The Classics

I’ve complained about how the “classic” books are muddied with complicated sentences, packed with exposition and narration, and boring to read. Most of them are. Ever tried to read Frankenstein?

I started reading The Maltese Falcon. It’s amazing. True, it’s “outdated” but it rings with noir tones. It is a fantastic example of showing and not telling. There is little in the book so far about how characters feel; we are shone how the characters feel through their actions and words. When Archer is found dead, Spade doesn’t get a paragraph of his emotional state – not even a sentence. Instead, we see his emotional state when he goes home and drinks.

For anyone on the fence about the “show/tell” debate, or someone who would love a good example of showing, read this book or at least some of it.

There is a overwhelming need in new writers (that I’ve beta’d before) and wanting to detail each emotion the main character feels, how they feel that emotion, and why, rather just showing us the emotion that that character feels.

“Justine felt the anger rising up from her toes like a blazing wild fire. It raced up her legs and turned her stomach over. She wanted to punch him; she wanted to cry; she wanted to drink herself into a stupor until it blew over.”

This description that I just made up is 100% telling. I’m telling you how the character feels. It’s not a bad paragraph, but it is telling.

“Justine clenched her fists so tight her knuckles went white. Her nails bit into her palms. He took a step back, looking at her fists. His scowl returned and she swung at him, knocking her knuckles right into his jaw. Before he said a word, she slammed the kitchen door between them and began to sob.”

In this second example, Justine is obviously mad. She is also sad. Those words were never told to the reader, they were shown through her actions. Normal people don’t punch someone and cry if they’re feeling happy.


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