the purpose of playing

The back pages of The Best American Short Stories contain brief bios of the authors and their comments about the stories they wrote. One of the things that struck me as I was reading this year's is that so many of those bios sound so impressive, e.g.:

Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum is the author of Ms. Hempel Chronicles, a finalist for the 2009 PEN/Faulkner Award, and Madeleine is Sleeping, a finalist for the 2004 National Book Award. Her stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Tin House, The Georgia Review, and The Best American Short Stories 2004.

And yet ... Sarah Who? How thrilled would I be to get a story published, to finish a novel , to publish a novel, to have it nominated for an award, to have it be finalist for an award ... and then what? Then it's just a line in your bio and you have to get back on the horse because you haven't "made it" yet. It's ... daunting.


I can't remember where I read or heard this recently, which is driving me nuts, but it was an offhand sort of comment by an established author about how in writing workshops one is always exhorted to show rather than tell. It made me wonder whether my legal training has ruined me for writing fiction. I've spent a number of years honing my ability to get straight to the point. On the other hand, it occurs to me as I'm writing this, I've also learned to support every sentence with a citation to factual evidence or legal authority. I sometimes think of footnotes as the nails from which I hang my sentences and thereby construct an argument. Isn't that showing, rather than telling?

1 comment:

Trent said...

Well, Jim McElhaney's favorite thing to say seems to be "show, don't tell." The Jim McElhaney of the ubiquitous Trial Notebook and beloved Litigation articles. But he's talking about at trial, not in writing. But still, it's an important thing for lawyers to remember, and even if it weren't I doubt you've forgotten how to do it.