Telling VS Showing – Differences in Style #5

“Show don’t tell” is squawked from pretty much every writerly parapet. I’ve even seen it used as a criticism in descriptive paragraphs or simply when a character thinks “I don’t like pickles” for example- which seems like an odd criticism, cos, believe it or not there are times when stating a fact is a-okay and long-winded ways of saying “I don’t like pickles” are not. Now fortunately there are some people finally waking up and realising that sometimes you need to tell and sometimes you need to show (hello Jenna Moreci). Yet since it’s such a hot topic, I thought it would be fun to address for my style series!

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Showing vs Telling Defined

Well, I thought about all the ways I could explain it and realised I could demonstrate both techniques in just two sentences from one of my favourite authors, Laini Taylor:

“Zuzana arched an eyebrow. She was a master of the eyebrow arch, and Karou envied her for it.”

The first sentence is showing, the latter is telling. What’s magnificent about this is you have a visual image to latch onto and at the same time get an emotional response. It also demonstrates a fantastic use of contrast from one sentence to the next. But if you want an even better example of showing, you’ll have to read on…

Showing Pros and Cons

Pros: showing can create some beautiful, descriptive language. It’s a fantastic method to transport the reader, allows for some emotional insight for the reader and creates tangible relationships within the story. Without any showing, the story quickly becomes very flat. With it, writing comes alive. I mean, again, look at Taylor’s description of Prague:

daughter of smoke and bone“Fairy-tale city. From the air, red rooftops hug a kink in a dark river, and by night the forested hills appear as spans of black nothing against the dazzle of the lit castle, the spiking Gothic towers, the domes great and small. The river captures all the lights and teases them out, long and wavering, and the side-slashing rain blurs it all to a dream”

Cons: still, it can be unnecessary. I’m pretty sure we’ve all read those melodramatic passages that were wayyy OTT! One piece of advice when it comes to any art form is know when to stop. I know how tempting it can be to add that one last brushstroke but step away from the canvass a moment, leave it to dry, and maybe consider you might be done.

Telling Pros and Cons

Pros: It can be used to create a very strong narrative voice and can be an interesting technique for authorial intrusion- but since this is such a contentious issue, I’ve decided to show you some classic examples:

northanger abbeyAusten: “The anxiety, which in this state of their attachment must be the portion of Henry and Catherine, and of all who loved either, as to its final event, can hardly extend, I fear, to the bosom of my readers, who will see in the tell-tale compression of the pages before them, that we are all hastening together to perfect felicity”- this is used for humour at the end of Northanger Abbey  and shows self-awareness of the novel’s construct, poking fun at the fact that you can expect a happy ending and actually breaking the fourth wall to tell the reader this.

jane eyreCharlotte Bronte: “Reader I married him”- I mean, do I even have to tell you why this is good? It’s a statement as romantic and striking as “I love you”- there’s no need to leave it up to ambiguity, especially after all the torment that has gone before.

 

eastofedenSteinbeck: “I believe there are monsters born in the world to human parents. Some you can see, misshapen and horrible, with huge heads or tiny bodies. . . . And just as there are physical monsters, can there not be mental or psychic monsters born? The face and body may be perfect, but if a twisted gene or a malformed egg can produce physical monsters, may not the same process produce a malformed soul?”- Steinbeck, in my opinion, is one of the masters of authorial intrusion. This moment is the introduction of his villain Cathy in East of Eden and provides a brilliantly stark moment of characterisation and ruminates over what it means. The author’s own struggle to find common ground with this character and actually by confessing this confusion shows the reader just how bad she is.

And there are many more reasons to use telling, such as dropping a *bombshell* and even introducing a moral. To my mind, the absolutism of the rule “show don’t tell” is pretty ludicrous when you think how well this technique can be employed. That said, there are obvious reasons to curb this impulse at times.

Cons: Obviously this can get dull if overused. And if you’re using it for shock value, *newsflash*, this will lose its power very quickly. There’s a reason it should be used sparingly.

Accounting for Differences in Taste

As always I want to draw attention to the fact there are lots of styles and techniques. Like I said earlier, the most important thing is to know when to stop, because, there are times when any technique can be too much. But the reason why I was eager to do this post is that, frankly, whenever I see one of these blanket rules, it grates on me a little. Especially if there’s plenty of evidence that this can work.

Other posts in this series:

Pared down vs Purple prose – Differences in Style #1

The art of Intertextuality vs Innovation – Differences in Style #2

*ALL the Viewpoints – Differences in Style #3

Coherence Vs Incoherence

My only preference for this is “everything in moderation”- but I wonder, what do you think? Are you a stickler for the “show don’t tell” rule? Or do you prefer telling? Let me know in the comments!

