My beloved one (two, actually)-time publisher, Richard Marek, had a mantra he used to repeat to me at every opportunity. “Don’t tell,” he would say: “Show.” It was advice that raised as many questions as it answered.

There are, to over-simplify, three types of books: The thinky ones, driven by thought to develop their characters, the talky ones in which no one ever really shuts up, and the act-y ones in which ideas and thoughts are merely the stick-um to connect the action scenes that are the story’s reason for being.

Okay, I’m exaggerating to make a point. All books need a persuasive measure of all three elements to succeed. But which of the three is most valuable?

Act-y? Not for me, not so much. I think, sometimes, that if I ever must see another gun drawn in a book or car driven in chase-mode as the sole means to advancing a story, I’ll scream. Very loudly.

Talky?  I’ve heard the opinion expressed that no exchange of dialog should go on for much more than a page. I’m not so sure about that. Books that lean heavily on dialog are an art in themselves. The skill required to maintain a lengthy conversation on the page—without a constant reliance on using the conversants’ names—the ability to make each person’s words unmistakably their own is an awe-inspiring achievement. Done badly, long dialog is a plate of spaghetti. Good luck getting it untangled. Done well, and it’s like sitting in the middle of the most amazing dinner party discussion in the whole world.

That brings us to Thinky. My personal favorite. In real life, we think a thousand times more than we speak. Or at least I hope we do. Thoughts can be more agile than talk, more graceful than action. Thoughts can get the story to where it’s going by the serpentine routes our brains use. Thoughts–always one step to the left of expected, even when they evoke perfectly ordinary ideas–are what makes writing, and reading, interesting, entertaining and fun.

I want to hear more than what you say. I want to hear the wheels in motion. I want to hear how you got to that moment of speech. I want to hear what you’re not saying. I want a hint of what you might say next. I want to hear what hurts you and intrigues you and tickles you. I want to hear what scares the crap out of you, and what that fear might make you do next. I want to listen in on the monsters in your closets. I want to hear what it is in you that might allow love to grow.

Writing a from a strict point-of-view is a path strewn with tripwires. How do I know what another essential character is thinking if the book’s only voice is someone else’s? But oh to be the fly on the wall of the inside of that character’s head. Oh to allow that character to be as observant in “life” as we writer’s must be in ours. Give me Thinky. Every time.

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