Perhaps the first rule most writers hear is "Show, don't tell." Yet in my experience, few writers actually understand the difference between showing and telling. Even fewer understand that showing and telling are not two opposing possibilities, but two ends of a spectrum offering a range of subtle gradations. To write with power, a writer must know where on that spectrum he should be at every moment, and he must be able to control the levels of showing and telling. The skillful manipulation of showing and telling can make settings vivid, bring characters to life, put the reader in the middle of the action, and convey powerful emotions.
We will study examples of the successful and unsuccessful use of showing and telling. We'll also discuss the special necessity of showing in fantastic fiction, and the challenges of doing so. Students will practice showing and telling across the spectrum, will study works they love for examples of showing and telling, and will rewrite a section of their own work, putting these techniques into practice. Students will also provide critiques on their classmates' work, and revise their work in response to feedback.
You must be ready to hear about the weaknesses in your writing and to work to strengthen them. You must also be ready to give feedback to your classmates that is both truthful and helpful.
Our goal as a class is to provide a supportive yet challenging, energizing environment that will help you improve your writing.
The course is intended for writers of fantastic fiction, which is an umbrella term I use to cover fantasy, science fiction, horror, magical realism, and anything in between. Many of the examples we discuss will be taken from fantastic fiction. Yet the issue of skillfully controlling showing and telling is important in all fiction writing, so fiction writers who focus on other genres could profit from this class and would be welcome
Homework will be assigned on January 4 and January 18, with due dates, respectively, of January 11 and January 25. Any student who misses a deadline may be expelled from the class and will receive no refund.
All assignments should be in standard manuscript format and should be submitted as MS Word 2003 files, rich text files, or ascii files.
You should reserve a minimum of 5 hours to complete each homework assignment.
Assignments will include readings, writing exercises, critiques, and revisions of your fiction. I will provide feedback on your homework before the next class session
Students are expected to follow guidelines about postings to the Yahoogroup in the Odyssey Online Student Handbook.
Students will be required to read a lesson on critiquing before the course begins.
Since we will have only 3 class meetings, attendance at every class is necessary for you to get the most out of this course.
You are expected to attend all classes, except in cases of emergency. In such cases, you should notify the instructor.
There is no method for making up any missed classes.
Any student who misses more than one class may be expelled from the course and will receive no refund.
It is your responsibility to find out what happened in any classes you missed and to make up any work.
Students are expected to follow the policies set out in the Odyssey Online Student Handbook.
Technical requirements for all Odyssey Online Classes are covered on the Online Classes page.
First class meeting. Introduction and orientation. What exactly is showing and what is telling? Why is this important? Choosing significant details. The advantage of showing. The special importance of showing in fantastic fiction. How much should you show and how much should you tell, and when? Assignment of homework.
Homework is due.
Second class meeting. Discussion of homework. The advantages of telling. The full spectrum of showing and telling. Common problems in showing and telling. Using showing and telling to create setting and atmosphere. What is atmosphere and why is it important? Homework is returned with my feedback. Assignment of homework.
Homework is due.
Third class meeting. Discussion of homework. The eight techniques for showing characters' emotions. The difficulties of showing in first person. Showing and telling with figurative language in fantastic fiction. Designing a scene to show key aspects of your character, world, or plot. How to continue your progress. Homework is returned with my feedback.
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Jeanne Cavelos is the director of the Odyssey Writing Workshops Charitable Trust. You can find more information about Jeanne here.