you've got to read this: rulebreaker rules

Up since 2:15 AM. In the bath at 4 AM to calm me down (interview at work scheduled for 8 AM). I grab a Best American Short Stories to get the loop of interviewspeak out of my head, and come across John Keeble's story "The Chasm", originally published in Prairie Schooner. The story moved me to tears, which few do.

Like Chris Offutt's story "Melungeons" in the same book (B.A.S.S., 1994, Editor Tobias Wolff) it teaches so much to the writer. In this case, Keeble breaks a "cardinal rule" of writing: he commits the sin of "telling". And it works, beautifully. It takes the story further into the territory of its plot and its theme.

In my writing group, we were just hashing this out, since my piece this week was a short short in a confessional voice, a speaker "telling" her story. People don't talk in images, and you know this, and I know this. They talk, sometimes plainly, sometimes not.

To make all writing unnecessarily obscure in order to follow any rule is foolish. We know this, and I'm sure there are editors who know this too. Readers certainly know this. It was just nice, in the bath at 4 AM, to have a little professional validation on the matter.


itsy said...

Hear hear! (or is it "here here"?) I'm a big advocate of breaking the rules. If it works, I say, go for it.

I will also add that this whole bit about "telling vs. showing" is subject to trends. In the 19th/ early 20th century, for instance, there was a whole lot more telling. Which might make such reading drudgery for more modern readers who are used to the whole showing thing, but there's a certain art to telling, too, that I like.

Btw, I'm a recent visitor to your blog and I must say I enjoy your writing quite a bit.

kf gallagher said...

Thanks, Itsy. It's comments like yours that keep me going here.

And I think it's "hear hear!"