as home."

That described two characters if you consider the setting as a character. It's the integration of Brigg's prose that captures and holds my interest. I think she tells in the story, but her mind doesn't intrude as she lets the characters react on the stage. I can only admire because I know how hard that is to do.

After thinking about this, I'm still not so sure showing's all that much better than telling. I considered much of the text quoted above as telling ... and I don't mind it. So, I'll say who cares. Info dumps are another complaint.

Overall Rating: Five Stars. The mystery-thriller aspects of the Mercy Thompson world now outweigh the romantic and fantasy.  More important, Briggs keeps the tension tight as she juggles the motivations of her various characters.


About the long break between blogs: Have been stewing since I returned from visiting family in California. The trip was lovely ... with a day's long drive through empty hills covered in green pines and grey, leafless oaks. As my mind dislocated, I found myself musing about what I want to do as a writer. Still don't know, but I'm working on it.

Middle grade novel morphed into a trilogy. Progress? Have a third of the middle book drafted. Have almost a third of the new first book down and am reworking and reworking the new second chapter that introduces Mac as a teen ... older than I first envisioned her. Will be interesting to see what happens.

Also have some nice review comments up on my websites if you care to look. Even have a couple five stars ... and the three stars complain the Troublesome Neighbor novella is too short.


Margo Berendsen said...

Hmmm, this was a really interesting set of three character introduction samples. The first was a fine example of showing, as we get to know the character through dialogue and interaction with another character.

The second two were telling, but they were short and evocative, so it worked. Telling definitely sometimes works. It has to be treated on a case by case basis. As I read other people's writing, sometimes the telling sticks out, and if I can imagine it as dialogue or interaction with someone else, then I know it needs to be showing instead.

It's much harder to tell with your own writing :(

Unknown said...

Yeah ... I've often wondered when I'd be able to edit my own manuscripts, but doubt if it'd be soon. At least my critique partners seem to like most of the comments I make on their manuscripts. [Yeah, they make the same kind of comments about my own writing efforts.]