Monday, 10 November 2014

Breaking All The Rules

I'm a huge fan of structure, as you may have noticed.

I'm also a fan of 'show, don't tell', where the reader gets to see things happen, rather than be told about them having happened.

Show is: Balancing her weight on the branch, Beverley reached out to the hissing kitten and grabbed it by the scruff. Eyes wide with fear, the kitten bristled and lashed out with the teeniest little 'mew'. Beverley laughed at its pathetic defence and bedraggled state, then screamed as the branch gave way and she crashed to the ground with a sickening crunch.

Tell is: She'd always been a sucker for strays, even if they didn't want her help. Even if she hurt herself in the process.

The second one kind of sucks, doesn't it?

Yet some of my favourite books break this 'Show not Tell' rule and, infuriatingly, get away with it!

The most obvious is Douglas Adams's The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy series. Well, it was a trilogy, then it was four books . . . then five. The fifth being published after he died, I think.

Using 'Tell' is handy when an author needs to sum things up quickly, or to mark a change of time, or to simply give information, which you need to do in many nonfiction titles.

Adams broke the cardinal rule of 'show don't tell' many times in his half novel, half travel guide, half dire warning about the human race being too reliant on digital clocks. His technique of slipping into nonfiction for the travel guide part of HHGTTG broke the rules for a really good reason. It was hilarious. Having a galactic travel guide talking directly to the reader added to absurdity.

My take-home from this is it's ok to break the Show don't Tell rules providing:
1: You know what the rules are.
2: You're doing it deliberately (rather than lazily).
3: You are pathologically hilarious.

Have you read some books that break the rules and get away with it? Show and tell here.

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