Friday Things

1. Can we please discuss this?

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Or more specifically, this?

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HOW?? The lack of snow in Chicago infuriates me because it’s January, doggone it, but this just seems like a cruel joke — as if the weather has actually conspired against a narrow strip of Illinois to keep just that specific area from having snow, and OF COURSE that area includes Chicago. I realize that metro areas tend to be warmer than rural areas and that large cities like Chicago in particular tend to be exempt from standard regional forecasts because of the heat that a large city generates, but COME ON! I just want to wake up one morning and see snow on the ground, and I really, truly don’t think that should be too much to ask for in January.

2. You know something that bugs me? When races increase their registration fee and I find out about the increase four days too late. I’m running a 5K with a friend in March (her first 5K! I’m so excited!), and I was stoked because I thought the registration fee was $30, which means I wouldn’t have to violate my $10/mile rule. Yeah, turns out the registration fee was $30 until January 10. Whoops. That means I’m about 1/4 this year on not violating the $10/mile rule. Double whoops. Someone find me a cheaper hobby.

3. After seven (!) weeks, it’s finally time for the next blogger book club this weekend! This time around we read Heartsick by Chelsea Cain.

heartsicksource

More than one person in book club is fascinated by serial killers (should this be a cause for concern? Possibly.), so we naturally decided it’d be best to read a book about some totally crazy killers murdering innocent victims in the Pacific Northwest. Can’t say it’s something I would’ve picked up on my own, but it was an engaging read and Cain did a good job of telling the story she created.

However.

(There’s always a however, isn’t there?)

Rather early in the book, I was struck by Cain’s writing style and thought, “I bet this woman didn’t study creative writing.” I poked around her website a little bit and sure enough: journalism student twice over. I don’t know what the J-Schools at UC Irvine and the University of Iowa look like, but I’d be willing to bet they don’t emphasize too many creative writing courses (although you’d think studying at the University of Iowa, home of arguably the most prestigious writing program out there, the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, would provide access to some pretty solid creative writing education opportunities). There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, because journalism is a rather different writing beast than creative writing. Having a background in creative writing can make for interesting journalism (see: Susan Ward, one of the main characters in Heartsick, who was selected to write a series on Archie Sheridan in part because of her MFA in creative writing. The irony of this in light of Cain’s educational background was not lost on me), and I would never suggest that only people with creative writing degrees are qualified to write books. Cain knows how to tell a story and she knows how to tell it well, but man, Heartsick would’ve never made it past Day One of any creative writing workshop I’ve been through. I’ve mentioned it a few times before, but back in the day creative writing was my JAM (it still would be, if I were independently wealthy enough to let it be and had no access to the Internet so I could focus), and as such I’ve taken a few creative writing courses and went to writer’s camp (yeah, it’s a thing. Be jealous). In each situation, Lesson #1 was always the same: show, don’t tell. What creative writing teachers mean by that is that you should at all costs avoid writing something along the lines of, “Her elbow-length straight black hair was pulled into a ponytail and she was wearing the same purple velour sweatpants and yellow T-shirt that she had on when Archie had interview her that morning after his less than inspirational staff meeting.” (p. 63)

NO. NO NO NO NO NO. WRONG. UNACCEPTABLE. Watch me laugh you out of Creative Writing 101 and send you back to your computer with your tail between your legs, ashamed of yourself for your blatant telling violation.

“But wait!” you, the non-creative writing educated reader, say. “I want to know what Maria is wearing!”

This may be, reader, but there are other ways to go about developing setting without beating your audience over the head with it. That, friends, is what we call “showing.” Take this line from one of my favorite writers of all time, John Updike:

“The day continued cool and without shadows.” (“Marching Through Boston”)

Now, what can we gather from this sentence? (Warning: I’m about to get ALL English major-y up in here). Well, for starters there’s that word “continued,” which can be read one of two ways. 1) The day was wearing on, i.e.: continuing, or 2) The day had been cool and without shadows and was staying the same. From an earlier sentence in the story (“The day, dawning cloudy, had been forecast as sunny…”), we can gather that “continue” in this sentence should be read with interpretation #2. Now, I will acknowledge that Updike was telling in saying that the day dawned cloudy BUT what’s important to notice here is that he’s not saying it again later in the story. He’s showing us about the atmosphere–cool and without shadows–and from that we can gather that the sun has not come out as originally forecast because if the sun were out, it’d be warm and there would be shadows.

See? Isn’t that way more interesting?

I don’t want to imply that I didn’t like Heartsick or that I think Cain is a bad writer, because I did and I don’t think she is. The thing about writing, though, is that it’s an art form. While I firmly believe that anyone can do any kind of art, that doesn’t mean anyone can do it beautifully. There are certainly writers out there much, much worse than Cain whose books are being published, and violating the “show, don’t tell” rule alone isn’t that huge of a sin against writing. It’s just something I picked up on while reading and, as a graduated English major, felt compelled to share.

