Thursday, August 9, 2012

Skip it or show it?

I've been thinking about a book in which a Big Event happened that was not really part of the book's action. The book was about the characters reacting to it, but we never got inside the Big Event, not even in flashback. Which reminds me of another book in which the biggest events--including some romance and a death--all happened offstage. We only saw the characters in scenes before and after these events. To put it in a way that Seinfeld fans will recognize, the author yadda-yadda'ed over the Big Events. I felt like I'd ordered a sandwich and got nothing but bread and a scrap of lettuce.

On the other hand, May Sarton used the writing-between-the-Big-Events technique very well in her novel The Small Room. And many people (me included) think that the movie Jaws was at its best when we didn't quite see the shark.

Generally, it's best to plunge right into Big Events, to give them center stage in our books. They're likely to be the most important and interesting scenes. It takes skill to write around a Big Event without seeming coy, or putting the reader to sleep, or risking book-flinging frustration. On rare occasions, it's best for us not to see the Big Event, but only to feel its presence looming behind us, its fangs dripping onto our shoulders.

Bonus links today! Kimberly Sabatini over at YA Outside the Lines blogged about when to indulge in online venting (and when not to, of course) ... some of the most sensible guidelines I've seen.

And Sarah Rees Brennan blogged about the women behind the Nancy Drew series. Hint: They were kind of awesome, especially when speaking in dialogue imagined by Sarah Rees Brennan. And it also becomes clear why Nancy never got all gushy over Ned Nickerson.


  1. it's best to plunge right into Big Events, to give them center stage in our books. They're likely to be the most important and interesting scenes.


    1. After all, what else are we gonna write about? ;-)

  2. To a degree, it comes down to audience. I've read some MG books dealing with, say, WWII that gave us glimpses into the horror of Nazism without first hand accounts of folks being gunned down in the streets or the lurid descriptions of a bombing, like we get in Slaughterhouse Five.

    1. Good examples--sometimes there is so much horror that a little goes a long way. There were so many tragedies in WWII that one probably can't even tell them all in a single book. SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE focused mostly on one, nibbled around it in increasingly tighter circles (like peeling an onion), and then landed square in the center of it at the end.

      I've seen MG books that focus on events that give us a hint of even more horror lurking in the wings: like in A POCKET FULL OF SEEDS (set in Occupied France), where we only know that people disappear overnight. One by one, the people around the MC vanish (flee or are captured), and we never see where they go, but we know it's bad.