Coherence vs incoherence – Differences in Style #4

So I will admit, I wanted to skip last week’s discussion on viewpoints and go straight to this. Because even though it makes sense to cover viewpoints before going deeper into modes of narration (although ooh err you’ll probably notice I’m not covering every mode eg time, place etc 😉 ) this is by far a more interesting topic to me. Now I’m gonna be honest straight off the bat, I have a passionate dislike for stream of consciousness books, but I can’t deny that it’s an interesting phenomenon, which is why I’m excited to discuss it!

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Stream of consciousness defined

There are lots of ways to tell a story and the how can be one of the most interesting ways to enhance the voice (including unreliable narration). Stream of consciousness is a technique developed in the 20th century to show the flow of thoughts going on in a character’s mind. The term was coined by William James and is also known as “interior monologue”. It’s kinda the opposite of a dramatic monologue/soliloquy where the speaker addresses an audience (think Shakespeare). Ways you can identify stream of consciousness are by leaps in thought or lack of punctuation. Some of the most famous examples are Woolf, Joyce, Faulkner and Garcia Marquez.

 

 

Stream of consciousness philosophy

The aim of stream of consciousness is largely to show the flow of thoughts and feelings, reflecting the actual impression of being inside someone’s mind. Unlike where an author simply tells the reader what a character is thinking, stream of consciousness reflects the inner workings of a character’s thoughts in a way that authentically represents the fragmentary reality of thinking eg by jumping from one event to another and not necessarily following on in a logical manner.

Pros and Cons of Stream of Consciousness

Pros: Well, this certainly creates interesting and realistic psychological portraits of a character. And if you can get into it, it’s an intense experience. Especially as it can be used to really demonstrate individuality by making subtle changes from one character to another and showing the idiosyncrasies of one person’s thoughts close up.

Cons: However, it’s easy to get lost in a stream of consciousness narrative and, in my experience, is very hard to follow. As most people’s minds are a complete mess, you can imagine that being in someone’s head for an extended period of time can be quite the headache. It can also lack coherence and affect the structure, which, yeesh, like I said, not a fan.

Exposition defined

Now as per usual, I like to set these pieces up in a dichotomous relationship, showing two opposing styles. I did have to give this one some thought, as I didn’t want to muddy the waters too much. But since I decided to talk about coherence and incoherence in this piece, I thought I might go with another mode of storytelling: exposition (the other four being: dialogue, thoughts, action and description). Edit: the basic definition is that it’s the author giving information to the reader (and can include authorial intrusion, info-dumping or just be integrated into the text).

Exposition philosophy

As a form of contrast, exposition above all offers clarity. And while there isn’t a philosophy per se, exposition has been used since the dawn of time, or literature, to present information. I personally notice it in more Victorian novels and in ancient epics, where the reader is simply given information. Sometimes this can also be used as a flashback or flash-forward.

Exposition Pros and Cons

Pros: not only does this offer clarity, but it can also be a powerful and directive voice in a narrative. It can be used to show a great deal of control or to foreshadow later events.

Cons: oh boy, I don’t want to get into the show vs tell debate too much at this stage, but that’s certainly a factor to consider (not to spoil potential future posts too much, but I think there’s a time for both 😉 ) And one of the main issues here is that it stops readers from drawing their own conclusions.

Accounting for different tastes

What’s important to note is that neither of these techniques have to be employed for a whole book. It’s possible, for instance, to include some stream of consciousness without going the whole nine yards. And while I begrudgingly admit there’s a plus side to stream of consciousness novels, no matter how much I personally dislike them, I am happy to say that I like both of these styles in moderation. But if you’d like a whole book of either technique (though exposition tends to be paired with other styles) then whatever floats your boat is fine!

Other posts in this series:

Pared down vs Purple prose – Differences in Style #1

The art of Intertextuality vs Innovation – Differences in Style #2

*ALL the Viewpoints – Differences in Style #3

So do you like/dislike either of these styles? Or do you have a preference? Let me know in the comments!

Don’t Write X

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A couple of months back, I did a post about taste. But when I did it I was thinking more about readers than writers. Now, I don’t talk about this much, but I do actually write a lot (I know, what a surprise, the book blogger writes 😉 ) and I’ve thought an awful lot about what it can be like navigating the landmine of opinion pieces on what you should and shouldn’t write. I don’t know about you, but I personally think there’s a helluva lot of confusing advice out there, mostly of people telling others what to do according to their own taste. There’s a lot of “DON’T WRITE X”, “WRITE MORE Y”, “DON’T WRITE Z UNLESS YOU ARE Z”. In truth, I find it somewhat exhausting, especially since my view is pretty much write whatever the hell you like. To clarify, I’m not telling writers to ignore criticism (errr yeah, do that at your own peril I guess) and I’m not telling reviewers not to review (this is not me hanging up the bananas!!!), merely suggesting that sometimes a lot of the forceful generalisations are more a matter of taste. And I think some people would be well served if they knew that- which is why I decided to devise a list of instructions… on how to not take instructions (that made so much more sense inside my head). Here’s some of the ways you can avoid falling into the my-personal-taste-is-better-than-yours trap:

