How Times Have Changed...

Someone in my class commented on an annoying habit early 20th century writers seem to share. Now, I'll grant you that we're only on the fourth book and this observation may not hold water. The texts we're reading may be anomalies but I doubt it. For grins (and so you have an idea of what the following opinions are based on) here's our reading list so far:


A Room With a View by E.M. Forster

Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad

The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf



In each of these books the reader is told what is happening. Very few scenes actually show anything. My classmate felt these characters, regardless of their respective authors, seem to share a proclivity for thinking and little interest in acting. Things may happen to them or around them but the reader never shares in the ride. We're simply told...this happened and this is what Y thought about it. When the character has a reaction, they're usually so watered down they fail to impact the reader.

There is little to no intimacy between character and reader. This method of storytelling distances the reader from the character. It fails to engage emotions. The writing begins to feel more intellectual and less personal. When bad things happen it doesn't make the reader's heart race or pulse quicken. (At least not mine...)

On thinking about the standard of good writing in the early 1900s and what sells so well today, I realized why showing is in such high demand. Today's average reader is all about instant gratification. They're accustomed to fast-paced entertainment. From video games to movies to books the demand for more and more action is being met within a relatively short time-span: the first 10-15 minutes of a movie; first few chapters of a book; ready motivation for putting a video game character into action.

Now, I don't know how many times I've heard writers at Forward Motion tell someone they should be showing and not telling in this scene or that; I can't count that high. Now, I understand and can even agree that this rule can and should be broken upon occassion. Actually, I don't even think of it as a rule. It's more of a well-intended suggestion. A tool in the writer's toolbox.

So, my advice (mostly for myself) is if you're writing and intending to sell to today's mainstream market, think of your audience. Meet their demand for action because if you don't, someone else will. They want to be entertained, to feel a connection to the character and partake of the risks and they don't want to have to wait until they're 1/3 of the way through the book to do so.