Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Show vs. Tell

Joni’s going to write a blog post today.

Joni sits at her desk, pencils, paper, stapler surrounding her. A deep sigh leaves her mouth as she sits contemplating, ready to tap on the keys preparing to write today’s blog.

Aha! I think I’ll write about SHOW vs. Tell! In the first sentence I told you what Joni was going to do. In the second sentence I SHOWED you.

I often read from beginning writers, ‘What is the difference in show vs. tell?’ I read many mentor’s critiques exclaiming, ‘You need to show more than tell’.

Showing is more specific in terms as it lays out the picture for you. General terms are good when you need to tell when something is happening that is brief in the story. Whereas, showing moves the story along from point A to point B.

To tell a story, one only needs to say,

Mary went to the store.

To help in getting the picture across to your reader, the ones who are following your every word, you need to learn how to SHOW them the story.

Mary grabbed her purse, hurried out the front door to walk down to the corner store. The screen door slammed as her mother called from behind, “Don’t forget the bread.”

You can see Mary in your mind, can’t you? You no longer are holding a non-descriptive image of Mary, you now see a woman grabbing her purse and rushing out the door, only to be halted by the voice of her mother.

Think of yourself reading a book. You don’t start at the end, you begin at the first page. You take it slowly and read one page at a time so you can grasp the entire picture.

Taken out of context, you can speed read a page here and there but do you fulfill your journey of enjoyment? Showing and telling can give you the same information. But with the showing the reader gets to savor each and every word in a visual manner.

Creating a mental picture for the reader is important if you care for them enough to read to the end. Children love fairy tales where they don’t need a lot of the weighted down imagery; they get picture books to supply the images. But novels or short stories need to tap into the mental cinema of the reader’s mind.

Telling is fine for trivial things like it was a stormy day. If the storm is essential to moving the story along or part of the immediate scene then showing should be done. Don’t over do it with the imagery so no one says you’re padding your work. Showing should come as a natural flow to you.

I was sad when my dog died.

This is telling you how I felt when my dog died.

I was miserable when my dog died. It hurt so much I could just spit. I never expected him to die and now he’s left me alone and lonely for companionship.

This is padding the telling and not really showing you how I felt. You read that my dog died, I hurt, and I felt alone.

Now let me try to SHOW you how I felt.

Today I was utterly distracted when the puppies in the park were playing Frisbee, it reminded me of my Skippy. My friend for life or so I thought, until he contracted a deadly virus that took him from my life. No longer do I look at his bowls the same way as they still sit on the floor near the door.

This statement gives more specific details, without telling how I “felt”. You can read in my words that I miss him. You can read my hurt without using the word. You can read that I miss my dog and that I’m hurting just by getting the longing feeling from, “No longer do I look at his bowls the same way.”

The point of "showing" is not to drown the reader in a sea of details. Instead, you should pick out only those instrumental details that matter.

Give your reader something to hold onto. Have them frothing at the mouth waiting to read more of your pain and anguish. Give him/her a tale of beauty with ribbons of sensory and imagery. Save the telling for the hairdresser.

Give your writing some music and it will SING!

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