Saturday 30 March 2013

Show vs Tell

I've never been one to try to tell other writers how they should write. Most of the advice I have come across from other people has provoked the reaction in me of 'Yeah, I know that.' The one thing that was new to me and the most difficult to get my head around was this business of 'show don't tell'. What was that supposed to mean? We are story-tellers, aren't we?
   After much tweaking and re-writing and many hours soaking in the bath to consider this problem, I have come up with the following illustration which I hope might help.
   The thing to remember when doing this is that style needs to vary depending on what you are writing. If it is a short story the 'tell' version might be better. In short stories you are limited to the number of words you can use and 'showing' often uses more.

  So this is my example. It's not definitive. It might not even be right. This example is from a novel.

First Version - Telling
Beatrice returned to the waiting room. As soon as she sat down David started crying again, arching his back and turning his head towards her body, seeking her breast. Sighing deeply, a feeling of hopelessness filled her as she waited to be called into the doctor.
The doctor seemed more concerned with her condition than with David when she finally saw him. He was quick to diagnose post-natal depression and wrote a prescription for some pills. When she mentioned David he was at first dismissive. He looked into his ears and said they were fine, nothing causing any obstruction that might affect the hearing. He insisted the baby was far too young to be sure of anything. Keep an eye on him and see how he went on was all he would say. So Beatrice left the surgery with a prescription for anti-depressant pills and the fear that her son had something wrong with him.

Second Version. - Showing
      Beatrice returned to the waiting room. As soon as she sat down David started crying again, arching his back and turning his head towards her body, seeking her breast. Sighing deeply, a feeling of hopelessness filled her as she waited to be called into the doctor.
She entered the consulting room feeling more than a little nervous. She did not know any of the doctors at this practise very well. Both she and Calvin had signed on with this surgery after getting married but apart from a few visits during her pregnancy to get treatment for her constant vomiting she had been fit and well and had rarely seen a doctor. This one seemed friendly enough. The sign outside the consulting room said he was Dr. Andrews. He smiled encouragingly as she entered the consulting room and nodded towards the chair next to his desk. He looked to be about fifty, which was reassuring. Beatrice didn't trust young doctors.
“And what can I do for you today?” he asked.
“The nurse was concerned about David. She thinks he might have problems with his hearing.”
      The doctor nodded.
      “Yes, she did tell me. Let’s have a look.”
Trying to look into the ears of a three month old baby was not an easy task. David was fascinated by the instrument the doctor was holding and wanted to see it, turning his head to follow the doctor’s movements. He did not want it anywhere near his head. Beatrice struggled to hold him as he wriggled and arched his back to get away but eventually the doctor managed to peer into each ear with his otoscope.
“I don’t think you have anything to worry about,” the doctor said as he returned to his seat. “Both ears look clear of any infection or blockage. No sign of glue-ear. I suggest you just keep an eye on him. I’m sure as time goes by he will start to respond to sound. Now, how about you? How are you coping.”
Beatrice sighed.
“Oh, I’m fine. Tired, of course. He wants feeding all the time. We haven’t had a decent night’s sleep since he was born. And I didn’t think I’d miss work as much as I do.”
“Yes, having your first baby is a big change of life-style,” the doctor agreed. “But it does get better. Believe me, I’ve brought up three kids of my own. Now I suggest you start taking him off the breast milk. He’s three months old now so the danger time has passed, he should be able to survive on his own immune system. And start introducing a bit of solid food to his diet. The nurse has probably already told you this, but it doesn’t hurt to repeat it. A bit of rusk, pureed vegetables. Just a little but it will help satisfy him and he should start to sleep for longer. And I’m going to give you something to help you cope. Post-natal depression can be very debilitating. These tablets will help you sleep and make you feel better all round.”
Beatrice wondered how tablets could replace people and company but said nothing. She left the surgery more concerned about David than when she had arrived, but at least she had some pills.

See the difference? Now this wouldn't necessarily work for every type of writing or story, but this is my take on it. Whether it is right or not I do not know.

