Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Show Don't Tell - Truth or Lie??

I've been reading a lot of articles lately about writing advice and how, like any advice, much of it should be taken with a grain of salt (I need to look that up and see why salt is used in this cliché). See this piece by Nick Mamatas. Hilarious and makes the point that a writer needs to do what he needs to do and don't let the so-called rules constrain you. I agree with much of it but I do think writers just starting out should be aware of these pieces of advice and follow them at first. When they are more comfortable in their writing voice then they can determine how much of that advice, if any, they should take. Still, at some point, a writer will be faced with one of these rules, like 'Show Don't Tell', and have to decide whether they will break it.

In my case, I was always a firm believer in the 'show don't tell' piece of advice. Why on earth would a writer choose to drone on about what a tree looked like when they could have their main character climbing the tree, feeling the rough bark beneath his fingers and balancing precariously on a low hanging branch? Well, I did believe this advice until I wrote THE BREAK and I had two major scenes where, in effect I was telling rather than showing.

Oh, my God, I worried over those scenes. I kept thinking: "Is there any way to reveal this information without a character just talking about it?" Well, since that information happened in the past, I would have had to have a flashback and I really don't like flashbacks. Flashbacks are another thing some writers advise to keep to a bare minimum if used at all. I guess that's one piece of writerly advice I've kind of stuck with but, since cutting myself some slack on the show don't tell advice now, I figure that one is also ready to be blown up. I'll probably have a flashback scene in my next book, for all I know! As for 'show don't tell, I finally accepted that sometimes in a story (as in life) characters tell another character about something that happened to them. Talking reveals information, characters react to that information and (here's the big thing) if it is DONE WELL a reader will not feel like the information is revealed in a flat, boring way. I really hope I did those 'telling' scenes well. Time will tell (agagaga!!)

In fact, in a book I'm reading now called "World War Z", the entire story is told in a 'telling' way because the format is based on interviews about events that occurred in the past during the zombie war. The writer still manages to make the telling compelling even though it reads like a historical document based on interviews. But because those interviews are filled with complex, flawed characters that went through a horrific experience the stories they are telling are never boring. Very different and very well done.

I guess the moral of this is that the more you write, the more so-called 'rules' you come across and the more comfortable you become in breaking those rules when you need to in order to tell (show??) the story. Writing is not mathematics (thank God). There are instincts that must be listened to, rules that sometimes need to be broken and, most importantly, a story that needs to be told in the way the writer feels works the best.

How about you? Have you broken any of the so-called 'rules' of writing?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Canadian Children's Book Centre List of Books for Family Literacy Day (and ILLEGALLY BLONDE is on it!)

We have a fantastic resource in the Canadian Children's Book Centre (CCBC) that promotes reading and books by our authors and helps teachers, librarians, and the general public in their book buying and reading decisions. Canada has a strong, supportive culture that encourages reading (the recent budget threats to our Toronto Public Library system notwithstanding) and as part of that, we celebrate Family Literacy Day on January 27th. As the CCBC states in its promotion of this day:

"Family Literacy Day is a national awareness initiative created by ABC Life Literacy Canada in 1999 and held annually on January 27 to raise awareness of the importance of reading and engaging in other literacy-related activities as a family. More than 1.5 million Canadians have already participated in the initiative since its debut. Taking time every day to read or do a learning activity with children is crucial to a child’s development. Even just 15 minutes a day can improve a child’s literacy skills dramatically, and can help a parent improve their skills as well. For more information, please email info@abclifeliteracy.ca."

In celebration of Family Literacy Day, the Canadian Children’s Book Centre compiled a list of 50 Canadian books (25 picture books and 25 works of fiction) that share in the joys (and struggles) of families of all sizes and combinations. And guess what? They included ILLEGALLY BLONDE on it! Here's the link

I'm so very, very pleased IB is on this list since, at it's heart, the story is about the strength and strains of family and what we do and what we have to sacrifice for the ones we love. I'm also awed and honoured by the fantastic company of books ILLEGALLY BLONDE sits with.

So Yay for the CCBC! and YAY! For Family Literacy Day (January 27th). Here's hoping that the joy of reading spreads to those that need to hear it the most.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Preview's Sell E-books! (at least to me)

Sorry for the long hiatus but it's been an unusually busy holiday season. Hockey tournaments, Dad's 80th birthday celebrations (on New Year's Eve no less) and ongoing house reno madness has left me about six balls behind the 8th one. I must confess, though, that one of the things that led to my distraction from blogging was my hubby's birthday gift for me of the new Kobo Vox. It's sort of the Canadian version of the Kindle Fire - a tablet e-reader (that also allows me to surf the web since I can never get my hands on any of the computers at home!). It's fabulous. After I pried it away from my husband (seriously, I did not see it for the first six hours it was home) I was finally able to download my first e-book purchase.

I chose World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie Apocalypse by Max Brooks for a number of reasons, one of them being my recent fascination with all things zombie due to The Walking Dead. But the biggie? The publisher let me read the first few pages. What, you ask? Isn't that standard e-book practice? Don't ALL e-books allow a potential buyer to get a taste of the book, an author's style, whether the beginning pages hook you or not? Surprisingly, NO.

I'm a big lover of sneak peeks. I love watching movie trailers for upcoming releases before the main movie begins. In fact, if we're late to a movie and miss the previews, it puts me in a grumpy enough mood for me to not enjoy the movie I actually came to watch. Those trailers hook me (or not) and are necessary (along with reviews) to help me make my decision about what movies I want to pay money to see in future. Same thing with books. When I browse for books from authors I have not read before I go through my process: Interesting title? Cover's cool? Blurb intrigues me? If all those are a yes, then I open the book and read a few pages. If it's all good then I usually buy.

When I was going through the Kobo library, I used the same process. Cover, title, blurb then I clicked on the Download Preview button. Then I went to my library where the book was sitting on my shelf, clicked on it and 9 times out of 10 I would get to read the first few pages. Well, I was deciding on whether to purchase World War Z and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. World War Z had it all and the writing was good so it was a no brainer. Click on Buy. With the second one, I already new Jonathan Safran Foer was a fabulous writer, my brother had spoken highly of the book, and I wanted to read the book before I saw the extremely well-reviewed movie. So you figure I should just buy it, right? Well, when I downloaded the preview and scrolled through the pages what I got were the first few pages of illustrations/pictures that were in the book but none of the actual writing. What the … ? No first five pages of writing, nothing. I know it probably didn't matter since the writer is who he is. But still. It irked me. I was denied the pleasure of browsing. I don't like to buy without browsing. No matter how many people tell me it's an amazing product. No click on Buy.

And it wasn't just that book. There were a few books from major publishing houses that gave me a preview of copyright and acknowledgement pages but stopped just before chapter one. I just don't get what they think they're accomplishing by doing that. Seriously. I don't buy the car without the test drive, people.

On a more positive note, I'm really enjoying World War Z and my Kobo Vox. And I'll probably go buy Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close the old fashioned way - standing in the bookstore aisle, flipping through the pages and enjoying the preview.

How about you guys? Do you need the test drive when you buy an e-book or not?