Tell, Don’t Show: A New Trend in Fiction?

I must be hopelessly behind the times. The last few books I’ve read do not adhere to conventions I thought were appropriate to writing fiction. I am still a member of the “show don’t tell” school of writing, but apparently there is a movement afoot to change that to “tell don’t show.”

bd1a704fd817dd55315a287860e99fceOne book, purported to be the hidden diary of a sixteenth-century courtesan, is an interesting view of the history of the time and of the misfortunes that befell our heroine, but hearing only her voice, and her descriptions of the people and events of that time soon became a little tedious.

Understandably, I think, there is no dialogue, although I suspect the tension and the conflicts could be enhanced by slipping directly into scenes and settings that show the tension and conflicts. I would have liked to see and hear the characters with whom she interacted and experienced her tragedy first hand, not second hand through her narration.

Furthermore, she wrote her diary in a secret code and kept it in a hidden cranny in the castle where she spent the end of her life as a prisoner of the crown. Unfortunately, there is no parallel narrative of how the diary was found, by whom, and how it was ultimately translated. I believe that would have strengthened the story. Moving back and forth between time periods, that is, between some present time in which someone–a descendant, perhaps–finds the diary and the sixteenth-century time period as the heroine’s story emerges, would have provided a more compelling narrative hook.

Another book, also historical in nature, explores the conflicts between First Nation and Native American peoples and those who sought to settle their lands for crown and country. A great deal of research went into writing this novel and it describes violent and vicious encounters and warfare. And that’s part of the problem. It describes these encounters; it does not put us, as readers, into the battles. In fact, many of them are described after the fact.

There is dialogue scattered throughout the book, but, for the most part, even when there are only two people interacting in a chapter, no dialogue provides insight into the characters. The author tells us what to know about them. He tells their history, their values, their conflicts, their goals. Again, as a reader, I find that tedious.

If this is a new trend in writing, I’m sorry to see it coming. I hope this issue is related to self-publishing (both books fall into that category) and the authors’ conscious decision to tell a story, rather than to show it.

I’ve been trying to read more self-published books from indie authors in an effort to support and promote quality self-publishing. When I find a good one, one that grabs me and keeps me engaged with the characters and the content (like Touching the Wire, by Rebecca Bryn, or Chivalry, by Kristie Higgins, or even non-fiction like And Life Continues: Sex Trafficking and My Journey to Freedom, by Wendy Barnes), I will happily post a review on Amazon and Goodreads and other sites. If, however, I can’t give a book at least three stars, then I choose not to write a review.

I hope I’m not out of step with current trends in writing. If so, my own book, The Clay Remembers (coming May 1) is a throwback to an earlier time. I hope not, because I’ve worked too hard to try to show without simply telling, and I don’t want to undo all of that work.

About Sharon

**Writing, both personal and professional, has always been an important aspect of my life. **Personally, whether I write from experience or invent fictional characters, I learn so much about myself. Writing has always helped me understand and deal with important events and issues in my life. The blog, "Boxelders and Blackberries" serves this purpose. **My "gravatar" is a boxelder tree, which I hope provides a way to bring together my personal and professional writing. The boxelder tree branches into multiple trunks, each representing a different direction my life and career has taken.
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