people pleaseDon’t try to people please. I know a lot of people go into it wanting validation from millions of people- however the thing is even if you get to be a bestseller, there will be people who hate your work. It’s a sad fact of life. One thing I’ve noticed whenever I do some piece where I talk about what I don’t like, like my least favourite fantasy tropes, is that someone will read what I’ve written and be discouraged. I always want to tell people that I am just one person and while I’m not going to pretend I’m  into things I’m not interested in, there are plenty of other bookworms out there who I’m sure will love it. This is something I try to do with my own work, because honestly I don’t see the point in pushing my writing on people who will hate it- that’s a road to ruin! So fly your freak flag and write whatever you like- just don’t make demands or be insulted if people don’t want to read your work.

colouring inDon’t try to do “paint by numbers” writing- I see a lot of people breaking down *exactly* how they think a novel should work. And while there’s a lot of good advice there, take it with a pinch of salt. Cos I’ve read some of the books based on those standards and yeesh– they’re boring. Again, this is my personal take, yet there’s no easy instruction manual when it comes to writing. Be prepared to mess up and to fail, but don’t be afraid to experiment. Incidentally, one way to get round this problem is…

read-fastDo read lots of books– I mean this is a no brainer, but I always have to put it in because there are still writers who say they don’t read and GAH I CAN’T EVEN! That said…

 

coolDon’t worry too much about being original– or being too original for that matter. I kind of wrote this one for me, because I have a freakout about this on a regular basis to be fair. But it’s silly, because, to use the corniest quote in the world “there’s nothing new under the sun”. I think it’s important to strike a balance- don’t be afraid to do something different, but don’t worry too much if something’s been done before. There are always those who will like either or both!

style orangutan logoDo understand that there are different writing styles and that *it’s okay* to employ one of the less popular ones. This is probably one of the issues of taste I see around the most and have been trying to address this for a while with my “differences in style” series (okay not recently, but I hope to rectify that soonish). I find a lot of people favour particular styles and then turn them into *universal rules*- which only work for said style. One of the best ways to combat this is to know about a variety of different techniques, so you can deliberately choose the best ones from your arsenal, rather than being subject to the whims of fashion or personal opinion.

bad writing gigDon’t get bogged down by pedants. Again, this comes from some criticism I see about a lot and usually comes down to things like specific word choice in world building. An example of this could be the widespread criticism of the word “hell” in Zenith, because it was space fantasy (which I personally didn’t agree with, since it was written in English and as one of the critiques said “every culture has an idea of hell”). We all have things that bug us, and that’s fine, we can’t help having pet peeves- however as okay as it is for someone to critique a word choice, I wouldn’t take it too much to heart.

choose books2Don’t steer clear of controversial content (aka “don’t listen to moral busybodies”). We all have our personal limits and every individual has content they don’t want to read, however, there are also people who take this one step further and say “my personal taste is more important than your art”. For instance, I have seen people saying things like “I object to the book because it has such and such theme”. Again, this is not to say you shouldn’t critique it, in whatever terms you like, yet it’s not a good reason to avoid writing about what you want. Even if it doesn’t resonate with one person, someone else will like it.

writingDo worry about your own personal experience- and don’t get bogged down in trying to make it universal for everyone. This is very similar to the last one, because I know there are a lot of people who will tell you “ah but it didn’t speak to *my* experience”. Well, I hate to break it to that hypothetical person: there are billions of other people on the planet. The idea that a book has to speak to every single individual experience is frankly absurd. The only reason to get offended is if you commissioned said book as a biography 😉 If you’re concerned that it’s not going to be “real” for everyone… good news, it’s not real! So this kind of goes back to #1- it’s not worth seeking validation from everyone. As cheesy as it is, you’re not writing for everybody, you’re writing for you.

And that’s all I have for now. I have a few more personal ones, but I thought I’d leave it there, or I wouldn’t be speaking to a universal experience- JK! 😉 Do you agree or disagree with any of these? And do you have any other ideas to add to this list? Let me know in the comments!

The art of Intertextuality vs Innovation – Differences in Style #2

Hello! I’m back with my second post on differences in style– hopefully highlighting different techniques in writing.

