December 19, 2003

see it, don't say it

Tonight, just a comment on writing from another source. It's Writing 101, obvious and known, but still worth repeating and repeating until it sinks in.

I read a review of a short story collection a few days ago. The reviewer liked the book in many ways but felt the author had made the cardinal error of a first time writer: she'd said, not shown what each story was about. She'd summarized emotion.

In the reviewer's own words:

Wexler allows her readers to be lazy and passive, collecting information without earning it. She takes no stylistic risks. The intensity of the stories thus greatly suffers from our not having to work at understanding them. Because she has not drawn us into the story with appropriate elusiveness, our reactions remain merely cognitive: we see her points without feeling them.

I quote this not to rub the criticism into the writer's nose like someone training a puppy not to pee on the carpet, but rather to imbed it in my own brain. I know the rule. Know it thoroughly and completely. But do I own it? I'm not at all sure I do. In fact, I suspect I don't. I suspect that -- maybe because of my years as an aspiring screenwriter, trained to underline the important bits for bored production company readers, or maybe just because I'm a somewhat insecure new novelist -- I spell too much out. I'm afraid you won't get it, you see. That you'll miss the point if I don't tell you. But in doing that I take some of the fun away, don't I?

Note to self: back away from the highlight-subtext pen. Put it down and back away slowly.

Posted by Tamar at December 19, 2003 10:53 PM