The common dictum in fiction writing is “show, don’t tell.” That is, to keep your reader interested, it is much more involving to “show” the scene, idea, instance, or action, than to “tell.” Interestingly, I think that this dictum goes beyond fiction. I’ve never been much of a history buff. Part of this is because of how they teach it in our public schools–dry facts and actions, later to be regurgitated on multiple-choice tests. But history can be interesting, when it’s shown rather than told. What is a story–hi-story? –but a history of what happened, is happening, or will happen? Or, to illustrate the point, remember a movie from the 80s called “Teachers,” starring Nick Nolte? Also appearing was that crazy guy from “Soap” (Richard Mulligan?) as an escaped loony who “takes over” for the history professor. Every time you see him, he’s in a new costume: Caesar, Napeleon, George Washington. He’s creating dioramas in his classroom. Now, there’s something to remember history through!

What does this have to do with Marcos Tanner’s travelogue through Eastern Europe? I’m sure you’ve already guessed it. Tanner has forgotten, if he ever knew it (he’s a journalist; the dictum in journalism is the pyramid structure, where the most important facts are told first, the next most important next, ad infinitum), that he needs to show us things. It’s not that he doesn’t do so entirely. The memories I have from this book consist of several cases of showing. But he intersperses dry-fact history among those scenes, effectively killing any momentum that he could have had. In fiction we have another term for this injection of background, history or full descriptino in the text; we call it “information dumping.” It’s not that Tanner doesn’t know of what he speaks, but he overloads the book (at least fifty percent) with extraneous background in sections, rather than working it in with his travels.

[Finished 5 October 1993]


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First Impressions Copyright © 2016 by Glen Engel-Cox is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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