Sally Odgers sodgers at
Thu Aug 9 19:34:56 EDT 2001

> How many of us had "show, don't tell" drilled into us in writing
> classes? I've long since taken it as Received Word of God the Editor.

Quite a lot taught in writing class is (usually) wrong. I believe it comes
from Maybes being taught as Absolutes. Most people like Absolutes. Most
people don't like Sometimes - or else why would there be so much fuss about
the "ough" combination in the English language?

So - kids are taught to use adjectives to relieve the bald narrative style
small children use.

Result - a horrid floral florridness that stifles their prose in adjectival
overflow. (Or sometimes a convoluted convulsion such as the sentence I just
achieved back there.)

Teachers say - "show, don't tell", leading to huge long passages that swamp
the reader with dialongue and business. Sometimes, my friends, something
needs to be Told. Or, Told and Shown as well.

Let's say "Jenna was hasty-tempered."  Then let's show Jenna being hasty
tempered. Telling lets the reader know, Showing makes the reader believe. To
get the same effect without Telling, one would have to Show two or three
times, to make certain the first one wasn't just an aberration!

Then there's Said. The ghastliness of Said is drummed into writers so they
barely dare to venture a whisperd Ssss. This leads to the horrors of
Gritted, Hissed, Whipered, Yelled, Sighed and, most ghastly, Grinned, all
within a normal conversation.

Writers should properly be told - Use Said Usually. Vary it *Now and Again*
or Don't Use Said All the Time.

Alas, some people hear this as Don't Use Said Any of the Time.

My particular bugbear is the US editorial Thing (held by about half the
US-based eds I've worked with) about tight viewpoint. In Britain and
Australia, viewpoint might vary considerably, with omniscient being quite
usual and accepted. Look at the work of award-winning authors if you don't
believe me.  Such award-winners may acknowledge that the US style is
*different* in this matter. However, US editors quite often decide that *dif
ferent* is a synonym for *wrong*. Recently I was told, in straight-faced
prose, that unless I corrected my *bad writing* I would "never realise my
dream of publication". I don't usually argue with editors, but in this case
I'm afraid I told the person concerned I had "realised my dream of
publication" first in 1977 (and 200 + times since) and asked if the 40+
editors who say my writing is "good" are all wrong?

Now, the editor was a case in point. She wanted absolutes and insisted on
the truth of; Thou Shalt Never Be Published If Thou Darest Use Omniscient

However, there is no absolute, and I and many others are living proof of
that. She might have said, truthfully; Thou Shalt Never Be Published *By Me*
If Thou Darest Use Omniscient Viewpoint. Because she didn't use the
qualifier, her truth became a lie.

Would the same point crop up in reverse in a British or Australian market?
Somehow, I doubt it. Some Australian writers use tight viewpoint, and some
Brits do too. And I know some US writers use multi-viewpoint sometimes,
though that isn't the same as Omnscient. Maybe we all, especially teachers
and editors, need to step back and realise Different isn't always Wrong and
Sometimes is a legitimate suggestion. It took me twenty years to get rid of
weird writing habits my teacher actually *tried* to instil in me.

After all, what if someone had tried to teach DWJ how to write Properly?

Perish the thought.


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