Hello and good morning. It’s Thursday, and so, if you’re so interested, it’s time for another edition of my weekly blog post.
I’m nearly done, now, with my “short story” In the Shade. I use scare quotes there because, as is usually the case with me, the story has grown larger than I expected. I won’t say how large except to admit that it’s well over thrice what it was when I picked it back up. That doesn’t mean it’s bad—though I guess it may be—but it does mean it’s not very short. As I think I’ve mentioned before, I mean to try to be even more draconian than usual about word count reduction in the editing process, to see if I can streamline it at least a bit without removing any of what I consider the important substance of the story.
I sometimes fear that I let my characters get too introspective. There is, apparently, a modern common recommendation that as an author one should “show, not tell” what is happening to one’s characters and even what they are thinking. But if a character is experiencing something alone—as we all, ultimately, experience life alone—then one must get inside that character’s head if one is to give the reader any sense of what the character is experiencing.
I think the “show don’t tell” edict is misguided, anyway. A written story can only tell. All it can “show” is a set of squiggles on a page. Perhaps modern writers have been influenced by the prevalence first of movies, then television, and now all the various other forms of visual media. And yet, ultimately, nearly all stories must be told largely in words. Even silent movies contained intermittent panels of written explication. And video is simply a different kind of medium than the written word. In my opinion, though its impact may be more immediate, it tends not to be as deep or involved.
For instance, the movie versions of The Lord of the Rings were wonderful, and I loved them all, but they are not close to being as great as the original book(s). They are also, ironically, much more data intensive, even though they had to leave out so many things from the books to fit the action into three long movies. Books call upon the readers to provide their own special effects, but if a reader has a decent imagination, then the special effects budget is unlimited. And the experience of the books is much more personal. It is unique to every individual reader and every new reading.
I am biased, of course. I cannot be otherwise. But I think words are the most important part of any story, even movies and TV shows and the like. Tales are told largely through the words shared between characters, from the plays of Shakespeare to a modern sit-com. I’m sure that movies or videos exist in which there are no words at all, with stories told purely by action and motion. If done well, they could be quite interesting*. But such tales will tend to be outliers and curiosities. Language—especially written language—is the lifeblood of civilization.
We know some of what Plato and Aristotle and Archimedes thought because they wrote it down. If, on some distant future day, all computers and other video players were lost, or some catastrophe made their function impossible, we would not see any movies. But as long as a written language is not dead, a book can play itself for any reader, and can be recorded on paper, in computer files, carved in stone (if one is so inclined), and can even be read aloud onto some recording media.
I’ve gone on a bit of a tangent, and maybe I’ve gone farther than is really warranted. But I am a lover of the written word and consider writing the purest form of storytelling. That being said, I do still recognize my tendency to run off at the word processor, and sometimes to say more than is necessary to get my point across**. So, as I think I’ve mentioned before, I’m writing the final part of In the Shade with pen on paper, to slow myself down a bit and—just maybe—to make myself more concise. It’s not much of a handicap. Yesterday was my first pen and paper day, and I wrote a little over three pages in my morning session, which is probably on the order of over 1200 words.
I fear I may be incorrigible in this wordy tendency; neither Mark Red, nor The Chasm and the Collision, nor Paradox City could be called particularly short works, and they were initially written on notebook paper resting on the cover of a cheap photo album in FSP West. But I’ll try not to get too carried away if I can help it. Who knows, maybe some readers enjoy that tendency in my stories? But it can’t hurt to cut out the truly unnecessary and the distracting.
With that thought, I’ll call this blog post to an appropriate end. I wish you all the best, and I hope you stay safe and healthy, and try to be happy when you can.
*The horror movie A Quiet Place does this to some extent, and is quite powerful, but even it must lapse into words for explanation, including sign language. Nevertheless, kudos to the makers of that film!
**I know, you’d never realize that by reading this blog, right?