One of the things I really like about the blogosphere, and now about indie publishing, is the resurgence of the "told" story.
The first rule we learn as writers is to "Show, Don't Tell." (And if you haven't learned it yet, you need to learn it now.) Don't just tell the reader about something, don't summarize, show them the immediate visceral experience of the story.
Though yesterday's story, "Death And The Writer," is a told story -- like a joke or folktale -- the best stuff in it is when you get to watch the characters behave, as opposed to just hearing about them. That's where all the punch is. And the weakest part is, alas, the ending, where there isn't a live "scene" of characters interacting.
Even so, I am exceedingly fond of the told story as a form. It's the natural way we tell stories and jokes and anecdotes to each other. It's unstudied, and keeps the focus on the point. There is a certain amount of social pleasure in the voice -- the author is there, relating the story to you, and taking responsibility for it instead of hiding behind a literary curtain.
However, the very naturalness of the form is one of the reasons why teachers and mentors have to push like mad to get young writers to "Show, Don't Tell!" Showing, the part which gives the story all of its life, doesn't come naturally to us the way telling does. It takes practice, like learning to hold a paint brush or a violin in the right way. We can do it adequately by nature, but until we get the habit of doing it right we are limited in what we can do.
IMHO, true mastery comes when you move beyond doing it the right way, and can do something any way you please: I remember, when I was a kid, a friend of my sister's was a violinist. Most of the time he held his violin exactly right, but he also played guitar, and could do a good impression of Arlo Guthrie. We'd bug him to play Alice's Restaurant all the time, and when he didn't have a guitar on hand he'd just pull out his violin and play it like a ukelele, plucking and strumming to make exactly the sound he needed.
The goal with a told story, imho, is to reach a state of heightened naturalism, where you tell the story as it naturally comes, but you have the experience and understanding to bring artistry to it -- to be able to use a violin as a guitar.
And if you want a great example of a bit of story-telling which both tells and shows, you could do worse than Alice's Restaurant. (For those who have never heard it, Alice's Restaurant is a short song and a long spoken story about one interesting Thanksgiving and its aftermath.)
Here is a slightly shortened version (at 16 minutes) as Arlo performed it at Farm Aid a few years ago:
Who knew the phrase "twenty-seven eight-by-ten color glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one" could be such a great example of showing?
Tomorrow, the mid-week update for ROW80.
See you in the funny papers.