Hello SErs! Already, we’re a week into 2018. I hope you’ve all gotten off to a great start. For today’s post, I’d like to take a look at showing rather than telling.
How you choose to write your narrative can make a huge difference to your finished book. It can make the difference between grabbing a reader or sending the cat to sleep.
Just this week, I received a book for editing. Intended as a fictional work, it actually read like a thesis. Written in a dry, passive, and distant manner, it showed no obvious POV voice at all and read more like a list of events. All a great shame, as its premise shows great promise. So, what can turn this around? What’s the difference between showing and telling?
While our choice of POV can affect how close up and personal or not we get with the characters, we can show the story in any of them without needing to get caught in telling. It’s all a matter of creativity.
When you tell instead of show, you do nothing more than give your reader a list of information. However, with showing, you can allow them to infer certain facts. For instance, instead of just saying, ‘Jim was tall,’ you could say, ‘Eleanor, at five foot five, had to crane her neck to look up at Jim when he spoke.’ or, ‘Eleanor’s neck ached from the strain of having to look up at Jim.’ etc.
Telling is when we use exposition or summarise to tell the reader what is happening.
Showing is when we use description and action to allow the reader to experience the story.
We want to provoke/evoke an emotional reaction in our readers, rather than just telling them how to feel. Yes, it might be sad, but we don’t want to just say it was sad, we need to make them feel the sadness. After all, when we write fiction, we’re trying to do a lot more than just get across certain information.
When I fed back to my author, I used something very basic as a concrete example … my work desk. Here it is in both telling and showing …
Telling: …. The computer desk sits in front of the window overlooking the field. During work time it looks cluttered. Pens and notebooks litter its surface. It holds a worn blotter, on which sits the mouse.
(I could go on. Right now, it reads like a shopping list.)
Showing: …. I sit in front of my computer desk and see it as if for the first time. The green fields framed in the window behind the computer offset the clutter and busyness of the desk itself. Despite the messy look to it, everything has its place. I smile when my eyes settle on the dog-eared and well worn blotter—Paul bought me that for our anniversary. It doubles up as a mouse mat and shows both coffee and tear stains.
… Okay, I’m sure you get the picture. I’ve shown you not just what’s on the desk but some of the history. Instead of a list of things, I’ve pulled you in with the detail. I’ve given it a personality (of sorts). Here, I used first person POV. I could also have written from a sentient-desk’s POV, or a third-person watching me at work. The different angles are almost endless.
While it is okay to summarise sometimes, it doesn’t work to write like this
the whole way through or even for lengthy parts. It wants keeping to a maximum of a paragraph or two at the most for each instance.
In my writing, I want to wake the cat and watch it do a happy dance 🙂