NOT a Book Review

This book is required reading for another writing course I’m enrolled in at Blue Heron Books.  Assigned weekly readings are curriculum-based so I don’t expect to finish all 677 pages of “The Making of a Story: A Norton Guide to Creative Writing” front-to-back any time soon.  I don’t plan to write a review of this book.  I do plan to share aha’s via Alice LaPlante, particularly when she demonstrates how advice that didn’t make sense, most likely doesn’t.  Here’s an example.

Chapter Five: Why You Need to Show and Tell. Or, why the most common piece of advice given to beginning writers is misleading.

Somewhere along the line since I’ve been cobbling bits and pieces of popular wisdom, workshops and readings together to form a writerly sense of things in my head, I got the crazy idea that if there wasn’t dialogue then there couldn’t be any (valuable) dramatization … any real storytelling.  Ironically before I did the Chapter 5 assigned reading, I started “The Cat’s Table” and was shocked to be several pages into the novel without a speck of dialogue.  I couldn’t figure out how Michael Ondaatje got away with so much ‘telling’ especially since I was enthralled with his page-turning book from the first sentence.

Duh, Duh, Duh!  Where do some of my wacky notions come from?  How do I get so far off track?  LaPlante puts it all in perspective, “… the balance of the showing and the telling is a critical part of a writer’s style, or voice, and there is no one ‘right’ way to achieve that balance.  Each writer needs to find it out for … herself.” I was so impressed with Chapter Five I colour coded the clarifying parts (pink for show; blue for tell) for quick reference when I go astray in my thinking again.

I’ll have to re-read the chapter a couple of times to lock it in, but am pleased to know how misguided it is to place a ‘NOT’ between the showing and the telling.

My Personal AHA?  There is no place for the abstract or general in great storytelling – neither when showing (easier to be concrete & specific) nor when narrating (telling).  This is the key that unlocked one heavy door for me.