Oftentimes, new writers come into the field and immediately they’re bombarded with a host of do’s and don’ts. Show, don’t tell. Less explanation, more action. More dialogue, less prose. More prose, less dialogue.
The gamut goes on and on about what to do and what not to do, until finally, the new writer is up in arms as to just what is acceptable and what should be tossed out. After close to four years writing, I’ve got some advice for you.
Relax. It’s just not that serious.
The truth is, what’s right for one story is totally wrong for another. How one narrator might tell one sequence of events is completely different from how another narrator will recount the exact same story.
What’s more important than all the rules is voice. Who’s telling the story? And not only “who” but “why”. Are you writing a story about a kidnapped teen who’s scared for her life? OR are you writing a story about a kidnapped teen who’s about to get revenge on her kidnappers?
Two totally different stories, therefore two totally different tones. So where you might have a lot more inner dialogue and conflict with the scared teen, the vengeful teen might be more assertive and event driven.
This contradiction trumps the need to be locked into a “more vs. less” mentality. The answer is: What is right for your story?
I’ve read awesome books with sooooo much “telling” and explanation of character traits that the book should have never been published were it up to the infamous “writing guidelines.”
I’ve also read books that have attempted the “show” approach and have failed miserably, because too much of the story was left untold, meaning that a little more explanation could have really sufficed.
The point is: Don’t feel so overwhelmed with what should and shouldn’t be. In fact, it’s quite odd, but writers are the worst about scrutinizing one another with these fruitless aphorisms, when rarely do readers ever care about these faux pas.
What I have learned over the years is that I need to explain and prose is the vehicle to make it happen. And just when the explanation becomes mundane, I add in a little italicized text from the main character just as a reminder that the explanation is coming from her pov. Without fail, it ends up working.
Try out a few tricks like this to make sure you can bypass the do’s and don’ts. And remember, once you learn the writing rules, figure out ways to break every last one of them!