on showing & telling

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I recently completed a pretty deep revision pass on my recent manuscript after some great suggestions from my agent. While plotting out how I wanted to get to the end product I envisioned, I struggled with the dreaded "info dump" and the idea of how to communicate this vast world I had built up in my mind.

Of course, I turned to craft books and wisdom from my CPs which led me to a big realization.

Sometimes, it's ok to tell. 

A lot of the issues I had in my story's setup was from a lack of clarity, which required good, old fashioned telling. Showing would've further muddled the narrative so that readers would be even more confused. And that's not a good look.

Character emotions? Show me that. Make me feel every feel and truly understand what the character is going through internally. Telling takes away from that.

Set up? Be straightforward and tell me what I need to know when it's relevant. Say the country has a monarchy and who the Queen is, be clear that there are three moons which means constant night. Especially if it is vital knowledge to the reader's understanding of the world. Losing vital information in extended metaphors and half answers only makes the narrative frustrating.

It's a small thing, and not always applicable, but telling crucial information can save the reader a lot of time and effort which they can then pour into loving your characters and story. 

 

on listening to yourself

Oof, so it's been awhile. I have all the normal excuses but a big part of it was simply living my life and falling (hard) into writing.

There's something about finding and joining a community of writers that has made my heart so full, it's hard to describe. I've met incredible people who are so giving of their time and of themselves. And as a result, I've become a better person and certainly a better writer. 

I could go on for paragraphs about the writing community and the people I've met but I wanted to talk about something else.

Being a writer isn't a solitary act. To fully reach the pinnacle of your ability, you have to first of all admit that you probably will never reach it. But the goal is to keep trying and to compete against yourself. Always improve. Always work hard. 

Part of improving is getting critiques and having your work read by other writers. I think this is a crucial step to becoming a stronger writer. But sometimes, you have to trust your own gut. Writers have one of the nastiest case of Imposter Syndrome I've ever seen, and if you combine that with an environment of constant critiquing and edits and revisions and that need to improve, it can be a quagmire. So, I've found something to be really important when receiving critiques or helpful suggestions. 

Sleep on it. And then, listen to yourself. If it's a craft thing, definitely consider it. If it's a plot thing or a character thing, take a beat to center yourself. You know the story you're trying to tell better than anyone else.

As Neil Gaiman famously said, “Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”

I, and some of my dear writing friends, have gotten critiques that ask us a little too much--to remove or add something that feels wrong. But the instinct is to cut, scratch out, rewrite, fix, add immediately. I've seen too many writers take every critique that comes their way and then lose their story. And when the heart is gone, you're just left with a bunch of words that you don't love.

So take a beat. Let out that breath you've been holding and don't assume that THIS will be the key to fixing your manuscript (if you think it needs to be fixed). Let it be a guide though.

I realize this is all pretty vague for first time writers, so I'll follow up with some more details on how you can look at a critique in different ways and let it help spark your own ideas. 

on writing your own culture

As a fledgling novelist, I’m constantly learning -- how to deepen my character’s motivations, heighten the stakes in a twisty plot or improve my craft. What I never thought I’d have to learn (or re-learn) is how to write my own culture.

Recently, I sat down to start plotting out my upcoming WIP based off an idea that had captured my heart a few months ago. I had two completed manuscripts under my belt, but yet I felt an almost overwhelming fear. Not that I couldn’t write it or that I might fail -- I’d failed a number of times already and I had always picked myself up and soldiered on. What scared me was the type of book I wanted to write next, one which would be firmly rooted in the lore and mythology of India.

These were stories I grew up hearing from my parents, reading in beautifully illustrated comic books, or watching on serialized, over-dramatized television shows. I knew them by heart. As a kid, I prided myself on being able to recall the most obscure character’s name from the Mahabharata or recite one of the tales from the Panchatantra.

And I’m a writer of fantasy -- the more fantastical and otherworldly, the better. I love building new worlds and cultures and weaving magic and mythology through every word of my book. But why was it harder for me to write about the magic and mythology of my own culture than one I had made up?

When I got down to the heart of it (after talking to some of my wonderfully sensitive friends), I realized something. I consider myself American, or sometimes Indian-American. But I also spent a long time struggling as a kid with this concept, beating down my inherent “otherness” as much as possible so that it wasn’t intimidating or off-putting. I vacillated between the two -- showing off my ethnicity and culture, and hiding it. Eventually, I found a middle ground and a solid sense of self (it helped that I was no longer a teenager) but sitting down to write this book brought back every struggle, every moment of confusion.

Would I be judged for writing something “so diverse”? Would people appreciate the realities of Indian culture beyond yoga, henna and chai? Would stories of my heritage be too weird, too “other”? If this is the book that gets me to the next level as a writer, would people think it’s only because I wrote something about my culture? That I could never be mainstream?

I immediately felt a bewildering outrage. I had already written two books that had almost nothing to do with my culture or my “Indian-ness.” (Note how my first reaction is to prove I’m not “other” by touting these books) People wanted diversity! I shouldn’t feel ashamed. And what did “mainstream” mean anyway? These thoughts and more rattled around my head for awhile until I realized I was being defensive. I had some deep rooted anxiety about being accepted, remnants of a childhood where the food I loved was deemed smelly and people asked if we had a cousin like Apu from the Simpsons. I wanted to have no fear about writing this story and putting my culture and heritage out there for all to see, but it remained there, nestled into my chest.

At the end of the day, I am a writer. And the quest for diverse representation and stories is something I want to join -- no matter how hard or scary it is. That’s what writers do. We tell the stories of the world. And there is a vast world out there.

In the future, if my stories can help a younger version of me navigate the treacherous waters of being a teenager by giving her the chance to read a story that represents and celebrates her culture -- every bit of fear and worry would be worth it.

I chose to look at my fear as a sign that writing this story was something worth doing. Nothing ventured, nothing gained...right?