Don’t tell me what I already know

There are two ways to reveal a surprise or secret you’ve been hinting at in a story. Well, I’m sure there’s more than two but let’s be black and white for a minute.

There’s a good way, and a bad way.

There’s a way that makes your reader smile and say ‘ah, yes I suspected that’ and feel good about themselves for being so clever to notice what the writer was doing. And there’s a way that makes them sigh exasperatedly and shout I KNOW at the page.

Showing is better than telling, yes, but what’s worse than telling, in my opinion, is when you show very nicely, then tell anyway.

Here are two examples, one from an irritating book, and one from an amazing book that I’m in love with. Both contain spoilers so be warned.

Let’s start with the bad way.

The first example is from Borne, a book I’ve recently read and posted about here. At this point in the story, we have already been shown multiple times that Borne is able to change his shape. In one scene, one of the characters, Wick, enter’s the viewpoint character, Rachel’s, room. We are told that he’s looking odd, sickly and kind of green / purple in color. These are Borne’s colors, so I think–as I’m sure the author intended–‘oh, Borne can impersonate a human? This is interesting.’ So far so good. The character doesn’t guess it, and that’s okay. I know, and her not knowing makes it a bit creepier. She goes about her day unsuspecting, but then later goes into Wick’s room and witnesses herself talking to Wick. Creepier still! However, the author then feels the need to turn to the camera and say ‘It was Borne!’ as a dramatic way to end the chapter. Cue me shouting I KNOW at the page (or in my case at the dashboard of my car). All the impact was taken from the scene, and the whole thing became ridiculous as I’m thinking to myself ‘was that supposed to be a surprise?’ I was surprised he could take human shape, but really, what else could it possibly be talking to Wick? It was obviously not Rachel, who was standing there watching…

Now a good example, from The Crimson Petal and the White. One of the main characters is a prostitute early in the story, and has much unprotected sex as a consequence (it’s the  1870’s.) She has a concoction she mixes up to pour into herself after each encounter. Later in the story she’s moved to a new location, without her things, and doesn’t have her mixture, and is still having sex. I’m thinking ‘uh oh, she’s going to get pregnant’. It isn’t mentioned or hinted at for a long time, and I’ve almost forgotten about it. Then we start hearing how tight her clothes are–why do people keep getting her size wrong? She’s feeling sick randomly. She feels like her chest is getting bigger. ‘Oh no,’ I think, ‘she is pregnant after all! I was right!’ The character doesn’t suspect yet, but I know. Later, with no dramatic reveal, no ‘gasp, I’m pregnant! Oh no!’ or the narrator saying ‘she was pregnant!’ to end a chapter–the character simply starts trying to take care of her problem through various ways (one of them, throwing herself down a staircase D: ) There is no point where we’re told she’s pregnant, until much later when the character thinks something like ‘such and such hasn’t happened since I’ve been pregnant’. It is not a dramatic surprise reveal, because we already know. And the author knows we know, because he knows we aren’t a daft, mouth-breathing set of brainless eyes that needs every word explained to them.

So, there you have it. More examples of why you shouldn’t tell your readers what’s going on as if they are an idiot. It’s very annoying, and makes you seem like an idiot and a bad writer.

Obsession

Since the current thing I’m working on has a lot to do with obsession, I was recommended to read Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov. I got the audible version and so far am impressed by both the writing and the reading of it (narration by Jeremy Irons).

It’s always been interesting to me how people justify their actions to themselves. Rarely does anyone perceive themselves as a monster or a villain, yet people do monstrous and villainous things every day.

I’m only just at the beginning, and don’t know what terrible acts await, but so far Humbert Humbert comes across as awkwardly pitiable. An ordinary child doing ordinary childish things sends him into an internal frenzy he can barely contain. It’s humorous, in a sinking kind of way, imagining him tensing and sputtering as she sits innocently on his knee. Yet in his own words he paints such a dramatic picture of these events–every turn of her head, every look, every move, is impactful and powerful in his eyes. It’s very similar, actually, to listening to an adult extol the deep and powerful meaning and effect on them, of a child’s cartoon show(you know the one)–in a word: embarrassing.

I’m enjoying it a lot, and just from the start I can already tell why this is near the top of so many ‘best books’ lists. Quite a refreshing breath after my last read.

Borne: why?

Finally finished this book, and I’m left with a lot of question. Mainly: what was the point? This post contains spoilers.

 

What was Borne’s purpose? What was Morde’s purpose? What was the magician trying to do, other than kill Morde? Was the whole story just an essay against scientific meddling? Borne, the most interesting part of the story, is not in it for the second half of the book, except to be involved in a giant off-screen monster fight–so why does he get the title of the story? Why is everything suddenly great once Morde is gone? If Rachel and Wick are ‘not people’ but instead ‘biotech’ what does this mean? How can I care if it has no effect on them or anything they do? Rachel’s parents died in such a horrible way that she chose to have her memory erased–so, how did they die? Is Rachel having her memory erased just a lazy way to avoid having a backstory? The surprise of this reveal is not worth the lack of development it causes in the viewpoint character.

On the verge of interesting most the time, but overall very frustrating to follow this along and see it reaching for, but not quite grasping, a good story.

 

Alien Covenant: why

There’s a first time for everything, and I guess people who haven’t seen any alien movies might find this interesting and exciting. But can you even make it into adulthood without being exposed to the xenomorph and the chest burster and face hugger? Is it going to be shocking or scary in the least to see these things again and again? Why? Why can’t you just create something new?

Money, that’s why.

Money: the bane of art.

avoiding definition

I find that I dislike when things are concrete, black and white, yes or no. I like when things are open for interpretation, when there are many ways to see something, multiple directions to look. So when I’m writing, I often leave things vague, so they can be seen in multiple ways.

I have a pile of puzzle pieces that I’ve created, and they could be arranged in many ways. Sure, I could fit them all into a shape, glue them that way, frame them, then show everyone and say ‘this is how they go together!’, but letting the reader put them together seems more fun to me. Especially if there is a lot of ways for them to work…

Annoying to some? Maybe. But I like it 🙂

Total eclipse on the way

On August 21 of this year, those of us in North America will get a total solar eclipse–the first in 38  years.

And it’s going right past my house!

Well not really, but within driving distance. I’m seriously considering a road trip to Portland for the best view. I’ve never seen a sight like this and wont likely have another chance to in my life, so gotta go for it!

It is Portland though, with 90% chance of clouds on any given day, so maybe I should take a longer trip over to Idaho or Wyoming…

The end of words

What, if anything, would replace the written word?

Perhaps telepathy–some form of direct mental communication.

Or possibly, in a world where society has collapsed, it would be replaced with nothing.

Maybe words will be upgraded to include more information. Maybe words could be invented that described such unique events and feelings that you could put a vivid scene and evoke real emotions with just a few well placed super-words.

Maybe.

But we have to keep writing, keep improving, and keep evolving. Not devolving or sliding backward.

Otherwise our words will be terrible. Terrible words, and so confusing. Meaningless words. Words used to be so good, but now they aren’t. Sad!