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Monday, 12 October 2015

Writing – Lee Child - dubious advice

‘We’re not story showers, we’re story tellers.’

That catchy little snippet comes from the latest issue (November) of Writing Magazine, a quotation from bestselling author Lee Child. According to the article by Tony Rossiter, Child ‘believes that reading is the only essential training for a writer.’ Apparently, Child eschews the ‘show, don’t tell’ principle, adding, ‘There is nothing wrong with just telling the story. So liberate yourself from that rule.’

Who am I to disagree with someone whose books sell in their millions?

However, if this quotation is accurate, then it’s nonsense.

Whether he knows it or not, he ‘shows’ in his writing – through character point of view, description and emotional content.

‘Show’ puts the reader into the scene and into the protagonist’s mind. That, to a large extent, is what makes the Jack Reacher books popular: character. You can’t have ‘character’ without ‘show’.

There is a place for ‘tell’ in narrative – to move the story forward a little faster, to skim over some boring life bits. But if you want reader involvement, you need to ‘show.’

As for reading, I totally agree if you want to be a writer then you must read – ideally, widely, both fiction and non-fiction; a little poetry wouldn’t go amiss, either.

So, if you want to try the hard way to find a publisher, follow his advice... but don't hold your breath.





Neil Waring said...

I have read all of the Reacher books and agree that he does tell some, as all writers must. I think it's in Jack Reacher's internal dialog, that makes the books, maybe that is what he calls telling. Reacher is a terricfic character, lots of action (show) but his strong character carries the books.

Nik Morton said...

I agree, Neil, and that's my point. Child is not helping budding writers by saying that they should ignore 'show', since the advice contradicts his own efforts.