I had an amusing revelation the other day. You know how in writing, you’re constantly told to show, not tell?
Well, there’s this book called Prophet, by R.J. Larson. There are these super horses called Destroyers, and they become the most endearing part of the story. They’re super intelligent, super violent, super loyal, and so on.
Then I read a review someone had written about one of the later books. They referred to the destroyers as dragon-like creatures. And it got me thinking.
If you describe a creature that is huge, black, aggressive, has hooves and a tail, is incredibly vicious and always attacking people, a horse might not be the first thing that comes to mind. It does sound like a dragonish creature.
If a writer sacrifices all the telling in favor of all showing, communication breakdowns result between the reader and the writer. I can show you closeups of an animal’s features, but sometimes you need me to come out and say, “It’s a horse.”
It’s all right to say, “The horse tossed his black mane and pawed the ground with a steel-shod hoof.” That sounds deliciously dangerous. But then again, “The Destroyer tossed his black mane and pawed the ground with a steel-shod hoof” is ever so slightly ambiguous. See the picture up there? Hooves and a mane do not always a horse make.
(By the way, here is my review of Prophet: “Pretty good read! Well-written, good characters, plot twists that kept me guessing. The horses were great. My only complaint was the constant retelling of various Bible stories. I felt they made some parts too predictable.”)
But that’s a rant for another day.