There are a lot of different writing styles out there—and obviously, a multitude of genres in which those styles can be employed—but in the end, one’s enjoyment of anything written is an individual thing; some things just click with us, while others leave us feeling indifferent.
For me, B.D. Smith’s The Ice Maiden falls into the latter category (and with a big thud).
The thing is, it really seemed, at first glance, like a sure bet: a serial killer operating in a small community somewhere in Maine (which, by dint of having read very few stories set in that distant state, made it immediately interesting), who acts out tortures from the Spanish Inquisition (ooh, cool historical undertones, anyone)? How intriguing! Add a wintry scene for the cover plus the title itself (“ice”)—hey, I’m nothing if not magnetically drawn to things set in cold, snowy climes—and again, I thought it would be a slam dunk.
The problem, unfortunately, is Smith’s writing style… which, to put it into screenwriting parlance, falls way more to the “tell” side than the “show” side of the spectrum. (The idea, if I lost anyone there, is that it’s far better to show your audience what you want them to see/know/feel/understand than it is to tell them.)
Fine, you may be thinking, that makes perfect sense for a program or movie… but with a book, how does an author manage to “show” the reader anything; isn’t it all “tell”?
Actually, no, it isn’t. A novelist can “show” us things in different ways. He/she can draw vivid pictures and characterizations with words, allowing us to “see” scenes, people, places, and the like. The writer lets his/her characters speak to each other and interact, as well as conducting inner monologues—all of which serve to show us who they are, and to better understand their reasoning or motivations. In other words, the writer allows the characters and the places to “show" us what’s happening… so that we can draw our own pictures, conclusions, and suppositions in our heads.
In sharp contrast, a writer who “tells” his/her readers everything uses considerably less dialogue, opting instead to describe everything—and not from the characters’ points of view, but from an omnipotent outsider’s POV. It makes for a considerably less active style of storytelling… and for me, a rather dull one.
So, although Smith had a compelling story to impart with The Ice Maiden, I never felt it was being told well… and that was because I was almost always being told, rather than shown.
In the end, did I like the characters, the setting, the story? The bones of the thing were actually good… which makes the style that much more unfortunate. Would I recommend the book? Nope… unless you’re someone who prefers being told things with as little dialogue involved as possible. Finally, is it likely I’ll ever read another tale by this author? No, that won’t be happening.