Sunday, April 24, 2016

Show and Tell

This is from a facebook discussion. The original comment was:
Genre fiction is always seeking to spell it out, more or less clumsily. From bad fantasy to World Fantasy Award winners, the tendency is to tell the readers what they have just been shown.
I replied:
I always tell young writers to both show and tell. Showing isn't enough, at least in my experience. I got so tired of editors not understanding what I was saying in my fiction that I spent 50 pages at the end of my second novel having my characters explain what they thought the meaning of their experiences was. Nobody ever objected to that discussion. And since it was the characters talking, I felt no responsibility for the explanations...

Terry Carr never got any of my stories. I used to think I ought to underline key sentences or put arrows in the margin. "Here. This is what this story is about."

Anyway, always show and tell...

One difference between literary and genre fiction is -- literary fiction is often set in the real world. There is a lot the reader already knows about the setting and the social rules. If it's a classic work of fiction, written in a previous era, there is a foreword and footnotes to help. SF readers are trained to figure out a setting from hints, but they are not trained to tease out meaning. This is the advantage of a genre plot, a space opera or murder mystery: the meaning the reader wants is built into that kind of plot. The author doesn't have to worry about explaining and can working on the interesting parts of the story.

Maybe the meaning isn't built into a genre plot, but there is a satisfying ending: the murder is discovered, the bad guys are defeated. There is a solution.


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