Pungent honey

“Show, don’t tell.”

Even in Germany the writing teachers say it like this. A fundamental piece of advice, and you couldn’t put it better in Deutsch.

The author still likes to tell, especially about big, dark, loud things. He labels them as “gigantic monsters” and such. But there is hope. After weeks of being confronted with me rewriting his stuff he is developing a feel for sensuality and enjoys to explore it.

“What does this look like?”, “How does that sound?”, “What kind of drink is it?” Questions like these I have to ask less and less, while he catches more and more parts of my writing that lack effort – like the butterfly’s eye on the boy’s defensive sheet that I had failed to describe spot on. He made me write it again.

When he asked about the “pungent honey” I felt embarrassed that I had to look up the term “oxymoron”. But I was happy to see he notices parts like these now and talks about style instead of typos in early drafts. Finally it feels like working together which helps me to commit turning his monster into a beauty.

How to create darkness

“Herbs”, the scrolling author said after a while, his face raising from the screen. He was working on a scene in a temple where the priest burns, well, herbs. “That’s lazy writing, isn’t it?”

“Yes.” I nodded. “Better let your reader smell it.”

We had a good session today. I liked each of his five remarks on the final draft of the third chapter, and he digested most of the few things I said. We had fun making up science fiction herbs, and I learned that “Weihrauch” is the resin of a plant, not the smoke (“Rauch”) of a smouldering herb.

The third chapter begins with a cliche setting. Lost boy alone in the dark forest, followed by 7.000 words – which is the smallest part of what he has handed me. We are three months in now, one million words still to rewrite if things go well.

In the beginning of the chapter he wanted the forest darker and more dramatic. I had tried to achieve exactly that by eliminating his constant reminders of how dark and threatening it is, encouraging the reader’s imagination instead  – show, don’t tell. He liked it but demanded more, so I added detail to the setting without much debate about being overdescriptive.

I feel uncomfortable with the scene either way. It’s not my best work, I’m afraid, right at the beginning of a chapter unfortunately. But with him I have to pick fights carefully in order to not waste too much time. This wasn’t worth it, and, most of all, he may be right. Cliche or not, the forest should be as dark and dangerous as we can make it.

Meeting the author

I never join people on public benches. The author does. When he sat next to to me for the first time, my dog liked the smell of his cevapcici. The author shared, not entirely happy. The dog loves him since.

“You on a break?”, I asked.

“No, working, basically”, he said, facing the Swiss Alps on the lone bench by the creek that I usually enjoy for myself. He’s an artist, it turned out, and the better part of the past ten years he has spent creating a monster. Thousands of drawings, sounds, maps, concepts – and a wall of text, describing life in a foreign galaxy.

“You?”

“Editor”, I said.