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To create a clear picture, I want to set up a dichotomy. Imagine on one side something like like The Road (which does plenty of unusual things, like dropping quotation marks and blending an extreme version of the pared down style with archaic vocabulary) and on the other something Death Comes to Pemberley (which, while different in subject matter, painstakingly recreates Austen’s voice). Now the latter is a pretty extreme example of intertextuality, or in this case straight up borrowing a style, but it’s an interesting opposition to draw.

Those are some pretty extreme examples of how books can veer from intertextuality to innovation. HOWEVER, I want to state for the record that the difference between innovation and intertextuality can be by degrees- so a book can easily employ both. There’s plenty of room in between. Actually one thing that makes this the perfect topic is it’s an excuse for me to talk about how these things are on a spectrum. Now I understand that I may have given the impression last time I did one of these posts that there is a binary choice involved (ah well, it’s a learning experience for me too 😉 ) but I want to make it clear, especially in this case, books can use multiple and even opposing styles. In fact, a book can innovatively borrow, like the Waste Land. So yeah, if you take away nothing else, styles do not have to be one extreme or the other and you can like both. Maybe it’ll be more obvious this time, since I don’t have a preference 😉

Innovation vs Intertextuality

Art is far from linear in quality, and yet the cycle of intertextuality vs innovation has played out over and over in history. I’m going to explain this in the way I think about it and the best example for me is the differentiated really nicely in three phases of Greek art:

Archaic vs Classical vs Hellenistic

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(for the sake of clarity I’m ignoring earlier forms and massively oversimplifying this)

In brief: archaic borrowed heavily from Egyptian styles, Classical was the height of realistic forms and finally Hellenistic became a time of innovation. The idea of doing something “new” was very popular with Hellenistic poets for instance- and incidentally shows us that “being original” was cool back in the day too and there is nothing new under the sun 😉 (but I’ve talked about that a little before).

Naturally, we are always in the midst of these cyclical issues. Intertextuality is a technique best associated with the medieval writing. Authorship was seen as strengthened by its interdependence with other texts (partly to avoid criticism from the Church for writing fiction and to give an author more weight in its claims of “truth” telling). More recently, the focus on telling stories differently would indicate (to me at least) that we are very much in the Hellenistic phase in terms of valuing originality and the use of intertextual allusions is less common. Still, this is by no means a cut and dry issue, as is apparent from the recent popularity of retellings.

Ways a book can use innovation

Innovation in writing is such a broad idea, because it can really be anything from trend setters, to the first in a genre, or individual experimentation. There are infinite ways a book can feel new or different and a lot of the time it can cover content as well (though I’m resisting the urge to stray too far off topic 😉 ). Honestly the sky is the limit here!

A few examples I’d give of an innovative style is stream of consciousness, such as One Hundred Years of Solitude, or spare and poetic, like We Were Liars. There’s also the use of Brechtian techniques/breaking the forth wall and speaking out to the audience. I’ve even seen modern books, like Stolen, be entirely written in second person. Obviously, the benefits of such a practice are that it can make a book stand out from the crowd, though, as I’ve already mentioned, it’s pretty darn difficult to come up with something even somewhat unique.

Ways a book can use intertextuality

Picasso once said, “Good artists copy, great artists steal”- which heavily implies taking the art and making it your own. As such, Picasso didn’t merely copy African art- he opened a vein in his own work and imbued it with the lifeblood of a different culture (and hence intertextuality led to innovation…). Now I have mentioned before that the lines are incredibly blurry when it comes to plagiarism, yet making nods to other art is a form of enriching writing. I want to be clear: hinting/quoting/referencing other literature *is not* plagiarism. It is by design, has value and is a tradition going back millennia. Perhaps it is the medievalist in me, but I think there is a value in literary allusions. While I am trying to avoid using subject matter as examples, it is interesting to note the clear line of progression from Norse mythology to Germanic stories to Tolkien to modern fantasy in terms of borrowed ideas and creatures. That is an inheritance that is passed down from book to book.

One of the best examples of intertextuality, to my mind, is T S Eliot, whose poem The Waste Land is a patchwork of references, particularly to classics. In fact, knowing the Medieval preponderance for referencing other authors, it’s incredibly appropriate that the first line of the Eliot’s poem, “April is the cruellest month”, recalls and inverts the opening of Chaucer’s Prologue:

“Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote

The droghte of March hath perced to the roote

And bathed every veyne in swich licóur”

In this way, the poem creates a puzzle for the reader to solve and gives the work boundless scope and depth.

There are of course retellings that deliberately reference other work and, insofar as it is a retelling (it’s a bit more complicated than that), Hazel Wood did make a fair amount of references which I appreciated.

And naturally, there is the use of epigraphs (quotes at the start of chapters) which come in innumerable books from Middlemarch, to Infernal Devices, to my good friend Daley’s use of song lyrics in the opening of her chapters- it’s a great literary tradition to set a mood or create a sense of epicness.

