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Why “Show, Don’t Tell” Does Matter

Why “Show, Don’t Tell” Does Matter

This article by George Saunders is the most gorgeous description of how a writer writes, and why, and why it matters. It’s too good to do justice by summarising it here* so I am just recommending you read it. It really deserves to be read somewhere quiet while you’re sitting comfortably with a nice cup of tea – but even on a busy tube with wet feet it should make you feel happy, and give inspiring and interesting insight into the process of writing a novel.

*Having said that … I will say I think it’s one of the best justifications I’ve read for the old, clichéd, but still important adage ‘Show, don’t tell’ – which is really, at heart, a clarion call for specificity in your writing. The less specific you are, the more you need to communicate meaning and emotion through clunky ‘factual’ statements.

But Saunders elucidates another reason it’s so important not to overtell. It’s about trusting your reader – trusting her intelligence, trusting her ability to understand what you’re trying to say by honing and revising your writing to the point at which it ‘welcomes her in’:

“She can’t believe that you believe in her that much; that you are so confident that the subtle nuances of the place will speak to her; she is flattered. And they do speak to her. [It] is ultimately about imagining that your reader is as humane, bright, witty, experienced and well intentioned as you, and that, to communicate intimately with her, you have to maintain the state, through revision, of generously imagining her. You revise your reader up, in your imagination, with every pass. You keep saying to yourself: ‘No, she’s smarter than that. Don’t dishonour her with that lazy prose or that easy notion.'”

It is the novels written this way that stay with me, make me feel something, feed my soul, somehow. It’s never those in which the writer spoonfeeds me information, description and detail, not allowing me to interpret anything on my own – whether out of kindness (wanting to help me out) or disdain (dismissive of my ability to understand).

Saunders’s article – in his characteristically unpretentious way – highlights exactly what it is that enables novels, particularly, to transport us to different worlds and viewpoints and time. So a 19th-century Russian count, long dead, can make you cry and ache with love. Or, for me at least, a 58-year old American writer of short stories can make you long to read a novel set in a graveyard and narrated by sarcastic ghosts.

CM

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Further Musings...

How to Choose the Writing Course for You

How to Choose the Writing Course for You

Julia Kingsford, literary agent at Kingsford Campbell, gives her perspective on how to choose a creative writing course in our guest blog.

As a literary agent, I often get asked for advice about creative writing courses. I’m very much of the belief that writing can and should be taught, but that it’s also important to find the course that suits…

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Plant Words and Watch Them Grow

Plant Words and Watch Them Grow

I love planting things – carefully, gently, adding plant food and water and lovely fresh soil. But then, without fail, I watch as they wither and turn grey and disintegrate.

I was heartened, therefore, to read this beautiful piece by the writer Yoojin Grace Wuertz, who acknowledges her own struggle to turn her fingers green. She gives …

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Self-publishing: what it entails and how to do it well

Self-publishing: what it entails and how to do it well

We take an honest, unglamorous look at the problems of self-publishing – and point you in the direction of some useful tools to help you overcome them.

If you’re determined on setting out on the self-publishing path, this article will help you see where the problems lie…

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Apply now for the Ink Academy Writing Course

Applying to the Ink Academy Writing Course is quick and simple. Just upload a sample of your writing below, along with your name and email address, and we will be in touch with enrolment details.

The sample of your writing does not need to be polished or perfect, or even from the work you want to develop on the course. It is just so that we can ensure our course is best placed to help you. For more details, please see our FAQs.

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