Show and Tell

Every writer has weaknesses and strengths, I’m learning more about mine all the time. One place I’m stretching my muscles to improve is show vs. tell. You have to show the reader, not tell them. First time this was said to me I looked at the speaker like they’d lost their mind. How do you show the reader? Isn’t it all telling, because I don’t have any pictures in my book. What is this show you speak of?

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I still can’t give you an exact despcription of what show vs. tell means but I understand it. I work better with examples, so here I go. 

To tell the reader

John nervously stood in front of Jane. “Um, I’m not sure what to say,” he mumbled. 

To show the reader

John shifted from one foot to the other in front of Jane and refused to make eye contact. “Um, I’m not sure what to say,” he mumbled. 

This doesn’t come naturally to me. I have scenes that flow out of me perfectly, but I usually have to fight for my show. While writing Winter’s Kiss (World in Shadows, book 1.5) I came to a point where I had to give up and move one. I had the story and dialogue practically falling out of my head and I was wasting time trying to tie it up in a neat bow. I’m not a patient person, I don’t like doing the same thing over and over but with writing you have to. Better to get the essentials out on paper first while my muse is playing nice and come back later to work on the time consuming bits.

God bless my editor. Sharon earns her money with me, by the time I think I’m ready for her to read through the first round of edits it’s usually still a colossal mess. I can be patient for edits, I want the most pristine copy to go to publishing. With Rising Shadows, show vs. tell was an issue I had to work on. Sharon and my beta are awesome about catching a lot of my flubs.

Like the time I forgot to mention a character in Rising Shadows had healed and was using an arm that had previously been broken. I believe the note Sharon left was something like, “Does this woman have three arms? Because one arm is broken and you said she used both hands to grab the bars.”

Tomorrow I was supposed to turn Winter’s Kiss in to Sharon for edits round 1, but I’m a few days behind schedule. Show and tell is kicking my rear end. It’s only a short story, less than 10,000 words! I’m not amused that the short story is giving me fits while the full length novel (A Scarlet Fury, book 3) was chugging along fine. I’m told this is part of being a writer. *grumble grumble*

Showing is important, it helps the reader become part of the story and easier visualize the writer’s world. I’m willing to struggle in order to give the reader a better experience. It’d be easier for me to stick to telling, but it’s flat and boring. I can see it in my own writing when I don’t show enough. Over time I think I’ll get better at at and one day it might be second nature. The way to improve it to practice, so suck it up buttercup and show, don’t tell. 

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One thought on “Show and Tell

  1. Interesting post. Thanks for sharing. Showing vs. Telling does seem like a difficult debate to explain, but I really think it comes down to verb usage. I love the Twain quote you used. It made me think of one by Joseph Conrad that’s relevant to this conversation: “Make the reader see.” Best of luck with the edits.

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