Difference in taste

I don’t know that people have a specific preference for either one- so it’ll be interesting to see what people say in the comments. I have seen some people making an argument that it’s “not something that’s done anymore”- again this is an issue with fashion, so I don’t hold much stock in it. I have also heard people making the argument that “we are not classic authors” or some such poppycock. Now of course, not everyone is going to be the author of a classic, but I can already see books with promise that might one day be considered as such, and I don’t see any reason to discourage people who want to try writing something *great*. I mean, if they succeed, we all get to read it. So if people that want to give their ideas a go, I say DREAM BIG- I’ll be cheering you on from the side lines 😉

Pared down vs Purple prose – Differences in Style #1

So I did this post a little differently to last time, hope you liked it! Do you think there is a tremendous difference in taste here? Let me know in the comments!

Differences in style series #1 Purple Prose vs the Pared Down Style

“Kill all your darlings”, they say.

“I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs”, King claimed.

We’ve all heard this advice before- but what if I told you it was only one way to look at your work? Because there is more to writing and literature than these absolutes. There are *lots* of styles and usually a writer uses many, many techniques, all working in tandem to create a unique voice or “literary DNA” if you will. Today I want to talk about two opposing styles, explain the different philosophies behind them and discuss some of the pros and cons of using each one.

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And yes, as you may have noted from the little “#1” sign, this will be a series- though I’m as yet unclear on how often I’ll do these posts. But my desire to do this stems largely from my wish to expand on the idea that everyone has different tastes and just to inform people about their choices when it comes to writing.

Disclaimer: One thing I want to make clear is that although I clearly lean towards one style over the other, this isn’t a criticism of the other style- it’s just pretty impossible for me to hide my preference and I will state my biases as I go. I hope you will take what I’m saying in the spirit in which it is intended ie to examine the two techniques, not to bash anyone.

Purple Prose Defined

prose that is too elaborate or ornate”

Yes, I’ve used the more negative moniker for this- so it may surprise you to find that I’m not even slightly opposed to purple prose- in fact this is my preference. I only use the term in defiance of those who would bandy it about like an insult. This is defined by Wikipedia as “excessive use of adjectives, adverbs and metaphors” etc- which I find broadly covers a great deal of atmospheric and lyrical writing. Consequently, I have always seen this as a misnomer- because, as is the point of this series, there are a variety of styles and writing is either executed well or poorly- the style itself is not inherently “bad”. “Too much” is incredibly vague, because how long is a piece of string? *Shocker* but there are plenty of popular authors who fit this criteria anyway: meet my good friend F Scott Fitzgerald… but more on that in a moment.

Pared Down Style Defined

“no unnecessary features, and has been reduced to a very simple form”

To put it simply, this is simpler prose 😉 Styles that fit into this category might be called balanced or clean. Good examples of this would be Stephen King or Hemmingway.

Purple Prose Philosophy

Now we get to the fun bit! While I think it would be difficult to pin down all the purple prose in history, I think the best place to start is with Romantic poets, who believed in centring their poetry on emotive language in order to better understand the human condition. Consequently, the aforementioned Fitzgerald sought to emulate Keats (great post on that here) and this marks a distinctive note in the history of purple prose in literature, as it serves as a direct link with the philosophy and ideas of Romanticism, which, I believe, still permeate this style of writing. There is far more focus, therefore, in this style on feelings, atmosphere and the aesthetic value of the work.

Pared Down Philosophy

Oh goodness, the perspective here is *totally* different. As King and other authors in this vein have frequently made clear, the idea is to reduce the distractions flowery writing might provide from the plot, characters and narrative structure. Here, the idea is to give all other aspects of a novel, beyond the writing, a chance to shine. It is also important to note that this style of writing came into vogue as books were popularised for the mass market. The idea here is that simpler books are more accessible.

Pros and Cons of Purple Prose

Pros: when it’s done right, it’s beautifully breath-taking. There is, to my mind, no greater pleasure than a well-executed, well-placed metaphor for instance. It can completely transform writing from dull to iridescent. It also gives a book a multi-faceted edge- to read purple prose is like looking through a prism (is it clear yet how much I love it?) Plus, there’s plenty of room to leave clever, spoilery nuggets, like breadcrumbs, to be picked up on a second reading. It makes a book more luxurious and complex, even on the surface. And like I said, it nearly always makes it more atmospheric and emotive. However, there are some downsides…

Cons: admittedly, richer prose can be a distraction and more difficult to get through (even at the best of times). It’s also *so easy* to get wrong. And when it does go wrong, or you don’t click with it, man, it’s like wading through sludge. You certainly can’t get away with weird/random metaphors that go nowhere or comparisons that are just why or clunky phrasing. Careless editing or trying too hard will stick out like a sore thumb- each device has to be carefully checked and you’ll have to tighten and tighten the screws on every passing phrase. You can, with pleasure, do a Fitzgerald and have a literary device virtually every word- but every single one of them has to work- which means it’s a lot of work.

