Three Dirty Birds Talk Show vs Tell


It’s a New Year, but the same old young Dirty Birds! We’re back with chapter 8 of James Scott Bell’s Revision and Self-Editing for Publication–Show vs. Tell.

Ana: I can never get enough of this topic. /sarcasm

Zoe: It was fairly palatable in this presentation. It’s been worse!

Ana: It’s probably not him, it’s just me! Just read too much about it, I guess.

Zoe: It’s definitely one of those things writers get hit over the head with. Unfortunately the ones who need it most aren’t reading writing books (yet). (I tend to think most of them eventually will.)

Kate: I thought it was nice and clear. The way he put some things made me realize that I’ve probably been doing most of this by instinct (and with the prodding of certain beta readers).

Zoe: I think I do a lot of it by instinct too. (Though with a nagging voice at the back of my head going, “Do you really need to make this a scene? Could you just tell this and move on??”)

Ana: (I feel like my laziness helps me with that last bit. I’m too lazy to show a scene if it could be told!)

Kate: His bit about emotion and the character was spot on for the romance crowd. I find the emotional stuff is the biggest offender in our crew–telling the reader what the character is feeling, instead of letting the reader experience it with the character.

Zoe: And since the emotion is what readers are reading for…that can be a big problem.

Kate: It’s hard, though, figuring out when to summarize, and when to spell it out. And there’s always going to be that one person who writes a review and thinks you did it wrong. No matter what your choice was.

Ana: Can’t please everyone. Writing books really only tell you how to please what’s hopefully a majority of your readers.

Zoe: It’s also tough figuring out how high to go on the scale with emotion at a given point of the story. You don’t want to wear your readers out, you don’t want to decrease the impact of the truly big emotional points…but you do want readers to be feeling with the characters all along.

Kate: I was worn out at the end of The Martian, but it was a good kind of worn-out. Don’t listen to the end while driving though–there’s a good forty-five minutes of driving that I only remember Mars, not the road. But he did an excellent job, because even though I could predict when successes and failures would happen, I was still totally hooked.

Ana: It was rather predictable, wasn’t it? For some reason that didn’t work against it.

Kate:I think we were all a little in love with Mark.

Zoe: I thought of it like a mystery–Sherlock Holmes, you know he’s going to solve the case in every book. But you want to see what’s going to go wrong, how bad it’s going to be, and how he figures it out.

Kate: The dialogue was good enough that even though I questioned how realistic some of the exchanges were, I didn’t care.

Zoe: “This week, the Dirty Birds quickly dispatch with Show vs. Tell and gush about The Martian.”

Kate: Sorry, my bad. 🙁 But it was an excellent book. And a very short chapter.

Zoe: Agreed on both!

Ana: To bring us back to the book we were supposed to be discussing, what did you birds think of the intensity scale he uses?

Zoe: All that mathematical mumbo-jumbo makes my eyes cross. (Unless it’s in The Martian, in which case it rivets me to my seat.)

Ana: I think I mentioned earlier that I often think I couldn’t write like him, that it would take the fun out of it for me, and this is part of it.

Kate: I think the scale is something you would apply after you’ve written the book, so you know where to tweak. I certainly wouldn’t be thinking about it while I was writing.

Zoe: I assumed it wasn’t something he actually used, just a way he came up to explain something that he—and many of us—do by feel. (But I could be wrong! What do I know from James Scott Bell’s actual process?)

Ana: I guess. For all we know, he could be employing monkeys to write his books.

Zoe: Don’t give me ideas.

Kate: There’s already a thriller author doing that–it’s not new.

About the author: Kate Lowell

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