I really enjoyed this article and interview with Lee Child. I think I’ve read one book in which Child had a hand, but there was something in the article that really struck me and made me want to read more of his work:
“…Child scoffed at the conventional rule that writers must ‘show, don’t tell.’ He said writers are called ‘storytellers, after all, not story showers.’ Because of the show-don’t-tell rule, Child thinks that many writers are so scared of ‘telling’ that they manipulate their work, such as having characters peer in a mirror and describe themselves, rating their own looks. ‘Who does that in real life?’ Child laughed. ‘There’s nothing wrong with just writing “he was a tall man with brown hair.” Just tell the damn story.’”
This also ties in a little bit with recent post by Kristen Lamb on lazy writing crutches, like adverbs and qualifiers. I think what Lee Child is talking about in the interview is just another one of those crutches. We, as writers, are constantly told “show, don’t tell,” but I know I find it a little insulting as a reader when a writer goes out of his way to show me how a character looks with a device like looking in a mirror. It’s a moment of “Really? That’s your solution to this description problem?” And I actually am the sort of person who will take note of myself in the mirror on occasion, but that’s because I’m secretly a narcissist.
But basically, it comes down to this: there is nothing wrong with simple writing. Some of my favorite writers (and Chinese writers especially, I’ve noticed, though that might be a translation thing) compose their words in a very straight-forward manner. The results are beautiful. There’s no heavy-handed prose. There’s no awkwardness. There’s absolutely no thesaurus abuse. Just gorgeous, simple writing that tells a story rather than shows how the language can be manipulated. It brings to mind a line in one of the stories from Bowlful of Bunnies, where I describe someone as being “very young with very old eyes.” A few betas suggested a more elaborate description, but, the more I thought about it, the more I loved the line just as it was. Very simple and straightforward, which I felt suited the character being described in such terms. So I kept it. And will continue to love it.
So, there are a lot of merits to being a writer. To being able to understand the rules of exceptional writing, to use your adverbs sparingly, to abolish the need to pepper your writing with crutches. But there’s also a lot to be said about being a good storyteller, too. Sometimes, the simplest solution is the best. It reflects a certain voice, creates a certain mood, and just tells a damn good story.
On an unrelated note, we are so close to hitting the 25 mark on the contest! Will I return home from work to discover I need to get a sample typed up? We shall see.