An old article by Ursula Le Guin, but most certainly one worth linking to again (especially because I like the way she handles the myth of “show don’t tell”):
In his terse and cogent essay, “When Rules Are Made to be Broken ,” (LATBR, October 6, 2002), John Rechy attacks three “rules of writing” that, as he says, go virtually unchallenged in most fiction workshops and writing classes: Show, don’t tell — Write about what you know — Always have a sympathetic character for the reader to relate to. I read the piece cheering and arguing all the way.
The first two “rules” were developed in response to faults common in the writing of inexperienced writers — abstract exposition without concrete imagery, windy vagueness unsupported by experience. As guides for beginners, they’re useful. Expanded into laws, they are, as Rechy says, nonsense.
Thanks to “show don’t tell,” I find writers in my workshops who think exposition is wicked. They’re afraid to describe the world they’ve invented. (I make them read the first chapter of The Return of the Native, a description of a landscape, in which absolutely nothing happens until in the last paragraph a man is seen, from far away, walking along a road. If that won’t cure them nothing will.)
I find it particularly interesting how a lot of (often unpublished) writers seem to love to tell others what and what not to do, as if the art is about absolutes, about black or white, right or wrong. And I cringe when people can be so prescriptive.
They’ll cling to some of these basic, 101-styled myths (things like the above, but also uber-simple sentences, which possibly derive via business language and communication guides) that absolutely rips the heart and soul from storytelling. It often results in bland, lacklustre prose. So it’s good to see Le Guin attack some of these myths, and encourage those interested in creative writing to be more, well, creative.
Do read the rest of the article. She knows what she’s talking about.