I recently read Sunshine
by Robin McKinley, partly for a commission and partly because my former roommate has been recommending it to me for about a year now.
I've never read any of Robin McKinley's books, probably because I had my nose stuck in Redwall and Harry Potter for all the years when girls tend to pick them up, but I'd heard she was good. And Sunshine
was ... well, it was good. It had a well-realized world and a distinct take on magic and ... and characters ... and stuff ... but I had a hard time really getting into it, and it seemed like it was taking forever to get anywhere plot-wise. I've been turning this over in my head for the last thee or four days and I think I've figured out one thing at least: there's just so much internal monologuing. It seems like she puts into the narration every bit of world and character development she scraped together in preparing the novel and then added stuff she made up along the way. It almost feels like the book is made up of a series of short stories, in which she has to cram a lot of exposition into not much plot, that have sort of melted into each other to form one longer story that is no less dense. This gives it a sense of authenticity, I suppose, but it throws any pacing right out the window.
To illustrate what I mean by this I've gone and done something dreadful: tried to write. More specifically, I've tried applying Robin McKinley's style to one of my favourite pieces of snappy literature. Here's the original:
At last, however, on a wild, tempestuous evening, when
the wind screamed and rattled against the windows, he
returned from his last expedition, and having removed
his disguise he sat before the fire and laughed heartily
in his silent inward fashion.
"You would not call me a marrying man, Watson?"
"You'll be interested to hear that I'm engaged."
"My dear fellow! I congrat --"
"To Milverton's housemaid."
"Good heavens, Holmes!"
What I especially like about that exchange is that the dialogue implies so much about who the characters are, what they're thinking, what the situation is, and how it changes. This is conveyed not just in what they say but how they say it, and when. It's a marvellously efficient piece of writing. So I wanted to see if I could render the scene in McKinley style... ( stuck behind the cut because it is looooong. )
Perhaps I was a bit cruel. She doesn't deserve my derision and I'm certainly not qualified to cast it, being an admitted devotee of cinematic books. She wrote well enough to make me crave cinnamon rolls for the last two weeks. On top of that, writing that whole thing and then coming straight here has meant I've written this whole entry in her style and rendered me even more hypocritical than I usually am.
But it was fun.12:50 am
I just realised the far more efficient way to say all of that is: I am a firm believer is showing, not telling. Ms McKinley seems to be all about the telling with very little showing; even outright action is filtered through the character's recollection into being told
about action rather than seeing it for ourselves.
Show, don't tell. Three words in place of, what, two thousand? Yeesh.