I’ve been writing some articles on writing recently (imagine that) and realized how to resolve a major issue in my own writing in the process. One that I didn’t quite ‘get’ before. Ever heard of the whole ‘show vs tell’ thing? Yeah, well I could edit the hell out of other people’s writing but somehow I missed the tell in my own writing. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t seem to see what my beta readers were seeing. Let me explain.
Everyone know what exposition and narrative is? No? Phew, I thought I’d been the only one in the dark. Well, you know how sometimes writers go off on little side trips to tell the reader about something that happened way back in the character’s past or they explain a fear, action, or whatever with lengthy amounts of internal dialogue? Well this is usually done through exposition and narrative. Two entirely different things, by the way. I won’t get into the bits and pieces of why it’s bad or good and all that, because well, I’ve bored myself enough. I’m sure I don’t need to bore you all as well.
For the past year I’ve been trying to edit the tell out of my writing. First drafts of my work contain a lot of telling. It’s like a telling-palooza and although I know I’m doing it, I just can’t seem to stop. I need this information in the story, so how could I get rid of it? I just didn’t see how I could remove it without confusing the reader. I know! How could I be so dense? The answer is so simple, I’m a little embarrassed that I just competely ignored it. I figured if there was information that needed to be told, then obviously I should do that. As long as something is happening, what’s the big freaking deal? That’s the problem; nothing was happening. Not a damn thing. Exposition and narrative tend to slow the pace, and most times each reminds the reader that he is reading. We don’t want that. I know I don’t want that.
Am I making any sense? I know I rarely do. It was like a lightbulb went off in my brain as I was researching the difference between the two. Yes, I thought I knew what they were and I thought that both were pretty much the same thing just given different names because we all know how those writing rule makers like their terms and jargon. But when I started reading to understand why these should be two separate articles, I had an ‘Aha!’ moment. The voice that often annoys me in my sleep as it nags me about all the things I didn’t get done that day said, “Ohhh, girl, you’ve got so much editing to do.” I do, but I’m excited. I learned something that I didn’t realize I had no clue about. Imagine that.
What’s my point? I’m not sure I really have one that anyone will care about. I guess it’s simply that no matter how long you’re at this game and no matter how much reading, practicing, crying, screaming, etc. you do, there is always something new to learn. Open up your mind to your beta readers’ suggestions. Take note when everyone seems to point to the same issue. Take note when they don’t seem to agree at all, because chances are if you look beneath the surface, the ‘different’ issues your readers are pointing out are linked to a single common problem. I missed this point because I didn’t realize that my readers were pointing to the exposition (which is my tendency over narrative) in different ways. I received comments like “This is really slow here” well it can’t all be fast. Jeesh. and “Do you really need this?” The reader has to know this. It’s crucial. and the always pleasing “Booorrrrriiinnnnggg” Prepare the dart board.
Each of these comments was made on a single manuscript in exactly the same spot – a full page of exposition. Yikes. A full page!! I’ve rewritten it though to ‘show’ and mixed the information needed into dialogue and action over two chapters, and wow, what a difference. Yes, I said two chapters. This information didn’t have to be conveyed in a big chunk like I first thought. It’s much more interesting in bits. The reader is getting just enough to keep him in the information loop, but still leaving him hanging a bit so he wants to keep reading.
So, I’ve overcome a major obstacle and now…editing. Now, just so I don’t feel like such a big moron for not seeing the obvious, tell me you’ve had writing epiphanies too. Please.
5 thoughts on “You Learn Something New….”
Sounds awfully familiar. It wasn't until I was close to the end of my NaNo novel that I realized the entire first — looong — chapter was about a minor character, and that it was almost all tell. Not one, but two hideous sins.
But you DID notice it before you finished it. That's huge. I haven't found the tell until the second or third drafts. I've done that minor character thing, but in reverse. I've written very little about what turns out to be a very major character and I've had to add scenes to balance it out.
One will always risk missing something in one's own work, inevitably. Other eyes are needed occasionally.
very interesting…so what exactly is the difference between exposition and narrative? I think I get it…wow–big break through! so good to be re-excited!
There isn't a huge difference, as both are used for similar purposes. Exposition contains no action, and rarely does anything to move the story forward. Ever seen an 'info dump' where the writer tells you about an event not covered in the plot such as an old argument, the protagonist's previous ten years? That is usually exposition. Narrative is also inactive, but does actually move the story forward. This is the key difference between the two. Narrative shows inner feelings or thoughts not actively conveyed by the characters. It's usually shown through the POV character's inner thoughts. Both are necessary sometimes but only in small doses. Sometimes they're a good tool for slowing the pace (narrative anyway) to let the reader gather their thoughts. If you can show a scene with dialogue or action, then you should do so and avoid using anything that doesn't move the plot forward when possible. Does that make it clearer or have I just confused things more?