Surviving a bad childhood is hard enough. Letting go of it is even harder. Black Shades is a sweet and bittersweet retelling of A Christmas Carol. It’s available for pre-order on Amazon. It’s the second story of my Past and Present Tense series about a genderqueer, the ghost of one, and the man who loves them both. The first book in the series, Red Lettering, is a Halloween story with hints of a vanishing hitchhiker theme, and is available now.
My darling wife of twenty years spent some of her time reformating and making new covers so that my old Angela Fiddler stuff could see the light of day. I really think one of the big reasons why I was able to go from the writer I was to the writer I am is down to the fact that I’ve had two solid chunks of time in my life where the only person who read my stuff was me and (for the second chunk of time) an editor who had already bought the work.
The first chunk of uninterrupted time came down to my age and dumb luck. I was from a small town that physically isolated me from the writing groups that only had the population to support themselves in larger centres. Not getting an internet connection until I was in university kept me from the online community, either. I didn’t even know where I could have joined a critique group until 1998 and I was already back from teaching in Japan.
So I just wrote constantly from the ages of 11 to 24. My sixth-grade year was the year I realized just how bored I was in class, so having two notebooks open — one for the notes I thought I’d need to write down to remember in class and a novel on the go in the other — got me through to earning my B.Ed.
and my stories were only slightly less cohesive but the one thing I taught myself to do was how reliably to get a character from the start of the story to the end of it by doing things and stuff. So when I got to the critique group, it took me four years to be able to hear the knowledge behind what I was being told and not just something the critiquer *clearly* didn’t understand I meant to do it that way.
So by the time I understood that there are no shortcuts in writing. That critique groups are great for teaching people to recognize issues and know how to solve them in the theoretical, there’s a huge gap of skills between knowing a character needed to be more empathetic if they wanted the reader to care what happens to them and knowing the steps needed to edit the prose so that the choices the character makes *shows* that they may not be the best character in the world, but at least they’re trying, eh?
My support-panther wife had gotten a job in Lethbridge and though I knew I was probably not going to get any training instructor gigs down here, I went with her because she needed to be a librarian in a public library and not one works who in a school or in a corporate office downtown. I just sold my first erotica novel before we moved so my time in Lethbridge was invaluable to again, just write.
Getting critiqued has always been a traumatic experience for me. I don’t blame the UBC for trying to minimize the experience for their learners, but the solution isn’t avoiding teaching any craft at all. But I heard every point I was told. Having the freedom from critique reminded me of the freedom I’d felt as a child where anything at all could happen in a story.
Even if all I could write back then were characters going to where the anything that could have happened already did and they learned of it just through dialogue. People who tell new writers that not everything needs to be shown either forget just how hard it was to learn how to show what was important as it happened, live, in front of the character who should be a part of the action.
It is true that not everything needs to be shown. I found after I show the reader everything about the world for the first 50k of the novel, when I tell them something through dialogue I know they’re imagining how I would have shown these characters doing the things they’re talking about because they know the characters and how they would have acted.
Using that same technique in the start of a story leaves that exact same moment in a well-shown world incredibly flat. It’s just telling the reader what an unknown to them character had done in the past. So yes. Bridging scenes can just tell the reader exactly what they need to know to move the characters from where they are to where they need to be.
But when we tell newbie writers that sometimes telling is just fine, what they hear is telling is just fine from the start. And MFA instructors now agree with the person trying to learn how to write that if they meant to break the rule on purpose, then the work is just fine even if it detracts from the author’s ability to show the reader why they should invest their time into learning what happens to this character in particular out of the thousands of possible things they could be doing with their free time and spending money.