Has anyone mastered weather control yet? And if so, can you please send at least a little bit of snow our way?
How much are you willing to pay for a race? I’ll go a little bit over $10/mile if I have to, but I’m skeptical of anything much more expensive than that, especially in the 5K department.

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20 thoughts on “Friday Things

    • For sure! I don’t know how it is in DC, but in Chicago races are pretty much always expensive, so it can be really easy to get sucked into the “Oh, it’s Chicago, therefore it’s totally okay to pay an arm and a leg for a 5K” thought process. Yeah. Not so much, especially when cheaper races are out there!

  1. I am bummed about our lack of snow. So bummed.

    That is so VERY interesting what you explained about creative writing. I just finished the first Fifty Shades book and her writing was so literal (so, uncreative?). But now I am reading a book more like what you described with Updike, and find it annoying to figure out what they are saying! Guess it depends on what kind of mood I am in 😉

    • I’m glad I’m not the only one!

      To be honest, I’ve never actually really picked up on the showing vs. telling thing in my usual reading, but it really stuck out to me in Heartsick, probably because I’ve recently gotten into more literature-y reading rather than light, fun reading, which makes me look at things a little more critically (like critical thinking, not criticizing critical). So I guess it’s somewhat mood dependent for me as well haha.

  2. I love what you just did with the creative writing v. journalism 🙂 I couldn’t agree more (not an English major but love it and studied it pretty heavily in high school and college), and John Updike is always a good example to use 😉 I want a cheaper hobby too! Races always clean me out 😦

  3. I’m up in Grayslake and we hardly have any snow. Actually, we have ice, which is difficult to run in. The other day I ran in the forest preserve and it was mostly ice covered trails leaving my pace down to 10/mi. Maybe that’s not a bad thing, since that is what I’m hoping my marathon pace will be come April. The $10/mi rule I think is good, but definitely flawed. For a 5k, I wouldn’t pay more than $30, 10k more than $40, $60 for a half marathon and $100 for a full marathon. To imagine my limit being $262 for a marathon is just crazy, except for WDW Marathon Weekend. I really enjoy your blog, thanks for that!

    • Yeah, the $10/mile rule does have its limits for sure, but it’s definitely a helpful guideline for me, especially with races in Chicago. 5Ks in particular get so expensive so fast around here, so having that kind of limit keeps me from going crazy on short races.

  4. I’ve never though about the $10/mile deal. That’s actually such a cool way to look at them. And probably would make me think twice before signing up for ridiculously expensive races, like $50 5k’s. Not worth it. But I hate when I miss the low entry fee by like a day. Seriously? I need to get my act together.

    • Ahhh right?? The most frustrating this about this race is that I had been on their website several times and it never said anything about a price increase until after the fact, at least when I looked at it. I mean, they probably gave people a few day’s warning, but I didn’t happen to look at the website at the right time so I didn’t find out until too late. Rawr. Ohhhhh well.

  5. hmmm even more so why we are friends, I am obsessed with serial killer books and movies. aka why criminal minds is like my guilty pleasure that I could spend days watching. I can’t believe you actually want snow, not over here. I would do anything to escape it and luckily I have!

  6. See, as someone who studied an almost hard science (according to my Chemistry major husband, psychology counts) I typically prefer when readers TELL me. But not in excruciating detail. I just picked up The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and it is SO DENSE with telling. So much telling. I am such a skimmer when it comes to books that most of the time I don’t even notice the occasional the detail descriptions.

    • I definitely think my education has a lot to do with why all the telling irked me. I spent four years studying English, so I feel like I pick up on things other people might not notice. I imagine by the same token an artist could go to an art gallery and could give an educated criticism on a work of art, whereas I would be like, “Yeah…that looks pretty.” Hahaha.

  7. You can have some of the snow here! I’m not a big fan of it myself.
    BTW, I hate how expensive some races are. Yeah they usually go towards a good cause but I’m a broke college student. I love books about psychos/serial killers too so I might have to add this to my list of books to read. Which is getting longer and longer bleh!

    • Great! Feel free to send it my way — I’d love to have some! Haha. I understand why races are expensive, especially in big cities where there are lots of hoops to jump through and fees to pay to hold a race, but man, that definitely doesn’t mean I like paying a lot for them! What can ya do, huh?

    • I suppose that’s true, although I’m also only running about once a week right now, so it doesn’t make a huge difference to me. It looks like we’re not even forecast to get any snow until next Thursday at the earliest, and if this winter has taught me anything, it’s that snow in the forecast beyond like 48 hours probably won’t happen, so I imagine you’ll be able to get in more snow-free running!

  8. I liked the little rant on writing right there. I like the show thing you were explaining. I never took creative writing or anything, but I prefer writers who stick to that rule.

    • I think writers who are good at showing vs. telling in general produce works that are a bit higher quality than those who don’t. I don’t always need or want to read super high quality writing (sometimes what I call “junk food” writing is fun to read…something light, insubstantial, and easy), but I do appreciate good, solid writing as well.

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