Showing and Telling, Ambiguity and Obscurity: Or Author What the Hell is Going On?

So I’ve joined a Creative Writing group and I’ve so far gone to my second session of it. It’s actually been a long while since I’ve gone to a Writing group and it’s about time.  It also  seems we are all learning as we’re going along.

One thing I’m finding, which is both really weird and really interesting, is how Creative Writing advice can be applied “wrong.” I’m talking about something I find in my own stories and writing in particular. For instance, anyone who has ever written anything has probably one time or another clenched their teeth against that age-old cliche and absolute “Show us, don’t tell us.” It’s easy to say, but it is not always something that you can do. One time, I wrote a story as if I were “telling” it just out of pure creative spite. I could even tell you stories about how many times “Show us, don’t tell us” has been told to me, but that would just be boring.

Instead, I’ll tell you how–over the years–this advice helped me and how I haven’t always applied it well. It forced me to stop info-dumping. You know, explaining every single little thing to the point of ridiculousness. I learned to have all that information in the back of my head or–better yet–written down on various sheets of paper for consultations depending on what kind of story I was making.

So I would write things and slowly reveal the information. I even toyed with vague descriptive sentences that played with the seeming of things: especially in paranormal settings. Unfortunately, that is where I went wrong a lot of the time. You see, I was so focused on making a surface of a complex thing that a lot of that complexity was either lost or obscured. My problem was that the line between the ambiguous and the obscure blurred for me. Being ambiguous means that you leave something open, but it’s clear that it’s open whereas being obscure is purposefully with-holding information and thinking that your readers will guess it through reading your work.

There is something to be said about writing clearly and concretely enough so that people know what is going on. I just take it for granted that my readers know what I’m talking about. I mean, granted again, I do write for a particular audience and I never thought I would be a bestseller–which I’m not–but everyone reads differently. There are always different interpretations of things and that is perfectly natural, but it makes it all the more important to write something clearly and concisely.

I tend to go into detail about some things and then skimp on detail in others that some readers might actually be interested in. I guess I show some things and do not show others, or I “tell” the things I should show. I don’t really know. I do know that there is a nice alchemical medium somewhere and that perceptual environment–the mind of the reader–can make all the difference.

Often though, it feels just like this:

And that is my workshop comment for today. I hope it was helpful. As for me, I have plenty of work I still need to do.

One thought on “Showing and Telling, Ambiguity and Obscurity: Or Author What the Hell is Going On?

  1. Your point is well taken. As writers we often hear advice over and over but oft times when writing the muse takes over and we forget advice that was given us. Hopefully we remember it when it comes time to do the rewrite. Thanks for sharing.

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