This week we’re going to look one of an author’s best guidelines: “Show, don’t tell.” The example is taken again from The Eyes of the Overworld by Jack Vance.
The story opens for our antihero Cugel during the Azenomei Fair, where he has opened a booth attempting the sale of ineffective lead tokens acquired through grave robbing. Business is poor indeed, but Fianosther’s larger booth is humming. So much so that Cugel decides to investigate.
Cugel closed down his booth and approached Fianosther’s place of trade in order to inspect the mode of construction and the fastenings at the door.
Fianosther, observing, beckoned him to approach. “Enter my good friend, enter. How goes your trade?”
“In all candor, not too well,” said Cugel. “I am both perplexed and disappointed, for my talismans are not obviously useless.”
“I can resolve your perplexity,” said Fianosther. “Your booth occupies the site of the old gibbet, and has absorbed unlucky essences. But I thought to notice you examining the manner in which the timbers of my booth are joined. You will obtain a better view from within, but first I must shorten the chain on the captive erb which roams the premises during the night.”
Once again, Vance seems to find it base and crude to say “Cugel went to go see if he could rob Fianosther.” Fianosther himself has the same aversion, politely informing Cugel of a vicious animal on the premises without any impolite accusations toward his intent.
Despite the “Omit needless words!” mantra we mutter so often here at Seeking The New Earth, Vance occasionally does the opposite. Don’t expect the pace to slow or the flow to falter, however. Usually it’s in service to his peculiar style. Here you can see some wordiness in dialogue, but it’s necessary to convey outward politeness, friendliness and candor, with a strong undercurrent of suspicion and oblique warning.