The Tulip Driven Life Podcast

Friday, January 3, 2014

Tell, Don't Show?

By: Christopher Larson

This post originally appeared on Larson's own blog here

Recently I read a chapter from Orson Scott Card’s book Characters and Viewpoint. I found a particular argument that he made fascinating enough to warrant a post of it’s own. I’ve always been a huge proponent of the “Show, don’t tell,” rule in literature. In case you’re not familiar with that rule, here’s a short breakdown of the differences between the two.

Bob grabbed the grocery list, headed for the door, then remembered he needed to tell his Mom where he was going. With that accomplished, he finally turned the handle and was off to the store.

“Hey Mom, where did you put the grocery list?” Bob yelled.
“It’s on the counter, honey,” his Mother replied.
Bob turned on his heel to look at the counter. Sure enough, there was the list. Grabbing it, he ran to the door, then paused.
“Mom! I’m going to the store!”
“Have fun!”

I always assumed that the second way, showing, was an inherently better storytelling technique. I’ve had people inform me that telling interrupts the flow of the book and is flat-out lazy. I’ve had people inform me that telling is almost never appropriate, and that as much telling as possible should be removed from the book. What Orson Scott Card argues, however, is that telling isn’t actually bad. In fact, he says, in most scenarios, it might even be good.

Why this sudden contradiction of such a commonly repeated rule? He explains.

Card says a story should be told economically. Characters should be given just enough depth for them to accomplish their purpose in the story, and then the writer should stop (he makes exceptions, of course, but that’s the general principle he proposes). His next point is that the notion that “experimental” or “hard to decipher” writing is better, is simply wrong. The writing should match the story, not eclipse it. A fiction novel is a novel, not a writing manual. If the writing effectively and unobtrusively communicates the story, it has done its job.

So, he says, telling, like the telling shown in the example above, fulfills the criteria for good writing best. Unless the conversation between the mother and son is important to the plot it isn’t in the best interest of the book to include it. It bloats the book and doesn’t add personality or depth to any of the characters. It’s a simple exchange that the reader can imagine on their own if they want to, or, as is more likely, they can simply ignore it and move on.

Therefore, he concludes, in this situation, and most others like it, telling is the best option.

So why the constant hammering of the “Show, don’t tell,” rule by some? Card deals with that too. He says that showing almost inevitably takes up more time than telling. Obviously, he says, if you show in the proper places it will be more than justified to take that time. However, because showing takes up more time it has mistakenly led people to believe that it is a better storytelling format than telling. Card disagrees vehemently. Telling is how most inessential information is conveyed in a book, and it should be that way.

The point where Mr. Card agrees with the rule is when showing does in fact benefit the plot. Examples could be adding character personality, or communicating essential plot-information, or things of that sort. He treats showing and telling as tools. What better fits the information being communicated? Does the information warrant the time spent showing it? I have to say, I agree with Mr. Card. Instead of an across-the-board rule, perhaps using both telling and showing as what they are–tools–is the better path.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Recipe for Revival

By: Thomas F. Booher

I have been reading a book by Iain Murray called Revival and Revivalism. It chronicles the time from 1750-1858. During this time, especially beginning in the early 1800's, a shift took place in the minds of many regarding revival itself. What was once understood to be a work of the Spirit became a work of man. The call for sinners to repent of their sins and trust in Christ as Savior turned to something more like what we see in Billy Graham Crusades. Free will theology replaced the Spirit's sovereign work, and the result was a scheduling of revivals rather than a praying that God would send one.

John Knox Witherspoon, a President of Princeton and signer of the Declaration of Independence, said that piety was most key for a minister of the gospel to possess. He said this would give the minister experimental knowledge of the Word of God, since he felt it in his heart. He also said this would help the minister study with greater enthusiasm and also know what he needed to study the most to benefit himself. What I think is most important, however, is what Witherspoon said in point five. This, I believe, is a recipe for revival, not because man can schedule one or make the Spirit blow, but rather because I think if ministers have this, it is evident that the Spirit is already blowing:

"True religion will give unspeakable force to what a minister says. There is a piercing and a penetrating heat in that which flows from the heart, which distinguishes it both from the coldness of indifference, and the false fire of enthusiasm and vain-glory. We see that a man truly pious has often esteem, influence, and success, though his parts may be much inferior to others, who are more capable, but less conscientious. If, then, piety makes even the weakest venerable, what must it do when added to the finest natural talents, and the best acquired endowments?"

Indeed, ministers should aspire for both theological acumen and personal piety. Too often we find one or the other, or neither. God's grace alone can give men either, and when He does, I believe a congregation under such preaching will be cut to the heart by the Spirit and conversions will begin to flow. When we remember that it is pastors whom God has called to be shepherds on His behalf for the flock, the members of His body, we can see why pious pastors who are gifted to exhort and who know the Word are used by God to bring revival and refreshing to the church. While many today try to blow false fire that is not from the heart but is rather a charade trying to appeal to man's enslaved will, other ministers have settled for a dry orthodoxy that they themselves do not know from the heart. Let us pray that God would send men set on fire by the Word they preach, and that their fire would catch others on fire as well.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

I Learned Calvinism in a Quiet Place

By: Thomas F. Booher

Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed. (Mark 1:35)

I don't like the phrase "quiet time." It sounds very suspicious to me. What do you do in your "quiet time" with the Lord? Mind meld with Him? Is this simply where you get serious about God and think of Him? It's too squishy a term for me. What I do like, however, is a quiet place. 

A quiet place is concrete. We know what someone is talking about when they say they need to get away and have some peace and quiet. They need a break from the noise, to rest, and to think. 

Just as I typed that last sentence, my baby started crying in the other room. It's been like this for nearly four months now. This is the very reason why I haven't been blogging much at all lately. I have no quiet place. 

Not having a quiet place isn't only detrimental for blogging. It's detrimental spiritually. I live with my wife and son in a one bedroom apartment. His cries pierce through the walls. My wife is exhausted from watching Peter all day, and I am tired from work and seminary. We help each other of course, but neither of us have a quiet place to just rest, and think, and pray, and hear God speak to us through His Word

My Dad's computer room reminded me of this over Christmas break. It jolted me, took me back to a sweet time. It was right after I had returned from a public university where I first heard of Calvinism. I returned home, and in the quiet of that little computer room, with its long table and the comfort of books and bookshelves around me, I learned of God's sovereign grace over dark chocolate and cups of coffee. I learned that He chose me. And I had hours and hours of quiet to reflect on these great truths. I had peace and quiet to plumb the depths of Scripture, to praise God for who He is, to write about what I have learned. I grew spiritually, I looked forward to prayer and study of God's Word, I looked forward to meditating on God and His law day and night, because I had a quiet place.  

Yes, my son just started crying again. But God has used Peter to show me that I need to take time to get alone, and find a quiet place. Jesus Himself did this in the verses above. He needed to get away from His disciples, from the crowds that followed Him. He did it to commune with God. If I do that, I will find sweet communion with God again. May you all do the same, in a secret, quiet, holy place.