Thursday, May 31, 2012

Prescriptive Fiction

If you google "writer" and "fiction" you'll notice that one thing that writers love to do is tell other writers how to write. We are the doctors of the written word prescribing this technique or that one to others. My favorite are the blogs that urge you to "show" and not "tell." A second close is the blogger who wants you to stop using the "laundry list" technique to describe characters and instead do it through action. I always get a kick out of those.

Already prescribed a technique to others? Never fear. You can always prescribe other writer-related nuggets of wisdom--I recently read a blog where the writer obscenely suggested ways they could get off their a$$es and stop doing X so that they could become better writers. Of course, the message was meant for other writers.

After many years of listening to professors and other writers (at various stages in their careers) prescribe things to me, all their advice is monotone. I'm not critiquing this--by all means, if you know something the rest of us don't, please share it. But you might try a google search of your intended topic first. At this point, if you want to write a blog prescribing a technique, all you have to do is google the technique and then just add links to all the other blogs that have already talked about it.

Why? Discussion. We don't discuss enough in blogs. Why not discuss the way a writer approached a technique in their blog? Do you agree or disagree with how this blogger said you should approach the "info dump"? How about their advice on how to improve your plot's pacing?

I don't know it all, which is why I'm usually confused. I'm just one of those guys who has read your blogs and knows all that YOU know. A lot of it is repetitive. Most of it is just rule-of-thumb stuff. Much of it is inspirational without any real substance. And there is lots of comedy. I like all of you, but I just wish you would talk to each other more.


Don't ask me to put my money where my mouth is, Bartholomew. I don't prescribe. I like to analyze. For example--oh, but I shouldn't do it. 


I am not a coward, sir. Very well.

For example, which is better, to describe characters using the "laundry list" technique or by showing details through action? 

The right answer is, show don't tell. At least this is right in the classroom. This blog is against the "laundry list" technique and so is this one. They are not alone. Their arguments are common, actually.

I would say, the question doesn't make sense. I require more input. So I instead ask, what are the circumstances? That's the question I always end up asking when someone prescribes one technique over another. 

I like to think that the "laundry list" technique and the details-through-action technique are both equally effective. There are so many novels that use both, strong novels, that there is no argument to support one over the other--the most successful novels don't limit themselves to one or the other, but use both. Then it doesn't make sense to use the word "better." And just because you fancy something does not make it better. It's like saying, which is better, a hammer or a screwdriver? Huh? Better for what? 

I like to think that you can make use of both, a hammer and a screwdriver, while building a house. How cliche. Writing a novel to building a house... 

I'll go into more detail about these things, one technique at a time, in future blogs. Maybe after I write that blog about the differences between editing, revising, and copy-editing. Surely, though, it must come after I write the blog that exposes the myth of the show-don't-tell technique. And that definitely has to come after I write that blog about how to distinguish between Preferences, Opinions, and Errors in writer workshop comments. Etc. Etc.  

But who knows. I'll google those words first to see if anybody else has done it already. If so, I'll just link you to them. Why waste an hour writing here when someone else has done it for me?