Monday, September 02, 2013

Tobias on Dune: (7) Saving the Worst for Last:


I will mention one aspect of Frank Herbert’s that writing drove me crazy during the audio book. Good writers sometimes Tell you what is happening, and often Show you what is happening. Telling takes fewer words and pages, but Showing is much more dramatic. Poor writers often Tell when they should Show.

In Dune, Herbert’s favorite tic is worse than Telling when Showing is required. Herbert loves to Tell you that character A senses how Character B is behaving. He doesn’t Show us how B behaves; he doesn’t Show A reacting to B; instead, he Tells us what A can Tell about B. For example (I made up this illustration): Jessica could sense that Paul was noticing the strange way their visitors acted.


Near the end of Dune, Herbert reveals something essential – in his opinion – about all of humankind. Paul explains this revelation as the foundation of his ability to seize knowledge of the present and the future: Men are all takers, and women are all givers. Paul breaks through a fundamental barrier, because he’s the only one who can give just as well as he takes.


This categorical separation of men and women into takers and givers did not sit well in 1965. It sounds worse in 2013.

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