Friday, March 14, 2014

'Blots: Showing not telling and what I've learned from Hemingway

Show don't tell: using dialogue
INKBLOTS--March 13, 2014 (my dear mother's birthday--the best copy editor alive, bless you!)

Four gentlemen starting off with background on Chinook Jargon that our resident dentist, Alan shared with us. Much more extensive language in a wide ranging area of Northwest, including well into British Columbia and east to Montana. From that we ended up talking about the difference between Scots and English, and the role of Knox in establishing the Geneva Bible and Calvin's catechism as the basis of the curriculum in the universal education in Scotland.

Alan brought me some books on Chinook Jargon, so spot on for what I am writing now. Thanks brother. He shared a haiku on poor man's jet lag. We chatted about whether Indiana has daylights savings time or not, guess it does. We talked about the impact of the change on kids, messes them up. I urged Alan to continue work on the early church novel, so engaging and fascinating.

We discussed other things and then I brought up Hemingway. I closed Farewell to Arms at the halfway point, said farewell to Farewell to Arms. I'm getting too old to spend valuable time reading a book that is considerably below standard for anything that qualifies as a classic, in my opinion. Having said that, I do appreciate Hemingway's utility of language, how he cuts to the chase, says what he is saying (life is empty so drink and copulate for tomorrow we die) with as few words as possible. This particular feature has helped me with some of my revision of my own writing, though I will avoid descending into the cryptic stream of consciousness that was so much a hallmark of Hemingway's style. Now that I have told you how I really feel, let's move on.

Andrew F (Grove City grad, T David Gordon country and a great institution for classics and the great books) joined us again tonight, welcome! He's not sure if it's a novel or a short story, and idea for a novel coming out of this. Emily. A clipped, straightforward narrative style. No extra words. I like that. I asked what was the catalyst. Andrew called it binge style writing, it just kind of pours out. Current setting but sci-fi direction. Patrick, our speculative fiction man, gave his opinion. He heard some repetition of the same idea in slightly different terms, people occssionally came down here but it didn't happen very often. This would work if there was a new piece of information that explained why it didn't happen very often. Show don't tell. Put things in dialogue that you narrate. Take Bunyan Pilgrim's Progress held up next to Holy War, or Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice held next to Sense and Sensibility. In both cases the former is so much more dialogue than the latter. And that makes a huge difference in the staying power of a novel. 

Patrick took rewriting seriously. So we pushed him to return to Adam and St'eve, speculative fiction, using zombies but not the pop fiction kind, these are complex nuanced personifications of total depravity. Patrick is going to infiltrate the genre, give it depth and meaning, and confront the unchallenged assumptions of popular culture, by exposing the absurdities of this kind of envisioning. P subtlety disarms the reader, while they are completely unaware of what he is doing. Adam and St'eve find themselves awkwardly having to listen to a partially inebriated old man who is offering his moral views expansively. The old man is classic! His way of speaking is so, so, exactly authentic. I can see him speaking. P does a great job of implying but not needing to actual say the details. The argument of how "superior" homosexuals make "better" parents because it all has to be so contortionistically intentional, and so expensive they have to be able to afford raising children. His tongue firmly in cheek.

We had discussion about the culture war on abortion and how philosophically troubling the rationale behind gay marriage, homosexual adoption, and the whole agenda to recreate culture in the image of our latest inventions.

John reads from his novel. Crimson blood is not best, in my opinion. Throbbing face, hard to picture this. Maybe be more precise about face, chin, cheek, forehead. I think you have over adjective-zed this. If you go back to this and kill half of the adjectives you will have a cleaner, clearer narrative. If we over describe, especially with too many adjectives, we slow the pace, and the style overshadows the story, not what we want to do, have our own words detract from the actual story. Alan commented that John is over narrating (our favorite criticism of the evening) and he needs to create dialogue, where his character who is alone at this point in the story could have dialogue with someone who is not actually there. She could be using her imagination and talking with her sister, or mother, or someone else. bullet being deflected by an emerald, Patrick wonders about the physics of this. John counters with how the impossibility of this convinces his protagonist that it was a divine intervention. Andrew wonders if a girl who has been through what this girl has been through, would she notice a babbling brook, and other description that John used here? We have to make the contrivance that fiction always is, we have to make sure the reader believes that it is realistic. So in this case, I think John needs to make sure the reader knows that she is in shock, that her perception is intensely heightened. This is where Inkblots is so amazingly helpful to all of us. I suggested that the adjective babbling could be replaced by a simile, it reminds her of laughter, mocking laughter, before someone confronts you with a crime they think you  have committed, or reminds her of something else that creates tension, howling winds before thunder, something like that.

My turn. I had feedback from my publisher who I sent several chapters just to see how it was feeling to them. Two of the fantastic folks from the editorial staff at P&R sent me very helpful and encouraging comments. They thought I needed to tone down the dialect for my Noclas character, the quiet hero of the whole yarn, love his role. I couldn't tell for sure if my fellow 'Blots agreed or not. I feel like it is always best with dialogue to err on the side of less is more, don't overdo it or the narrative flow of the novel is interrupted every time that character speaks. I don't want that.

So it's Friday morning and I'm finishing up a few notes from last evening's meeting--another really good one. I'm sitting at my favorite spot (only one time did I not get my special table since starting in on the writing of this yarn, thank you, Lord!) beginning to reenter the world of 1855 and the rising storm to war with the coastal tribes who lived right here in my world.

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