Advice from Chuck Palahniuk

Cross posting from Close-Up Editing & Assessment today, with some great advice from Chuck Palahniuk:

Eliminate Thought Verbs & Show, Show, Show

where he tears into the writing which ‘tells’ or sums up too much. Of course, there’s always a place for ‘telling’ in storytelling, not everything should be shown. Pacing is still important, but for me, Chuck does a great job of giving examples of what ought to be shown rather than told to the reader.

My question here is, if anyone’s feeling chatty – at what point does a strong voice (that might tell a story or parts of a narrative) trump the old ‘show don’t tell’ maxim?


7 thoughts on “Advice from Chuck Palahniuk

  1. Hi Ash. Thanks for this link. I think telling works when you have an interesting narrator, who reveals themselves through their voice – they might be ‘telling’ the story, but they are also ‘showing’ us who they are. I’m thinking of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, which Stu Barnes put me onto recently – it’s addictive!

    • Ace, will have to check it out. And I agree, it’s wonderful to learn about the narrator when they’re distinctive. And in term’s of author’s voice, I was thinking of Neil Gaiman’s novels and stories, there’s something comforting to the traces of his voice (or it is style?) that runs through his work – as a reader, I know I’m in the hands of a great storyteller.

  2. I think there are times when telling not showing is the right way to go (not often but definitely sometimes). I think Douglas Adams in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy does a bit of telling, but he does it in such an hilarious and entertaining manner that it is very effective. Another book I just read ‘The Killer Inside Me’ by Jim Thomson – 1950’s American noir is written from the perspective of a serial killer – best book I’ve read in ages, couldn’t put it down – definitely has a strong voice which tends to lessen the need for the show not tell thingy 🙂

    • The narrator can be both for sure – the narrator in ‘Wuthering Heights’ (Lockwood) is not the main character (and does a fair bit of telling as I remember) but the serial killer in ‘The Killer Inside Me’ is the main character. I think a narrator who is not the main character probably does more telling, as that is what was expected of a narrator especially in the older novels and plays (ancient plays love a narrator – often a boring character but necessary to fill in the details).

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