Ramblings: On Writing

I know, a firestorm of posts these days. But soon I will be like the lone Apollo astronaut in the command module, going behind the moon and being in a communication blackout zone. By Sunday, so I hope, I will pick up my manuscript Retribution and start the rewrite. That will take at least a month. I am grateful for those who were my beta-readers and I will try to incorporate their observations.

I’ve come to fictional writing late in life. Is it too late? I don’t know. I don’t even know how long I will have on this side of the dirt. I do know that I am still highly motivated to learn and grow in my writing. But it is a bit like a man in his sixties deciding he wants to start a rock band. Yeah, it can be done, but not without a lot of work.

My first published article was in 1984. I was elated. But for the next thirty published articles, they were all in medical journals. Scientific writing is so different. It is factual. All telling. If you dare mention a human emotion, unless it is an article about emotions, the article would be dead in the water. For example, “We were happy with the resulting data we collected at week 12.” In scientific writing you try to emulate Spock as close as you can. Logical. I had a lot of compliments with my scientific writing.

I have always been a storyteller and I have a whole mental pantry stocked with stories that would love to come out. However, food staples don’t cook themselves. You have to know how to cook to make something paltible from that stock.

Photograph by Étienne Carjat, c. 1884
Jules Verne

One of the ways that I’ve tried to hewn my writing talents in fiction is to read good novels. I’ve been reading one a week for the past four years. This is where I was getting confused. So of my favorite classical authors, Charles Dickens, Jules Verne, George MacDonald, did a lot of telling in their stories. Right now I’m reading Diana Gabaldon’s A Breath of Snow and Ashes. It is fantastic. Not much telling, no more than what’s necessary. Breathtaking in the narrative. She is a literary genius. I was surprised that she got her start in scientific writing. She made her switch at an early age of ca 41.

Diana Gabaldon

I was running into a problem with my writing, at least that’s what my editor was trying to tell me. I liked to tell not show. As I mentioned, scientific writing is all telling. But the other reason I was running into this problem was that the classical authors (Dickens, MacDonald, and Verne) used a lot of telling in their stories. Verne pauses his narratives often to give a scientific lecture about the subject matter. So, when I emulated some of those authors my editor really didn’t like it. “Show, don’t tell” is the buzz phrase around writing these days, or so it seems.

Thanks to several good teachers I was beginning to grasp this concept much better. Then I bought the book by the same title Show, Don’t Tell, and a proverbial light bulb went off. Reading so many classics was throwing me a curve ball because show, don’t tell is a modern concept in writing, at least the emphasis of it. It is a result of the video and film age. Now, to be successful you must write a novel like a movie. The reader must visualize the story in mental pictures. But that is a relatively new concept.

If you read my early manuscript of Ristretto Rain, you would see the contrast as compared to final copy. I told a lot in that first draft. Like Verne, and I had just read Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. I told a lot about the place, Rock Harbor. I had a long narrative about the geology of the and characters. My faithful early readers pointed out to me that manuscript was going to bomb with so much detail and “telling.”

I really want to focus on Retribution and raise my writing to a new level. At this stage it needs a lot of work. If I could come close to Gabaldon, I will nail it. If not, maybe I will start a boy’s band?

Mike

Published by J. Michael Jones

J. Michael Jones is a writer and PA who lives in Anacortes, Washington. He is the father of five children, who are now grown and out discovering this wonderful world on their own. He has previously focused his writing on non-fiction including medical topics and issues of the philosophy of Christian thought. With the success of his last book, Butterflies in the Belfry, Michael is now moving into fiction with his first novel, The Waters of Bimini.

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