Written By Matt Kruze
Hello everyone. Today I’m delighted to introduce all of you to the talented and humorous mystery/crime thriller author…my friend, Mr. Matt Kruze. Take it away, Matt…
Anybody who follows my blog will know that I’m into two things:
The pursuit of a decent cocktail, and the art of show-not-tell in writing.
Come to think of it…there are a few other contributions on there not related to the above. Take two: anybody who follows my blog will probably draw the conclusion that I a) have not yet tamed it and b) do not feed it enough.
But, the fact remains: I do like simple, spirit-driven cocktails and I am bent on getting more ‘show’ into my writing. The seed for the latter was sown some time ago by an agent whom I’d approached for representation under my other writing persona; yes, alongside my efforts as an independent writer, I am also treading the boards of traditional publishing.
You know the story: send off a few pages/chapters of your manuscript, add an author bio and a hopefully-enticing query, then await the responses. Sometimes it’s nothing, others it’s thanks but no thanks, and then just occasionally you hear the equivalent of an agent’s ‘hmmm.’ In other words, they want to see more.
This happened to me a couple of months ago, so I got all excited and fired across the whole novel, as requested. Great, I thought: the book only gets better as it goes on, the story more compelling. If she liked the first fifty pages, she’s going to love the other couple of hundred.
Well, she did. But not enough. It’s too expositional, she said. The story was good, it just wasn’t conveyed in the way she would have liked. She told me to show it, not tell it.
This of course is old news to writers. We all get that, right? You don’t say, ‘It was hot.’ You say, ‘He blinked sweat from his eyes, pushed his damp hair back from his forehead.’ Or something like that. But as much as we understand the need to paint a picture, it can sometimes prove tricky to put brush to canvass. At least I think so.
What I found though was the need to question yourself – or those around you. In fact you have to interrogate everyone and everything with a vehemence that would make the Gestapo blush. Let me explain…
When my children come home from school, among their priorities is food. ‘Is there anything for a snack?’ If you have kids, you’ll be familiar with this one. And right there you have a golden opportunity to develop your show-not-tell skills. Because children give it to you like it is, without dressing it up at all. They convey feelings we’re all familiar with. So use that to your advantage and once you’ve issued your usual, somewhat acerbic, response of, ‘Oh yes I’m fine thank you, how are you?’ ask them why they want sustenance. They’ll say because they’re hungry. (Actually they’ll probably tell you they’re dying). Then ask them how they know they’re hungry. Once they’ve got through telling you they just are, eventually you’ll get to the root of the matter. And if they exaggerate, so much the better. Suddenly they’re not telling you they’re hungry any more; they’re conveying a vacuous feeling in their stomach, or the growling of digestive juices, or dizziness. Keep interrogating them and they’ll come out with far better ways of showing the sensation of hunger than you could have conceived in hours of staring at your keyboard. Suddenly your protagonist, staggering through the desert, isn’t hungry; he is faint, nauseous from the burbling in the hollow bowl of his stomach. And it doesn’t stop there: you can do the same for all the emotions and human sensations that are a part of our everyday life: How do you know you’re scared? How do you know you’re tired? Keep interrogating, and when there’s no one around you to interrogate, turn your attention inwards. Introspection works too.
Next year, I’m off to the States with my wife and children. We’re doing a tour of the west coast, and then finishing up in Canada. I’m excited about this almost to the point of fever pitch. But…how do I know I’m excited? I asked myself several times over, in the hope that I would come up with something that really painted a picture, but my conscious kept returning the same results: I’m excited because I think about the trip all the time. Or because I keep talking about it to anyone who’ll listen. These were okay, and in a story they would have read better than, ‘He was excited,’ but they weren’t inspirational in the realm of show-not-tell. So I took a step back, cerebrally speaking, and paused to draw breath. Think, man. How do you know you’re excited. How does your family know? And then it came to me. My desktop wallpaper is an image of the Vdara hotel, our destination for three nights in Las Vegas. Now that, literally as well as figuratively, is a picture! How much more potent is that? Instead of, ‘He was excited about next year’s holiday,’ we have something like: ‘He smiled at his desktop background – the glistening, towering façade of the Vdara hotel, Las Vegas. 212 days to go…’
Show-not-tell is everywhere, and it’s an easy concept. The difficulty lies in seeing the wood for the trees; you are surrounded by life, and all the sights and sounds that create empathy in your readers. You just have to keep interrogating yourself and the world you live in to stand any chance of spotting the signs.
Oh and if any of you have lost interest in my show-not-tell mission, I’m also keen to explore the virtues of adding egg-white to a whisky sour. Better with, or without…now that is a matter to ponder.
Matt Kruze is the author of mystery/crime thriller ‘Pursuit’ and short story conspiracy thriller ‘The Villager’, both of which are currently available on Smashwords: