Baby Boomers Plus

My story Excessively Repetitive won the Living Springs Baby Boomers plus competition! The prize is $500 and the story will appear in their next anthology. The title is appropriate, by the way, but I must admit I took childish pleasure in being able to say things like ‘my entry for your competition is excessively repetitive’.

Show, Don’t Tell

There’s an interesting discussion here of the oft-quoted rule for writers ‘show, don’t tell’. It means, for example, don’t write ‘Emma felt sad’, write something like ‘Emma’s lip trembled. She raised one hand to the tears that had begun trickling down her cheek’. Why is that a good way of doing things? First, it may be more vivid and engaging. Second it guards against a fault of poor writing in which emotions are simply pasted on like labels, characters being assigned feelings without the writerly groundwork being done.However, to treat it as an absolute rule goes much too far, as with over-zealous application of rules like ‘no adverbs’ and ‘no passive mood’. Nothing is totally forbidden when you’re writing, and direct description of thoughts and emotions can be very valuable. Take this passage from Jane Austen’s Emma.

Emma’s eyes were instantly withdrawn; and she sat silently meditating, in a fixed attitude, for a few minutes. A few minutes were sufficient for making her acquainted with her own heart. A mind like hers, once opening to suspicion, made rapid progress. She touched—she admitted—she acknowledged the whole truth. Why was it so much worse that Harriet should be in love with Mr. Knightley, than with Frank Churchill? Why was the evil so dreadfully increased by Harriet’s having some hope of a return? It darted through her, with the speed of an arrow, that Mr. Knightley must marry no one but herself!

Emma’s realisation that she has loved Knightley all along is brilliantly done, the turning point of the novel and I think, one of the great moments in English literature. How could it be done by just ‘showing’? What outward behaviour on Emma’s part would convey the same thing? I doubt it could be done at all, and if it were it would surely be long-winded, vague, clumsy, and give none of the pleasure the actual text delivers.

Austen, like most great writers, often does some telling. Indeed, if she didn’t she could scarcely have pioneered the use of ‘free indirect’ style, the last great achievement of nineteenth century literature, in which the characters thoughts are voiced by the author. For example, the last sentence in the passage above could just have been ‘Mr Knightley must marry no-one but herself’ (I’m not suggesting that would have been an improvement.)

I would in general say to people who want to advise writers – show us things we can do, don’t tell us about things we mustn’t!

Broadway Success

I got a ‘Highly Commended’ for my story ‘Cheltenham Punk’ in the Julia & Martin Wilson Short Story Prize, part of the Broadway Arts Festival! The story was originally set in Bedford, where I went to school, but it belongs to Cheltenham now…

Fiction Factory

The results of the Fiction Factory competition are now out, and while I didn’t get placed, my story Garghan House did make the long list! I’m currently getting some kind of recognition for about one in eight of my competition entries, which is encouraging enough to keep me going.

Secret Attic (short)

My story The Present has been selected in the Secret Attic (short) short story competition! (They also have a (long) short story competition.) No prize, but it appears in their Booklet #8 (already available from Lulu). Another one for my sparse shelf of publications.