It’s been some time since I’ve talked about writing. This year, I have stepped back from it to focus on other facets of my life. But, writing is what started my past and present blogs. It’s also something I still do without taking it seriously… for now.
Through years of discussions with other writers and reading, I’ve come to the realization there are different types of writers. We don’t all fall into the same group. There are writers who produce books with a soul, and writers who produce books that tell us a story. I used to think the latter didn’t make you a writer. The truth is there’s an audience for books that breathe with life and books that simply walk us through life.
Walk us through life
This is the type of book where a writer tells their story. There’s little to none description or show—it is told through the main character or third person narrator. Below is an example of tell:
“Sally walked into the grocery store to buy a head of lettuce. She thought about the last time she ate vegetables and realized it had been a long time.”
It’s simple, to the point, and we’re told by a third person narrator what Sally is doing and thinking. Sally is walking to the store to buy lettuce. She reflects on her vegetable intake. But we don’t know much more about Sally. What does she look like? Is she smart? Funny?
Breathe with life
This is the type of story where emotions are transferred from writer to reader—it’s vivid. Details, show, and dialogue breathe life into the characters so the reader gets a deeper connection with them and the story. Below is an example of show—a result of character development:
“Sally’s heel caught in a crack of the buckled sidewalk, ankle veering off to the side. She bent over and pressed her hands against the concrete, twisting and turning to dislodge the heel. In the process, the wind whisked up her dress, revealing white fleshy buttocks. Chunks of hair fell from her bun, held together with a pen and pencil, when she lifted to pat things down. Sally glanced around to see if anyone noticed before moving on wobbly giraffe-like legs into the store. At the vegetable section, she lifted a head of lettuce and closed one eye to examine it with caked lashes brushing against the plastic covering.”
This has detail—gives the reader more information about the character. From this, we can decipher that Sally is awkward. She’s tall (giraffe reference), lanky, doesn’t know how to walk in high heels (stepping in cracks), and wears a lot of mascara (caked lashes). We also can guess she doesn’t go shopping much from the way she examines the head of lettuce. Along with getting a better picture of Sally, we also get a bit of the setting. She’s walking in an area that isn’t well maintained.
Tell writers come up with a story, write, and publish it. They stick with the simple ‘tell’ of a story. They’re of the mindset that stories have been told for years, so why should writing be any different. They might want to get the editing correct, but the intricacies of writing isn’t their focus.
Then there are the writers who learn the writing guidelines in regards to character, plot, dialogue… Writing guidelines teach us a balance between show vs. tell. As a writer learns the guidelines, it makes breaking some by creating voice and style that much better.
Walk us through life: Some readers enjoy this kind of writing because they don’t like description. They want a simple read from beginning to end. As the saying goes, “Story always trumps great writing.” There are readers who don’t want the tedious details because it doesn’t appeal to their senses. A steady read told to them is what brings them to books.
Breathe with life: Some readers prefer this type of writing where they can connect and get a better understanding of the characters. They want to like or dislike a character while taking the journey. This is where those writing guidelines come in.
As a Writer and Reader
When I decided to write, I wanted to put my heart into it and learn the guidelines. There’s nothing wrong with telling, but I didn’t want my stories to be just that. Writing guidelines helped me become a better writer, even though I’m still learning.
The types of books I enjoy reflect the way I write—a vivid experience. There’s a balance of show vs. tell, and I get the opportunity to connect with the characters and story on a deeper level. Balance is key. Too much description can muddle the story and characters, and too little leaves me with only a carcass.
What type of writer are you?
What type of reader are you?
Writers and readers,