Pros and Cons of the Pared Down Style

Pros: there’s far more clarity of purpose. The meaning, while not as decipherable from the language, can be equally complex in terms of symbolism, characters and plot. In fact, because there is less signposting, it can be more challenging to draw out the meaning, as everything seems like it’s there on the surface, but it really isn’t. It’s a neat trick if you can pull it off. It also allows for more precision of detail and makes a book appear clean and less fussy. And if you’re writing something action related, it can allow the book to flow better.

Cons: it can be dull. Really, really dull if you’re me 😉 . It can also be harder to develop an emotional connection. Also, it can be surprisingly difficult for people to follow and can end up like a game of whack-a-mole- no matter how many darlings you kill, a few more will always pop up. Also, playing executioner to adverbs in particular can create rather than remove a lot of faff- which can potentially get in the way of the author’s intent for clean prose (for the love of all that is holy, if you want to say “slowly”, say it dammit, don’t say “at a speed which was not his best” or suchlike)

Accounting for Differences in Taste

Okay, you may have detected in that last part where I fall in terms of preference 😉 However, in case you’re still unclear, I always call it the Hemmingway-Fitzgerald Divide, because a lot of people tend to prefer one over the other, and, well, they’re the best examples of these opposing philosophies. Both are excellent writers, yet they are diametrically opposed stylistically (of course you are free to like both or neither, just an example 😉 ).

Naturally, preferring one of these does not mean you have to like every book written in this style (I *hate* when purple prose is sickly, random or pretentious!). Nor does any of this mean I won’t enjoy any books in the pared down style (although King is currently on my nope list and I’m not even sorry). And most importantly, these are, of course, far from the only styles and plenty of people try to navigate between the two.

To bring this back to the question of taste, I would like to say that, discounting for difference in quality, it is possible to see the merit in both approaches. There is, unfortunately, a lot of negativity about the use of “purple prose” in contemporary literature. Even the term, which I choose to reclaim from crusty critics, was largely created as a rod to beat certain types of writers. Frequently, arguments against this style stem from a “we don’t do it that way anymore” view- which I have a problem with because a) fashion doesn’t dictate what’s good, b) there are popular authors, like Laini Taylor, who clearly disprove this point and c) ergo there’s a market for it. So I guess the message here is you do you!

Phew- that was longer than I expected! Pat on the back if you made it to the end (don’t blame you if you didn’t 😉 ). I hope you didn’t mind me trying out something new! Do you have a preference for the pared down style or purple prose? Let me know in the comments!

Discovering More of My Old Writing

Hello all! I just have a quick, fun post today… where I embarrass myself with more of my old writing 😉 Sound like fun? Good!

I found this tucked away with some stuff from Year 9, so I’d guess I was around 14 (ooh look at me guesstimating the approximate age of the piece through contextual clues- I sound like a proper little archaeologist- don’t I? 😜 ) Anyhoo it was just on a little scrap of paper, can only rightly be called “Untitled” (otherwise I’ll give the whole plot away 😉 ) and though it’s not as epic as the previous childhood masterpiece I shared, it’s good for a laugh regardless. So here we go…

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Oh I was very punny. Also I like how I went back and annotated this piece later. But mostly, ouch at the spelling- and at poor Humpty’s fate tbh 😉 Teen me had a point- he cuts a pretty tragic figure! What do you think? Am I right? Or am I on shaky ground here?

Humpty dumpty falling of the wall

Let me know in the comments!

Caught in the Middle- Nanowrimo Wrap Up

Yes, I know we’re quite a bit away from November now, but I think it’s kinda fitting that I’m late with this, cos this is a post about FAILURE (ooh err, it looks much scarier in all caps). To be fair, it’s no fun to admit when you’ve failed a goal you set yourself. For all who remember, I set aside some writing goals in November… which I didn’t complete. Not even kinda close- my plan was to get to chapter 28- and I only made it to 23.

Now it would probably be easier to slink off and not say anything, because what use is it to talk of failure? Well I think more often than not there are lessons in failure as much as success– so here I am to talk about what happens when you don’t achieve your goals…

Well nothing. That’s the whole point. Not that there’s fanfare when you do succeed, but let’s be honest, you can’t exactly have an “I didn’t quite do it” party. You can just try and figure out what went wrong?

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For me, it was a combination of unforeseen life-always-manages-to-get-in-the-way stuff, being too ambitious with my goals and just not being prepared to deal with some more emotional sections of the story all in one go (I can also probably add end of year burnout to that list too 😉 ). I can pat myself on the back for setting aside time to write every single day, yet when I think of how little that could be some days, it’s hard to get super excited over that little victory.