Friday 15 March 2013

Conversations In The Abyss

I’ve often said all books should be edited. Why? Because a well edited book enhances the reading experience and will bring people back for more. A book full of typing errors, bad punctuation and repetitive phrases is likely to put people off – unless it’s called …. No, I won’t go there.
   I thoroughly enjoyed my latest job. It was to edit Conversations In The Abyss by Michael Brookes. I read the forerunner to this and enjoyed that, too, although I did point out to Michael the copy I had read was in need of editing. He assured me I had an old copy (he should know, he sent it to me) and the things I had mentioned had been corrected. Then he asked if I would edit the sequel which I found fascinating.
It is the story of the coming apocalypse, good against evil, how to thwart the approaching storm. The writing flows well, the characters are well defined and the whole thing moves on at a breath taking pace. I would recommend it to anyone. Take a look here …

   So what do I do when I edit a book? What am I looking for? The obvious thing is typos, the bane of every author’s life. The trouble is when you write a book you KNOW what is supposed to be on the screen and your brain will convince you it is there even if it isn’t. So you need someone who doesn’t know what is supposed to be there to read every single word and make sure it is the right one, both in context and in spelling. Even then the occasional word slips through. If the story is good it is sometimes hard to keep reading slowly enough to look at every single word and make sure it is correct.
   Is correct spelling important? I’m sure everyone has seen the experiment from Cambridge University, where a whole paragraph is written with all the words spelt incorrectly, just the first and last letters in the right place. It is perfectly possible to read this paragraph and come out with the right message, but it takes a lot more concentration than reading a book. And all the right letters are there, just in the wrong order. I’m not so sure it would be as easy to read if some of the letters were missing, which is what often happens. The finger misses a letter, or the spell check doesn’t tell you if it should be ‘ent’ or ‘ant’.
   Many people skim read anyway, so why bother to make sure the spellings are correct? To my mind, because it shows you care about your craft. In this day and age there is no reason why typos should get through. Some word processors even pick up on words that are used out of context, so if you type ‘too’ instead of ‘to’, then it will be flagged as an error.
   So if you have a good word processor you don’t need an editor, right?
   Wrong. Apart from checking that the text is accurately typed an editor will advise on content and possibly style. I don’t like to interfere with the way an author writes. THEY are writing the book not me. I try my hardest not to paraphrase what has been written, but there are certain things I will point out and change or at least suggest for change. Sometimes a writer might use the same word three or more times in one paragraph. I’m talking adjectives and adverbs here, not the sort of words you DO have to use a lot. To me this spoils the flow of narrative. Sometimes a repetition can be used to emphasise a point, but in general I like to see as many different words used as possible. The English language has so many, make the most of them.
   An editor can also check consistency of style. Are all the chapter headings in the same place, or are some left justified and some centred, some bold or italic? Sometimes when a book has been many months in the writing the author forgets what formatting they used at the beginning – I know I do.
   Facts – these I trust to be correct. I hope the author has done their research and got their facts correct. Sometimes I double check something, Google is very helpful these days, but I expect facts to be right. I’m a fiction editor, I don’t do research, I don’t do technical stuff.
   I DO like to see things in their proper place, the right terminology for the characters, the era and setting. To me it is sloppy to have an American walking down a pavement in New York, eating biscuits instead of cookies and making calls on a mobile phone not a cell phone. Being English myself, I can’t profess to know all the slang of the world but the obvious things at least should be adhered to. If an author can’t do that they should make characters from their own environment.
   What do I get out of editing for other people? I get to read books before they are published and hopefully help the author make their book just that little bit better. I have been very lucky in that most of the books I have looked at have been a credit to their authors. So far I’ve only had one that I felt needed to be completely re-worked and that was one I wasn’t charging for, so I didn’t feel concerned about that. If I did get a commission that was so bad I would tell the author quickly and not make a charge.
   Ok, I’m a mug, I will never make a fortune editing but then again most Indie Authors won’t make a fortune writing! If you have something you would like me to look at contact me through my website here.