|Photo by teachingsagittarian|
My first critique partner, the amazing Kelley Lynn, drilled me on "show, don't tell." Though I understood the peripheral of what this meant, there are nuances of the writing adage which took me a bit to fully understand.
The difference between telling and showingWriting is generally about two things, information and/or story. This post is geared heavily toward fiction, though some of it might also apply to non-fiction. The first installment of the Ten Writing Tighteners Series was on Filters. In that post, I discussed how writers should help the audience experience what the characters see, hear, and feel—physically and emotionally. When done properly an author is showing.
Telling gives information, showing brings the reader into the moment.
My car went off the bridge.
|Photo by Steven Vance|
Showing allows the audience to experience breaching the guardrail, the pull of the seat belt tightening while rising from the seat, and the sting of the airbag deploying. The reader is even privy to the thoughts running through the character's mind in the quiet moment between leaving the bridge and impact with the water.
Telling is bland and clinical, showing is visceral and brings the reader into the actual moment being described. Granted, showing is more wordy, and sometimes that's not a good thing, but other times it's downright necessary. If the author wants the audience to fully enjoy the story he must bring the important elements of the story to life by showing.
Elements of showing
|Misha, my daughter Alex, & Ashlynn|
Reading an entire novel filled with telling and little-to-no showing is akin to eating dried-out, unseasoned chicken. Dinner is served but not very appetizing. Showing is the juice and spice in the meat. It's what makes the mouth water as each morsel slides down the back of the throat to fill the empty spaces in our soul.
|Photo by Cestomano|
The storm was beautiful.
What makes it appealing? Could the reader's idea of beauty be different than the point of view character's? What if the POV character is a fiend who sees glory in destruction wrought by a hurricane? Or maybe a gray downpour is delightful to one person, but lightning bolts flashing across a canvas of tumultuous clouds does it for another.
Showing lets the reader understand better.
Gnarled streaks of blinding light flashed in the distance, illuminating swirling clouds and transforming raindrops into diamonds.
Dialogue and action bring characters to life
|Kelley's 'pirate' boots.|
When telling should be usedAny author in the writing game for even a short length of time has heard the old "show, don't tell" adage. It's good advice, great even. However, like all areas of life, too much of a good thing is not always a good thing (I know, I know= #cliche'). Sometimes it is actually better to tell instead of show.
Wait! Say what? But...but...but... YES, that's what I said. There are times it is best to tell the reader rather than show them what's going on.
|Photo by object...|
Don't be a dragThere are some things the reader just doesn't want to experience in real time, it would be a real drag. A good rule of thumb I use for my own writing: when it's something I'd want to skip or skim in someone else's book, I do the same in my own. If the information is necessary for the reader, I skip it or gloss over it using telling, instead of boring my readers with too much showing.
Telling during intervals
Two months later, he...
After finishing the shopping, I...
Bridging scenesCondensing the portions of the story that bridge scenes are often the perfect place to employ telling and save the showing for when it has merit.
|Photo by nickweinrauch|
Showing weaves together the characters' experiences for the reader. Surroundings combined with emotions, how the characters deals with those emotions, and the action played out before the audience's eyes like a movie. Telling, on the other hand, gives important information, but not to the detail that will slow the pace of the story or bore the reader.
Ten Writing Tightener Series will include
1. Filters 10/14/13
2. Dead-weight Words 10/21/13
3. Echoes 10/28/13
4. Sentence Structure Stagnation 11/4/13
5. Redundancy 11/11/13
6. Telling vs. Showing 11/18/13
7. Voice Not Character Appropriate 11/25/13
8. Brevity Blunders 12/09/13
9. Head Hopping 12/16/13
10. Underestimating the Reader 12/23/13