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Monday, July 6, 2009

Show or Tell

At the Teen Writer's Conference last June, Heather Moore and I taught a class on editing and critiquing. One of the subjects we covered was Showing Vs. Telling. Since learning the difference between the two is essential to becoming a better writer, I thought I'd post a blog or two about it. Today, I'll define "Telling." Plain and simple, telling is a summary of events or a report of what happened, kind of like what an anchorman might do on the late night news. He might give us a quote or two, and he might even describe the action with a few, well-chosen words, like "raced" or "smashed," but overall, we, the audience, will not feel as if we're in the middle of the event; we'll simply know it happened. This is not what we fiction and non-fiction writers (barring news reporters) want to do.
Let me repeat: Do not tell your story. Show it. In fact, best-selling author, Janet Evanovich, said in her book, "How I Write," "Don't tell the reader anything, if you can show it instead."
True, there are a few times when telling is best, like when a character is repeating information the reader already knows to another character, or when we have to quickly update our reader about what's happened over an extended period of time--think of some of those sections in Stephenie Meyers "New Moon," shortly after Edward left. But by and large, we should try our level best to avoid telling.

Still not sure what telling is? Here are a couple of examples:

“She also volunteered lodging for my servants and the stable for my horses, but didn’t seem surprised when I told her I had neither, or offended when I told her I’d rather not talk about how I arrived. Wealth apparently brings you unquestioned acceptance.” (“My Fair Godmother,” Janette Rallinson, pg. 119-120.)

Jeb started sending me on little errands. Run back to the kitchen for another roll, he was still hungry. Go fetch a bucket of water, this corner of the field was dry. Pull Jamie out of his class, Jeb needed to speak with him. . .”
(The Host, Stephenie Meyer, pg. 242-242.)

Until next time.

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