Writing has come a long way since the venerable Dickens scratched his meaty words out with a quill pen, and admirable though he was, hurray for that. Every aspect of life changes as time passes – if it didn’t, we’d either be set like flies in aspic or bored silly, for variety in all its forms is the spice of life. Take some of the former rules and regulations appertaining to writing English…Who would dared to have started a sentence with ‘and’ or ’but’ years ago? Any upstarts who did, were struck across the palms of their hands with a ruler if they had tried! Now it is common-place, even though it upsets some pedants. Then there is the humble comma – “Eats shoots and leaves” being an excellent example of not using them; many newspapers and magazines also rigidly ration them too. (I admit to having a liking for the ‘Oxford’ comma put before ‘and’ – old lessons sometimes die hard.) Spaces before the start of a new sentence used to be two, now it’s one, and so it goes on.
SHOWING NOT TELLING
However, when it comes to the eternal advice to “Show and not tell” this has been turned on its head so many times of late (if my reading matter is anything to go by), I ask myself does this still apply? As a writer, it frees one a little to realise that rules and regulations are more relaxed in today’s world and they can be bent or massaged as long as the writing itself remains coherent and worthy. Styles vary and it all comes down to taste; wordy tomes versus minimalist or subconscious writing; clipped short sentences versus rambling ones. A lot hinges on the genre and the penchant, and talent…of the author, for a sloppy one wouldn’t, usually, get away with it (although some do…)whatever style they use.
EXAMPLES OF SOME TELLING BOOKS
Catherine O’Flynn’s “What was Lost”This book received almost rave reviews by Kate Mosse, The Observer and the Independent and has won two top awards and been long-listed for another. There is no doubt that the author writes excellent prose and has an original mind, but she prefers very long, ‘telling’ paragraphs and not too much dialogue. My present book: “Capital” by John Lanchester is written in a similar fashion, with huge chunks of wordy ‘telling’ and long paragraphs– but it is a super read; funny, interesting and very intelligently written. The fact that it’s a ‘Top Ten Bestseller’ with high praise from both The Times and the Spectator speaks for itself. Personally, ideally, I like a healthy mix of dialogue and ‘telling’ – otherwise verbal constipation can set in! I suppose, when it comes down to it, it really depends on the skills of the author, and the taste of the reader..