Drown the Cat*: Video Trailer

Are you ready, world?
My new and somewhat contrarian guide to writing craft, Drown the Cat: The Rebel Author’s Guide to Writing Beyond the Rules*, releases on July 4, 2017. I chose to release the book on U.S. Independence Day because Drown the Cat is all about empowering writers to take back their freedom by questioning all the so-called “rules of writing”. Check out the awesome one-minute video trailer and turn it up!If you like the sound of this, the click here to pre-order the Kindle version and have it delivered wirelessly on Independence Day! Print and other retailer links will follow on release date.

Just to whet your appetite, here’s a brief excerpt from the book in which I address what may be the most misunderstood writing rule of all:

Show, Don’t Tell

The show, don’t tell dichotomy is entirely false: all fiction is telling; if it weren’t, it would be called storyshowing. The author is telling you a story, and you, the reader, agree to either play along or not. And given that you’re paying for the privilege, it had better be well-told.

The nonsense spoken on this subject is legion, with the result that writers drive themselves mad, often wasting days of their time trying to dramatize, in onstage action and dialogue, scenes that could be far more effectively and economically handled another way.

Remember when we talked about narrative distance in the interiority chapter, and I pretty much said, “screw pulling back the camera, keep the narrative distance tight”? Well, strong interiority will feel most like showing to the reader, and pulling back so that the reader’s not tight in the PoV character’s head anymore will feel more like telling.

When you read, as any editor does, a lot of newer writers’ novels, you’ll find they’re often puffy, too long by thousands, and sometimes tens of thousands, of words, with stiff, awkward scenes that stand out in contrast to the faster, free-flowing sections.

One major reason for this is that the poor author has had the tyrannical Show, Don’t Tell dictum pounded into their brain by so many writing books and blogs and fellow authors that they’re terrified to summarize in narrative things which don’t need to be dramatized. So they go ahead and build a “live” scene around every particle of information or setting they think the reader may require.

This perceived need to dramatize everything can, among other things, result in pointless scenes where characters talk about things for no reason other than to avoid a narrative passage. The scene isn’t doing anything else, and the characters who were so alive earlier have turned strangely wooden. At its worst, you have the dreaded “As you know, Bob” dialogue, a scene in which characters tell one another things they already ought to know.

Don’t do this. Ditch these scenes mercilessly.

[…] There, now—that didn’t hurt a bit, did it? No need for dialogue or having it all happen onstage, you’d have been bored to distraction. Narrative summary in viewpoint works just fine.

I’ll say it once again. The show, don’t tell dichotomy is entirely false: all fiction is telling.

*IMPORTANT NOTE: Drown the Cat has been re-issued under the title, The Fiction Writing Handbook

My sincerest thanks are due to Allison Rose for her spectacular work on the book trailer



Filed under Books and Writers, Writing

4 responses to “Drown the Cat*: Video Trailer

  1. I am so glad you explained that. I’ve been thinking it for years without it expressing as well as you did. Now I know where to point fellow authors who don’t believe me.

    • Hahaha! Thank you, Michael. Strength in numbers — we should star a movement!

      I think part of the problem is that the huge majority of people, including writers, like and trust prescriptive advice…it’s easy, prepackaged. I’m just hardwired to question everything. I do listen to “rules” and think about them, but I have this need to dig to the foundations and make sure the rule isn’t built on sand or packed with fill. I want to know why it’s a “rule”. Often I end up reinventing the wheel, but sometimes it’s apparent to me that there’s a fault; at which point I go with my gut or logic.

      Of course, the internet multiplies and magnifies the false as well as the true. If the subject area is one that matters to me, I just have to pick things apart for myself.

      Thanks for commenting!


  2. Congratulations Dario. I just ordered the kindle. I know it’s going to be good… you’re always an insightful straight shooter. Best of luck.

    • Veronica, thank you so very much! 🙂 I was just thinking of you a few days ago when visiting the fabulous Norton Simon museum here in nearby Pasadena. I’ll drop you an email soon. Thanks so much for the ping, and for your interest in my book. I look forward to catching up with your news shortly.

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