Antenna (antennapedia) wrote,

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Active writing

Here's a nice post on active writing, and why "show don't tell" is usually good advice. Once you know why you're showing, and what you're showing, and what your goals are, you probably know when telling is the right approach to take instead. I liked the way the poster put it-- she wants to experience the emotions along with the characters. And the way to evoke those sensations in readers is with active writing.

Reader involvement is the goal. The reader is an active participant in the experience. I'm sure there are grad students somewhere emitting theses about strategies of reading and all that. Whatever. The thing to know is that the reader is the other half of the electrical circuit. The reader takes your prose, reads it, decodes it, and imagines it somehow. John Gardner referred to the imagination-state as the "uninterrupted fictional dream". You give the reader enough to get going, then feed more details in to sustain the experience. But not all of them; you want the reader's mind engaged.

Give them active, vivid, direct presentations of events.
Give them work to do, in the form of details to supply on their own.
Keep their attention where you want it, by mentioning details that you want them to notice.

Active writing also helps with avoiding on-the-nose writing. I want to read characters experiencing emotion and betraying it through action. I don't want to be told what so-and-so is feeling. Half the time I'm not even sure what I'm feeling; I can't mind-read other people! But I can see that that my character is shredding the piece of bread on his plate instead of eating it.

Also in service of my goal of learning to avoid the dread nose-targeting, I've been working on misunderstandings and things never understood. Mistakes, both incidental and important. Guesses, correct and incorrect.

Heh, check what happens when Rudy Rucker reads Gardner. Mr Pedia is a huge Rucker fan; I haven't read much. But I like the way he's delighted by all these insights.
Tags: craft

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