Yep, that’s right folks. Step right up, we are talking about that elusive cardboard beast. The one that creeps into our writing no matter what draft you are one. The good ol’ Show versus Tell. If anything I have figured out in writing, critiquing and editing my work and others it is that writers want to tell stories. We need to tell a story. Which is great because readers want to experience them. We have already established that in Something’s Gotta Give.
I read a lot of cardboard. I call it homework. It varies in style and genre. If I had to define cardboard writing, I’d say it comes in many forms (bland in need of creative/craft spices usually) and results in a story that is either over or under cooked. Sometimes it is nice fluff, other times I marvel at the good reviews. I mean, really? I used to get upset, now I realize everyone is entitled to their opinions. And that it isn’t necessarily the writing people are responding to but the emotion. I know. There is that word again. Sorry.
Is it worth mentioning fluff meets cardboard authors can be household names? Men and women who make their living off of writing reliable (feel good) books. One is a gazillionaire and all because he makes the heart go pitter patter. No, I’m not jealous. I used to be. Now I’m resigned to the fact that people like an easy beach read. We like happy. It is like vanilla ice cream. Who doesn’t like vanilla ice cream at least once in a while? Preferably with chocolate sauce and a variety of sprinkles. Now you know you can be a successful cardboard writer. See, well worth the read.
In editing a friend’s work, I realized her problem with Show versus Tell involved what I call “sitting in the chair.” Bare with me folks. I’m going to ramble a bit (like I don’t already) and also try to be succinct.
We were talking about POV and it dawned on me that aspects of her characters were missing. Her characters weren’t weak. She just never sat in the chair wearing their proverbial shoes in that scene. Being in their skin changes how we paint the picture because it is based on the viewpoint we are experiencing. When you start to dissect/analyze a character in this manner we can’t help but start to notice things.
Sometimes fixing show versus tell is as simple as slowing down the story too. Taking the time to get intimate with the work we give it a chance to breathe as its own creation. There are also times when, believe it or not, tell wins the race. Show can be boring or overly long (Luckily for me, this post is mostly about cardboard.) whereas tell can move things along in a sentence or two. Both are needed on the page.
Now I have given you all I know. Isn’t much. I can tell you that we all write cardboard at times. Bake the best story you can. In a bind, flavor your cardboard with chocolate sauce and a feel good happy ending. I’ll eat it.