I finished reading Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King a while back and enjoyed it. I found much food-for-thought, which I’ll share along the way, and some points I feel the need to debate. Here’s an example of the latter, and I hope you’ll weigh in with your thoughts.
On page 16, Browne and King write: “You don’t want to give your readers information. You want to give them experiences.”
My first reaction to that was: “perfect!” That’s exactly what fiction writers want to do.
Except! It doesn’t appear to be what readers always want fiction writers to do.
Have you read The Da Vinci Code? The biggest blockbuster novel of our age is full of mini-lectures, and I’ve heard plenty of readers say they loved having the chance to learn some stuff along with being entertained. (Whether what they learned was accurate or not is a different issue.) Those readers were saying they wanted the “information” that Browne and King are saying not to give them, and they were perfectly happy getting it in info-dump form without having it dramatized.
If it were just Dan Brown writing like this, we might put the readers’ reactions down to a fluke. But I’ve seen the same kind of “information-heavy” prose in a lot of popular novels, from modern thrillers to historicals. The readers aren’t always on the same “page” with the writers on show versus tell, and it’s starting to make me rethink that whole debate.
It’s beginning to seem to me that the whole “Show don’t tell” axiom in writing is so incredibly oversimplified as to be virtually useless. At best, the axiom should be: “Show don’t Tell the dramatic important scenes.” But if you’re merely moving people from spot to spot, tell it and get it over with so you can get to the next important scene. And as for information dumps, there’s a lot of gray area there as well. It seems that writers lean more toward the showing side for this sort of thing while readers are perfectly happy with info dumps, as long as they convey interesting information and don’t completely disrupt the flow of the narrative.
If we were doing mythbusters I’d have to declare “Show don’t Tell” busted. What do you think?