Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Lesson 3: R.U.E.

Today we are continuing editing lessons from the book Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King.

These lessons will be shortened overviews of the chapters and by no means should be a substitute for buying the book. I'm rereading but not posting a lot of good stuff!

Yesterday I left you with the phrase, "Remember to R.U.E."

Up to this point we've been talking about showing and telling on the large scale, about narrating what should be shown through immediate scenes. But even within scenes there are ways in which you may tell what you should show!

From the Gatsby: The three Mr Mumbles leaned forward "eagerly", that one girl spoke with "enthusiasm", that a man nodded "in affirmation".

Granted, stylistic conventions have changed since 1925, but even so, the telling detracts because it's not needed. We've already been shown what the writer proceeds to tell us.

Telling your readers about your characters' emotions is not the best way to get your readers involved. Far better to shoe why your characters feel the way they do. Instead of saying "Amanda took one look at the hotel room and recioled in disgust," describe the room in such a way that the readers feel that disgust themselves.

You don't want to give your readers information. You want to give them experiences.

It's more work that way, of course. It's easier to say, "Erma was depressed" than to come up with some original bit of action or interior monologue that shows she's depressed. Like if you have her take a bite of her favorite cake and push the rest away...or polish off the whole cake. Everyone has a unique way of expressing emotion.

It's nearly always better to resist the urge to explain. Or as editors so often write in the margins of manuscripts, R.U.E.

Here's a joke to end the leson!

Neglected Bills

Abe and Esther are flying to Australia for a two-week vacation to celebrate their 40th anniversary. Suddenly, over the public address system, the Captain announces, "Ladies and Gentlemen, I am afraid I have some very bad news. Our engines have ceased functioning and we will attempt an emergency landing. Luckily, I see an uncharted island below us and we should be able to land on the beach. However, the odds are that we may never be rescued and will have to live on the island for the rest of our lives!"

Thanks to the skill of the flight crew, the plane lands safely on the island. An hour later Abe turns to his wife and asks, "Esther, did we pay our $5,000 PBS pledge check yet?"

"No, sweetheart," she responds.

Abe, still shaken from the crash landing, then asks, "Esther, did we pay our American Express card yet?"

"Oh, no! I'm sorry. I forgot to send the check," she says.

"One last thing, Esther. Did you remember to send checks for the Visa and MasterCard this month?" he asks.

"Oy, forgive me, Abie," begged Esther. "I didn't send that one, either."

Abe grabs her and gives her the biggest kiss in 40 years. Esther pulls away and asks him, "What was that for?"

Abe answers, "They'll find us!"


  1. Bernita said...
    Resist the Urge to Explain?
    No Borg?
    Ballpoint Wren said...

    Yes, you WILL be found. American Express is RELENTLESS.

    Not that I have any personal experience on this topic... not unh, no way.
    Stephen Newton said...
    That editing book sounds like the book I need, Bonnie. Sorry I've been out of touch. It's been difficult to stay connected on my travels. Alas, I visited my friend in Rochester the weekend before last and now I'm in Tennessee, unsure of my next destination.
    David Meigs said...
    This was great advice. The more we follow it, the better our writing.
    Joe said...
    Your lessons are good and your joke is funny.

    No explanation necessary.

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