Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Craft Book of the Month: The First Five Pages

Well folks, week three never did find its way onto the blog, and now it's week 4 already. So, I've made an executive decision. Seeing as there's much more to write about with this particular book, and seeing all the stuff happening around me (can you say "The Holidays"?) I'm going to extend my appreciation of The First Five Pages into the entire month of December.

Okay, with that out of the way, it's time to discuss what Lukeman calls "The Bigger Picture" in Part 3 of this book. This is where the rubber hits the road, where the advanced writer starts to show her mettle. The first chapter (Chapter 11) is about that hoary old chestnut, "Showing Versus Telling."

This is how Lukeman sums it up:

It is the writer's job to show us what his characters are like, not by what he says about them, or what they say about one another, but by their actions. A writer can spend a page telling us his protagonist is a crook, or he can show us in one sentence, by simply describing his taking a twenty-dollar bill from someone's pocket and letting the reader judge for himself.
By showing us the character's theft, Lukeman points out the advantage of leaving room for some ambiguity in the text and allowing the reader to interpret things.
If a writer tells us his character is a crook, then he is a crook. But if the writer shows the character taking a twenty-dollar bill, it is up to us to decide if he is a crook. Most of us will assume he is, but some of us may consider other possibilities: perhaps he is taking back money that is already his; perhaps he is taking the bill because it is counterfeit and was duplictously planted to entrap him; perhaps there is an ongoing game between the two characters to see who can pick the other's pocket and get away with it, and the money will be returned later.
(My note: I think this only works when a character is being introduced. One of the things a reader does quickly is make a judgement about who a character really is. We don't mind a character behaving a little erratically, or learning something and changing, but it is hard to always be guessing a character's motives. If I fail to "get a grip" on a character I feel unsettled, which is not a good reading feeling.)

There's also a good post about showing versus telling on the Greenhouse Literary Agency blog this week, written by the London agent, Julia Churchill. The link is here.

Next week, I will focus on describing Noah Lukeman's views on successful characterization. Hope to see you then.


  1. Terrific post, Michael! And if you keep this up, I just might start writing again! You'd think after five books just for fun to see if I could start and finish them, I'd be willing to move on to something else! Thanks for tweaking my writing conscious. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!


  2. hoary old that's funny


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