Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Obligatory Review: Field of Blood by Eric Wilson

Field of Blood is a Christian Fantasy novel written by Eric Wilson and published by Thomas Nelson. I received a free copy through their Book Review Blogger program and quite frankly that is the reason I finished it instead of dropping it on the floor and finding something more productive to do. As a whole, it is a readable book. By that I mean that at no point did I dread turning to the next page and it didn’t put me to sleep. I can also say that at about page 375 of 400 the story picks up pace and it becomes a page turner.

Though it comes from a Christian publishing company, Field of Blood is based more on Jewish mysticism than on biblical teaching. It pays homage to Christian beliefs, but at the same time has several weaknesses. For example, the primary good guy in the book is a female with immortality. The Bible tells that the wages of sin is death and yet this woman is immortal even though she practices fornication and doesn’t know Jesus.

I have had some trouble trying to classify the plot of Field of Blood. Part of that is because the plot is so disjointed. The plot jumps back and forth from Gina to the vampires. Until you get to about page 375, Gina’s story and the vampires’ story has little to do with each other. They cross paths occasionally, but they are far removed from each other. Even so, if we use Blake Snyder’s terminology, I believe Field of Blood can be best described as Monster in the House because there is a sin that releases these Monsters into the main character’s world. The problem with this classification is one that clearly defines my main issue with this novel. The house is missing.

As Blake Snyder describes Monster in the House, the house is needed to prevent us from simply walking away from the monster we created. But that’s exactly what Wilson does with Gina. The monsters are in Romania, so he sends Gina to the State of Tennessee to keep her safe. One of the vampires does eventually find her but the only thing that happens is that the vampire hires someone to kill Gina’s baby with a bomb, which now that I think about it seems like an odd way for a vampire to kill a baby. The problem that exists when the hero and villain are so far removed from each other is that the tension falls flat. Another problem with Field of Blood is that the villains keep dying. Gina has no part in the villains dying until after page 375, but they keep dropping dead anyway. It reaches a point when you start to think that since Gina is immortal she should just wait these guys out and let them die.

What I would have liked to have seen with this novel is villains who were more evil, heroes who were more good and more direct head to head conflicts between the two. My recommendation is that if you are looking for a good vampire book, go read Bram Stoker’s Dracula again.

Show, Don't Tell

As much as novelists talk about the rule Show, Don't Tell, personally, I think it applies more to the film industry than it does with the publishing industry. That doesn't mean it doesn't have application in both places, but take a look at the scene on the left. In a movie, this an example of telling. The audience is supposed to gather from the dialogue that the boy is bitter against his father. If that works, we might as well leave out the image of the two hugging, since the boy has already told us that they are going to. But as movie goers, we don't want characters telling us through dialogue that they are bitter, or worse, having other characters tell them they are bitter. Instead, we want to see it through the actions of the character. Instead of the characters saying, "my father left when I was young and it made me bitter" we want to see the character looking at a picture of his father and scratching away the face with a pair of scissors. We want the character's wife saying, "your father called" to which the character responds, "I don't want anything to do with that man."

The novelist is at a disadvantage to the movie maker when it comes to showing. Technically, we can't show anything, so we redefine the word show to mean something other than display images to mean something like reveal through action. In a movie you can show that a crowd is large by displaying a wide shot of thousands of people. It only takes a few moments. In a novel it requires more work by the writer to show that the crowd is large. Telling is easy enough. We could say, "there were one hundred thousand people in the crowd that day," but numbers mean very little to readers. We see them and forget what we saw. We need to paint a picture with words that reveals just how large the crowd is. Are there venders moving through crowd? Are police officers milling about to keep the crowd in line? Can we see very well? Are we being bumped constantly by people trying to make their way through?

There are some things that we shouldn't show. It is easy to come up with examples of the difference between showing and telling. The question that is much harder to answer is how to determine when we should show and when we should tell. In For the Love of a Devil, I begin by showing the female character with another man, but I also tell about a previous time when. I felt it necessary for the reader to know that this wasn't the first time she pulled something like this, but the previous incident was outside of the heart of the story. The story is about how a man deals with the woman he loves leaving him, so the previous incident in which she never left didn't seem to fit.

That was a personal choice on my part. Someone else writing the same story may have made a different choice. Is one better than the other? Perhaps, but it is hard to say. As writers, we must find a balance between showing and telling. How well we are able to find that balance will have a greater impact on how well our stories are received than our skill in taking a telling sentence and converting it into a showing sentence.

I ask those of you who may wish to comment, what should be the balance between showing and telling?