Thursday, 25 October 2012

Showing vs Telling and Egg Whites

I'll be the first to admit, there are specific ways to improve your writing. Spell check is a big one. Proof-reading is up there, too. But the “Show vs. Tell” concept is dubbed as a popular mistake made by many.

I get it. It makes sense. The reader feels more connected if they can live in the moment instead of being told what happens.

In re-examining my own work to improve areas where I’d fallen off the Show horse and told a scene instead, well, it got me thinking.

It reminded me of the concept of folding in egg whites when baking--like with a cake, for instance. You can make a perfectly decent cake even if you just mix in the egg whites with a heavy hand (or in a rush, I’ve even been known not to separate them at all, adding them in whole!) Fact is, you still get a cake at the end. And a scratch cake is nothing to scoff at.

Will it be as fluffy and light as if you had gently incorporated the air you’d whipped just perfectly into those egg whites? No. Will it be an astounding masterpiece, the best cake ever? Probably not. But it’s still a cake. And depending on what other flavors you’ve added in there, and how it’s presented--think chocolate hazelnut frosting, or pastry cream with fresh raspberries as a filling--it still might be a damn good cake.

Does that mean you shouldn’t fold in your egg whites, or follow the ’show don’t tell’ philosophy? Not at all. Depending on your end goal, that might be precisely what you should be striving to do. It's just a matter of considering why you're writing or baking, and who your audience will be. Trying to land an agent or publishing deal--I'll be aiming to showcase everything I've got.  Christmas baking on the other hand--my family tends to value quantity above all else!

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Genre -- to stay true or switch it up with adaptations?

With the popularity of remakes, reboots, and reinventions, I find myself considering the importance of genre to a story. Specifically, how much is genre an integral part to any given piece of work? Is this one of those fundamental elements that one can alter or would changing it skew the story so greatly, it would critically shift the entire premise and/or make-up of its internal structure?

Take for instance Romeo and Juliet. Baz Luhrmann’s film adaptation was great. It was quite faithful to the original while still finding its own way, offering a beautiful new interpretation. I guess what I’m asking is--what would happen if you made it a happy-ever-after? (I’d never dream of it, but you see my point.)

Isn’t tragedy intrinsic to the storytelling here? From the initial familial conflict, to the fall of Mercutio and Tybalt, through to the heart-breaking end for both Romeo & Juliet and the repercussions for the rest of the players all round; it seems to me that the genre is almost the foundation for the entire play.

Maybe it would work if you tried to switch up something like The Wizard of Oz into a black-comedy thriller framework... But then again, it would also mean a dramatic change in the intended readership as well...

Currently writing for a YA audience, my next question might not be so easy to answer. For argument’s sake, let’s say we agree it’s sacrilegious to give Romeo and Juliet their happy ending. Yet how should the final scenes be approached if you were to adapt it to a current day setting? I mean, ethically, should we be condoning/supporting/illustrating this kind of exit strategy? (Or overall violence in general for that matter, to people who aren’t really deserving so to speak.) I get that it’s already out there, that everyone’s read Romeo and Juliet, but by making it more accessible, more modern, more high school, does it change anything?

The same goes for any of the great tragedies--how does one tackle multiple deaths--specifically murder or suicide--in a contemporary (non horror) YA adaptation? What if it was for a Middle Grade manuscript? How much can you alter the tragic nature, without losing the essence of its beauty?

Of course, perhaps the easiest solution is just to stick with the comedies instead!