Your Hosts: DongWon Song, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler
Few pieces of writing advice get repeated as much as that old saw “show, don’t tell.” We’re here to show tell you that it’s not only not universally applicable, much of the time it’s wrong¹. Tell, don’t show, especially in the early pages of the book when so very, very much information needs to be delivered² quickly.
Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson
¹ Fun fact: this advice comes to us from silent film, when it made great artistic sense to put things on screen rather than on title cards.
² If you need new terminology, Dan uses “demonstration vs. description.”
Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 18:36 — 13.7MB)
Rewrite your whole first scene as narration. See what parts work better and what doesn’t work. Keep the better bits, and work them into the next draft.
Your Hosts: Brandon, Victoria, Dan, and Howard
“As you know, Bob…” is the trope-tastic line we use to refer to expository dialog which has no function beyond exposition.
We get lots of listener questions about how to use dialog for exposition without making it feel like we’re using dialog for exposition. And as Bob already knows, this episode is about answering those questions.
Credits: This episode was recorded by Dan Thompson, and mastered by Alex Jackson
Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 17:45 — 13.0MB)
Take a favorite piece of media, and make a list of the worldbuilding elements which are absolutely necessary to make the story work. Now re-watch the media, and make notes about when each of these elements is introduced.
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary Robinette, Dan, and Howard
“Show, don’t tell,” they tell us. Except sometimes showing is not always the best thing to do. Or even the right thing to do. Sometimes we should be telling. In this episode we’ll tell you about telling. (We’d show you about telling, but we still don’t have a video feed.)
Credits: This episode was recorded by Rob Kimbro, and mastered by Alex Jackson
Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 16:42 — 11.6MB)
Pick an important scene from your work. Cut it. Now have a character transition us across where that scene used to be.
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Mary Anne, and Wesley
The third-person POV lens can be used for simultaneously describing the world to the reader and describing the character. In this episode we’ll talk about where we deploy these tools, where the pitfalls are, and how to do it well.
Credits: This episode was recorded by Andrew Twiss, who heard the AC turn back on, and mastered by Alex Jackson, who was happy to not need to digitally filter the AC out of the mix.
Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 20:27 — 14.1MB)
Homework assignment: read Ursula LeGuin’s Steering the Craft, and dive into the exercises there.
We close June’s Master Class episodes in the usual manner, with a Q&A from our listeners and followers on Twitter.
- How do you “Show, don’t tell” a character’s thoughts?
- How do you describe a character’s appearance when they’re in their own POV?
- What’s the difference between scene and setting?
- How does your writing environment affect the scene you’re writing?
- Can an evocative fantasy setting be described effectively in a short story?
Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 18:19 — 12.6MB)
Next month’s episodes focus on middles. Go to a friend and describe to that friend why the middle of your book is going to be awesome. Not the beginning, not the ending… the middle.
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, by Patrick Süskind, narrated by Sean Barrett
Per the syllabus for the Season 10 Master Class, June is for painting a scene, and in this episode we’re going to talk about that paint.
We have all heard the “show, don’t tell” rule. In this episode we’ll discuss showing—how to do it well, how to do it consistently, and how to use it to accomplish things that telling just can’t get across.
Liner Notes: We make several references to Episode 3.14, in which Mary (in her first guest-hosting on the show) told us about the four rules of puppetry, as they apply to her writing. That was almost six years ago, so it’s probably been a while since you listened to it.
Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 20:10 — 13.9MB)
Sit in a room and describe the room. Do this for half an hour. Five or ten minutes in you’ll be ready to express hatred for the person assigning the exercise. Keep going for the full 30 minutes.
Now describe the same room in the specific style of a genre—epic fantasy, film noir, police procedural—using only 250 words.
Finally, describe this room from the POV of one of the characters in your current project.
The combination of dialogue, blocking, and description, can be considered from a couple of directions. The first is the idea that we’re really talking about making every element do double or triple duty. Dialogue, blocking, and description work together for exposition, answering questions the reader is asking.
The second is the “pyramid of abstraction.” The bottom of the pyramid, the scene setting, is the concrete foundation. The layers atop it can be more and more abstract, like tagless dialog without concrete descriptions, if that original foundation is firm enough.
In this ‘cast we take both approaches, and offer some tips, tricks, and examples so that you can learn to do this well.
Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 18:03 — 12.4MB)
(Which is Actually Homework) Write description for half an hour. A full half hour. Set a timer! Try to use all five senses. Now write a single paragraph in which we establish a single character in that setting. Finally, write three sentences that convey the character, the description, and the character’s emotional state. Want more exercises like this one? Here you go! (courtesy of Mary.)
Bloody Jack, by L.A. Meyer, narrated by Katherine Kellgren
Dan and Mary were joined by Sam Sykes at World Fantasy, and invited him to talk about sensory writing, which he had recently discussed in a workshop.
The heart of the discussion is which senses (typically beyond sight) to include as we write. Sounds, smells, tactile information, and even tastes are necessary to engage the reader. And while it’s possible to include too much of that, Sam counsels writers to err on the side of excess because it’s always easy to edit things back a notch should you find upon re-reading that you’ve gone too far.
Sam, Mary and Dan offer lots of good advice on the matter — when it’s important and why, how to do it well, and how not to overdo it.
Term of the Week: “Literary diabetes.”
Disclaimer of the Week: No grandparents were harmed in the recording of this podcast, nor were any chihuahuas.
Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 17:48 — 12.2MB)
Write the point-of-view of a character whose vision is obscured, and describe how they use their other senses to attempt to determine where they are.