Here, copied from PASSIVE VOICE, is what Lee Child has to say about writing rules.


In his ThrillerFest session “Tell, Don’t Show: Why Writing Rules are Mostly Wrong,” Child battled a few of the biggest writing myths out there, and explained what really keeps a reader reading until The End.

Show, Don’t Tell

Picture this: In a novel, a character wakes up and looks at himself in the mirror, noting his scars and other physical traits for the reader.

“It is completely and utterly divorced from real life,” Child said.

So why do writers do this? Child said it’s because they’ve been beaten down by the rule of Show, Don’t Tell. “They manufacture this entirely artificial thing.”

“We’re not story showers,” Child said. “We’re story tellers.”

Child said there’s nothing wrong with simply saying the character was 6 feet tall, with scars.

After all, he added—do your kids ever ask you to show them a story? They ask you to tell them a story. Do youshow a joke? No, you tell it.

“There is nothing wrong with just telling the story,” Child said. “So liberate yourself from that rule.”

. . . .

“And that’s how you create suspense,” he said—it all boils down to asking a question and making people wait for the answer.

Child added that one thing he has learned throughout his career as a television writer and novelist is that humans are hard-wired to want the answer to a question. When the remote control was invented, it threw the TV business through a loop. How would you keep people around during a commercial? So TV producers started posing a question at the start of the commercial break, and answering it when the program returned.

. . . .

Ultimately, he said writing rules make the craft more complicated than it really is—when it comes down to it, it’s a simple thing.

“The way to write a thriller is to ask a question a the beginning, and answer it at the end,” he said.

Link to the rest at Writer’s Digest 

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Yes, I think that's one thing that works for me also.  That's what you want and it is protracted and made to appear impossible, so that you keep wondering "how?" until he delivers.  Yes, he delivers with an "explosion," as Jon calls it, but a book needs to head for a climax.

I'm not happy with books that give likable traits to villains who have been shown to be utterly brutal in other scenes.  I don't like open-ended books.  And I don't want the villain to get away with it because he was charming and clever or because he does in real life. And there you may have one of the differences between genre and literary fiction.

Sure, that's one of the big differences. It's like Jon said, you're either satisfying or thwarting reader expectations.

It becomes funny, though, when the villian getting away with it is as predictable in literary fiction as the villian getting caught is in genre fiction - in a way both are really about satisfying reader expectations.

Jack, it's too bad about the lack of scenes and the endless narration. I was hoping that the rise of flash fiction would help with the scene setting but maybe it's having the opposite effect.


Yeah--it's the same with student fiction, at least at the intro level.  Everything's summary.  I'm not sure why--partly because they don't read much that isn't crap, I suspect, but partly because even if you're reading good stuff it's not necessarily easy to intuit why it's good.  Once it's pointed out, it becomes obvious.  Or it should, anyway.


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