So this is a complicated issue I have with writing. When I was reading over the literary journals, one of them specified to use your own words, and resist the temptation to write how you think you should write. I knew what they meant since I’ve been in fanfiction for five years. I’ve seen a lot of awkward prose, mine included. I don’t think anyone can just wake up one day and start writing beautiful prose. It’s really difficult. But I’ve been doing it for so long now that the prose I use comes naturally. Well, somewhat naturally XD
Anyway, I shared my 2 short stories with quite a few people on literary critique sites, Fictionpress, and my blog. I revised it with their critiques in mind. I tried to please everyone, and in the process my story suffered. I’ll give you a specific example. One commentator on this critique site kept telling everyone that they needed to include a time, place, and character details in the beginning of the story or else the reader couldn’t connect with the character. So I did that, and then I got critiqued from another person for “telling” and not “showing.” The problem is that there’s no way to insert that info without “telling” the reader. I had another recommendation to use shorter sentences because people don’t have enough of an attention span to read long sentences. Some of my long sentences are awkward, but other ones are just fine. To be fair, they were all nice about it, and they were trying to help me. It takes a lot of effort to give detailed critique, so I thanked them and told them I would think about it.
I showed everything to Friend A, and she told me I was trying to hard. She was right, I was trying too hard, so the prose came out clunky and boring. I spent longer editing my stories than I did writing them. I agonized over every single word as I did the first revision. I’ll show you the part I cut since I’m not going to ever use it. This was part of the revised intro to the suicide story that I cut. Also, I changed the protagonist’s name here just to be safe :$
“It’s a sweltering summer day, unusual for the town of Bellevue, a suburb of Seattle. Nestled between two lakes, the climate is typically tempered by the large bodies of water. While most people are outside soaking up the sun, John is upstairs in his room, sitting at his desk, writing a suicide note. This afternoon his parents left to go to a party. He declined. Nothing makes him feel more alone than being surrounded by hordes of strangers.”
Granted, I don’t think it’s awful, but it’s not great either. It sounds way too calm for such a chaotic moment. If I didn’t include the words “suicide note,” one might think he was writing a letter to a friend. So I tightened up the intro by removing superfluous statements, but I still have some phrases of “telling” because I like them. I feel like I’m at an impasse. I got very little critique on my fanfiction, especially once my beta reader and I parted ways. There’s some truth in the things these people are saying about my original fiction, but I have to find a way to incorporate it into my writing while still making it mine.
I’m currently reading lots of short stories, and some of the short stories in The Paris Review (a prestigious literary magazine) actually have a lot of “telling,” much more than mine. They are also entertaining and thought provoking. That goes back to the whole “show” vs. “tell” argument. I don’t think “telling” is inherently awful. I think it can add a certain flair to your writing if you do it right. M. Talmage Moorehead wrote a great blog post on the whole “Show” vs. “Tell” argument: My Show Don’t Tell Obsession Many of the comments on this blog post present good points as well.
I’m not objective on my own writing, so it’s hard to know who to trust. I don’t want to be the cocky author who thinks their writing is so great they don’t need to fix anything. On the other hand, I don’t want to change my writing style so much that my stories aren’t even mine. So as I’m reading these short stories I’m trying to analyze how they write to better understand what makes a good story. In the meantime I’ll just try to stay true to myself rather than try to please everyone else.
Have any of you had a problem with trying to hard? If so, did your writing suffer because of it?