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Friday, April 7, 2023

The Art of Telling --> [Case Histories: Olaf Stapledon, Molly Bloom, Jack Williamson, H. P. Lovecraft]

Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon | LibraryThing

Sometimes the explanation, the As-you-know-Bob is the jewel most worthy of study

Of course, we have the famed "Show, Don't Tell" phrase--a useful tool for writers to remember.

And then people say, "No, we need both!" and proceed to show when showing is useful (in the moment) and telling is useful (summarizing).

But sometimes the telling is the only only thing. Take Olaf Stapledon. Here's a guy whose ideas remain fresh a full century after he shed them like a dog's fur coat in the spring. What he writes in one sentence, others would whittle out a whole novel about.

The problem with Stapledon is that he's a chore to wade through--if you want narrative. One cannot read it as fiction but as a highly concentrated dose of speculation. Here's an interesting example, if not his most remarkable [from The Starmaker]:

The universe in which fate had set me was no spangled chamber, but a perceived vortex of star-streams. No! It was more. Peering between the stars into the outer darkness, I saw also, as mere flecks and points of light, other such vortices, such galaxies, sparsely scattered in the void, depth beyond depth, so far afield that even the eye of imagination could find no limits to the cosmical, the all-embracing galaxy of galaxies. The universe now appeared to me as a void wherein floated rare flakes of snow, each flake a universe.

The final sentence is the icing that the cake has been building up to, layer by layer, sentence by sentence. What does it mean? Since a universe is a universe, it's probably metaphorical, not unlike the phrase "worlds within worlds": a droplet of pond water containing an abundance of microbiological variety. Here, though, what looks like a star is an entire galaxy, full of star systems.

Clearly, though, whatever's said in telling has to be interesting. Interesting to whom? There's some subjectivity, of course, especially for those seeking confirmation bias. But to those who seek it, novel syntheses. Accumulating ideas and building something intriguing about them.


The opening to Molly's Game is a mini-essay within a larger narrative essay. Does it belong to the larger essay? 

Sort of--one could argue against it--but it's characterizing and setting the stage, not to mention delivering the best part of the movie. The character voice-overs analyzing the situation is actually some of the best stuff in the movie--as well as the final delicious morsel, which circles back to the opening if only to touch base. 

Note the similarity between the Molly's Game opening monologue and the above quote from Olaf Stapledon:



I forgot to add two other key examples of telling, that lift what might be ordinary tales to another level. One is Jack Williamson's Darker Than You Think, an admirable cross-contamination of the horror novel and the SF novel. There's a chapter about 3/4s of the way in, that makes the novel remarkable, out of the ordinary, unforgettable. And it's all done in telling.

Likewise, the best part of H. P. Lovecraft's At the Mountain of Madness is another explanation also located about 3/4s of the way in (rough guessitmate). In the above link, I mostly discuss style for some reason, probably meaning to discuss Olaf Stapledon comparison but forgetting to do so. So this is my belated rectification. Here's a link to the actual story.

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