Trails and trials of the writer who walks
Why you CAN break the rule of ‘Show Don’t Tell’
Well known authors break the rules all the time, and I would stick to any tutor’s advice not to break them until you yourself have a fat contract under your belt.
But here’s a book I have thoroughly enjoyed by Stan Barstow: ‘The Likes of Us’. His short stories take us through the decades showing life in a mining town somewhere in Yorkshire. Each story is a reflection on life, relationships and ambitions of the time, basing each tale on a different character. His characterisations are delightful, but he does TELL you what each character is like. He uses a simple narrative style. It works. Their actions reflect their mood and emotions, but we are not asked to try and understand the character from thoughts and actions. The narrator very helpfully tells us all we need to know.
I think the ‘Show Don’t Tell’ mantra has sprung from trying to give reading material the immediacy of visual story-telling, to make us feel we are watching the action instead of just reading about it. But I also like the distance of simple narration. Jeffrey Archer writes tales which grip me until the end. It’s reminiscent of the Jackanory days, I think. Are we sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin …
But I’m not going to attempt to emulate them – see first paragraph!