The more important thing I’ve learnt- and something I think about every time I fall into a rut or get blocked- is that perseverance is key. Because, yes, I didn’t quite get as far along as I hoped. And yes, I’ve had months where I’ve got stuck on a story and just can’t. push. on. Yet, every single time I’ve fallen into a rut, or been disappointed with how a project turned out, or just can’t find the time, I’ve managed to find a way to pick myself up again and press on. Heck- book 2 was such hell for me to write that it took 6 months to write 2 or 3 chapters in the middle, followed by a massive overhaul. It happens.

So am I disappointed that I didn’t complete what I set out to do last month? Yes, of course. Is it going to affect how I go on? Only in that I’ve returned to my usual “weekly goals” mindset instead of monthly. And on the plus side, I’ve continued with the “writing every day” mentality.

live every day like it's nano

I did have a lot of fun while writing in Nano and said some very weird things like: “Zombies are harder to write than I thought” and “I can’t talk now I’ve got to write about a dead cow.” Although, now I think about it, the gloomy subject matter is the crux of the problem- I gotta keep promising myself that the next book will be cheerier. Somehow I just need to tell my brain to switch it up a gear– because that’s where all the grim ideas are coming from…

why so serious 2.gifAnd you know, I think that’s where I’m gonna leave this post, because it’s probably best not to take myself too seriously. Otherwise I might end up like this guy…take yourself seriouslyAnd no one wants to end up like that guy- at the very least, you don’t want that hair.

 

Snarking on my Childhood Writing

Okay, so I’ve been talking a lot about writing recently, but I know what you’re all thinking (or all should be thinking 😉 ) What qualifies this monkey-brained buffoon to talk about writing? Well- fear not- I have the answer! Because I was just the ripe old age of eight when I wrote my first novel- and today I’m going to share that with you… It’s called THE TRAPDOOR…

the trapdoor cover

I know looks awesome. You are in for a right treat (*ahem*) giggle. (Honest disclaimer: I found this, I thought it was a riot and decided to share it with you- plus I included my modern day snark, so what’s not to like?)

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Ooh he’s an orphan- very original.

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I feel like this is very pertinent information 😉 More importantly though, I don’t think I had much fashion sense as a child cos I think this was meant to sound tramp chic.

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I feel like this is straight up plagiarising Aladdin.

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Hehe okay, definitely Aladdin plagiarism.

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I actually like this bit- I might steal this from myself later…

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My architectural sense was as advanced as my idea of what people wore, apparently.

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Ooh drama. But is the magically warming handle thing going anywhere… Spoiler alert: I’ve read the whole thing now, no it isn’t.

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I almost missed this- but was he just wandering round a castle an ENTIRE DAY? Did he even take a moment to sit down? Also, did he have anything to eat other than that apple? So many questions…

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Suddenly isn’t so sudden when you’ve been walking round a building for a day. Just sayin’.

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AHAHAHA THIS WRITING!! I HAVE NO WORDS

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Ye wot?! Plot twist!! This is so random.

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Hahahaha oh dear- I thought the last plot twist was good. Ah well at least I gave the spider decent motivation- no one likes know-it-alls.

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I love the childlike way of being dramatic- “anger he’d never felt before”- brilliant.

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Well they sound like bastards, frankly.

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I feel like the “said in disbelief” was in no way superfluous after he said “I don’t believe you” 😉

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I just love how James lists reasons. He’s being quite calm, considering he’s facing off with a giant talking spider.

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Well this is a lot of information the hero needs all in one place…

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I love how I used the “villain tells the hero all his secret plans” trope, but I was self-aware enough to realise this was a dumb thing for the baddie to do. I also like how I had the decency to point that out- even if pointing out you’re making a dumb writing cliché doesn’t make the dumb writing cliché any less dumb. Someone should have told my eight-year-old-self that- points for effort though 😉

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Also, that teensiest bit of self-awareness clearly didn’t stop me doing more of it though.

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Aww well, nothing says a happy ending like decapitating a spider. I’m so glad that all worked out.

I’m also happy to say that I didn’t stop at the writing- no, I illustrated it too! Look at these masterpieces…

Well I hope you all got a good laugh out of that! I guess the lesson here is… everyone needs to start somewhere. Even if that start is tropey and silly and frankly hilariously bad. Happy writing!

World’s Worst Writing Advice

There are a lot of people out there giving advice on how to write and that’s a great thing… BUUUUT sometimes it’s just so bad that it just makes me want to get a bit stabby with my pen on the page, scrawling something akin to “arghhhghdjsfg whyyyy”… Okay, I’m exaggerating- though it does physically pain me to see advice palmed out to the masses that is just plain WRONG. So today, I thought I’d share with you some of the *worst* writing advice I have ever seen doing the rounds and what you need to watch out for when it comes to guidance online (and elsewhere).

