In mid-February 2020, the community room at the library was festooned in red and yellow for our Chinese New Year event. There were crafts like paper lanterns and koi kites, games like Majong and Chinese checkers, traditional lunar new year treats like sunflower seeds and dates. There was even a calligraphy set for the kids to practice with. It was one of our biggest and most successful library events, and the first of many fun activities we had planned.
I had no idea it would be our last in-person library event for over a year.
All writers have heard the adage “Show, don’t tell.” It’s one of the most ambiguous and frustrating pieces of writing advice I have ever received. After all, writing is all about words. How can you “show” something when the only way to communicate is by “telling” the reader what’s happening? You’re also supposed to make sure something is always happening to move the scene forward. You don’t start in a static or simple moment. You have to begin with a bang to get the reader’s attention! Where’s your momentum, people?
Now, I get what this advice is trying to say. “Show, don’t tell” encourages writers to not just give a play-by-play of the scene, a “Then she did this and then he said that and then they went here” style of story-telling. That’s acceptable for a four-year-old telling a story, but not for a novelist. You’re supposed to make it more dynamic, fluid, and engaging. And starting with a bang isn’t literal, but to avoid the cliche of having a character wake up in the morning or monologue to themselves. The devil, as always, is in the details of how exactly to do this.
It’s easy to then fall into the trap of thinking that these are iron-clad rules which cannot for the love of all that is literary be broken. Rules are useful as a framework, but it’s always nice to see how the rules can be bent or outright broken and still leave you with an engaging story. Enter the Foreigner series by C. J. Cherryh.
Click HERE for the Audio Edition! . .
There’s a term that’s been popping up a lot lately in regards to story-telling which has caused a great deal of friction online: “cultural appropriation.” The strict dictionary definition states that: “cultural appropriation is the adoption or use of elements from one culture by members of another culture.” When you put it like that, it doesn’t sound so bad. I mean, cultures all over the world have adopted from one another via trade or conquest since the dawn of human history.
But now this term is being seen and used in a completely negative fashion. Worse, it seems to have no limits or boundaries. It seems that one can come under fire for celebrating Cinco de Mayo if you’re not Hispanic, wearing Native American costumes (especially the admittedly tasteless and stereotypical Halloween versions) if you are not a Native American, or for wearing cornrows if you are not of African descent.
DISCLAIMER:This entry is onlyathoughtexercise! I am not proposing that one stance is better than the other, nor do I condone extreme positions either for or against the diversification or homogenization of any culture(s).
I recently read an article about NASA testing equipment and programs that will theoretically carry humans to Mars. Part of me was really happy about it, but at the same time, I was also disappointed because the federal space program is pretty much dead due to lack of funds. NASA is getting just enough to play around with ideas and reinvent the wheel, but not enough to actually do anything substantial. The private sector may yet succeed with companies like SpaceX, but the lack of interest in space exploration is so discouraging that I sometimes fear we’ll never reach beyond our planet before the next great extinction.