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Anything that begins “in the past people did x, now they don’t…”– okay, this isn’t something you should totally write off, because it’s good to know about differences of style and technique, however it does need to be taken with a pinch of salt. I recommend when you hear this, trying to come up with some examples of modern writers that practice the technique that supposedly no modern writers use. If you can’t think of an example, read more books!– partly because that’s the solution to all life’s problems, but also because I guarantee there are modern writers who have, say, used purple prose. Generally that’s the problem with generalisations– they don’t work all the time 😉 . Plus, the thing that’s important to note is that art is not a linear progression to what is “modern” or “good”. There is often a belief that art peaks/peaked at a certain point, yet in reality styles are always in flux and what’s in fashion is more fluid than you think.

Getting technical terms *wrong*– oh man, this is a killer for me. Honestly, if you notice someone’s using the wrong terminology, it’s probably time to switch off. Harsh, but true. For instance, I once saw someone saying “don’t start with exposition”- which is not terrible advice (even if it’s a total generalisation so not the best) then follow up with “because they did that in the past” (worst reason ever- see above) and then give the example of the first line in Pride and Prejudice. FYI that’s INCORRECT. The first line of Pride and Prejudice- “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife”- is an ironic aphorism. This is an inversion of exposition, because it’s setting up an idea in the same way you might introduce advice, only to undermine your expectations. In other words, Austen started with a joke- and if you don’t get that… well then, watch some stand-up, I certainly can’t help 😉 . To equate this with the exact opposite: “a comprehensive description and explanation of an idea or theory” is completely incorrect and it’s time to find someone who knows what they’re talking about- capiche?

Giving shitty examples of bad writing– usually with “evidence” the individual has made up on the spot or from their own bad writing. It’s called straw-manning and it’s not the best way to prove a point. The main problem with this is that it’s easily undermined- especially since the other side to this issue is that the writer in question doesn’t balance out the argument with examples of the same technique done well. Edit: Heck- it’s just better to show *how* to do something than how not to do something (in art class, no teacher ever holds up a crap drawing and says “don’t do this”). I originally said all examples (good or bad) should be from a real life book- for obvious reasons it wouldn’t be a good idea to subjectively select “bad” writing from books. But if you are trying to show various techniques, books are a good place to start, which leads me onto…

“There are writers and then there are readers”– I’m not even joking, there are people who give this advice. The truth is if you’re a writer, you ought to be a reader. I have heard people say you need to put the books down at some point if you ever want to pick up a pen, because otherwise it’s too daunting and that’s good advice. However, if you don’t read at all, or read very little, how will you ever learn about what it’s like for a technique to totally work, or what’s been done before (/to death) or what people actually enjoy reading? For all the advice on the internet, there is no better writing education than cracking open an excellent book. (Hey- you know my feelings about books- what did you expect me to say about this one? No one insults books and gets away with it- least of all wannabe writers!)

And that just about wraps up my worst writing advice. Agree? Disagree? Do you have any bad writing advice to add to the pot? Let me know in the comments!

Write Your Heart Out… Great Books About Writing

Hello all! I figured since I’ve been talking about writing, it might be fun to list some fiction that features writing! This was actually a surprisingly hard list to come up with books for though. Either I don’t read enough books starring writers or there aren’t many of them (which is weird cos there’s a cliché about a lot of authors writing about writers)

The Angel’s Game– you guys know I love Shadow of the Wind and this sequel is almost as good. Where the first Cemetery of Forgotten Books focused on reading, this one focuses on writing! And man, Zafon clearly knows what he’s doing there!

angels-game

I Capture the Castle– this begins with the best opening line of all time: “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.” So yeah, it’s about writing- but also SO MUCH MORE!

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Fangirl– one of my favourite things about this book (apart from the romance, obviously) was how well Rowell managed to capture that feeling of writing. Though everyone has a different style, this managed to capture something universal about the process.

FangirlWIP

Shosha– Ahh Bashevis Singer- everything he writes is lyrical and fairytale-esque. I can’t gush enough about his writing! This is a little different to other books on this list though, since it’s only partly about the journey of the author, and more about a lost world, an enduring love and the shadow of a future that threatens to overwhelm it all.

shosha

Keep the Aspidistra Flying– this was an excellent book about a struggling poet- but obviously being by Orwell it’s not as simple as that. It’s also about conformity, “the money-world” and the question of whether we should follow our dreams at all…

keep the aspidistra flying

Anyway, that’s all I’ve got. Do you know any good books about writing? Let me know in the comments!