Friday, March 25, 2011

As writers we are often told to “Show, don’t tell.” What does this mean?

To tell it—easy, show it—page turner. David was impressed with that sentence (telling using narrative summary). David’s eyes devoured the typed words—a smile filled his face. Wow. I didn’t believe I had that in me (showing using both action and interior monologue).

Randy Ingermanson has written an excellent description of the tools used in showing and telling. I added the descriptions for each word(s). His full article can be read here.

When we say “showing,” we mean that the author is using the following tools:

• Action. Doing something toward your goal, achieving a purpose, important events in your novel.
• Dialogue. Characters words, formal discussion, spoken words between two or more people in your book.
• Interior Monologue. Expressions of a character’s thoughts and feelings.
• Interior Emotion. A strong feeling or agitation about something or somebody.
• Sensory Description. Heightened sensory (taste, touch, smell, sight, hearing) awareness.

When we say “telling,” we mean that the author is using the following tools:

• Narrative Summary. The story or account of a sequence of events in their proper order.
• Exposition. Act of describing or discussing something in your story. Back-story in your novel.
• Description. The process of giving an account or explanation of something in your story.

An excellent (with examples) definition of Showing and Telling is found at Inspiration for Writers .
“Are you an idiot?” Sam yelled. The glass shattered, causing deep cuts in David’s hand. “What—did you call me?”  If you can show it you can paint a picture in your readers mind, record or film it. In the above example you can sense David’s hand gripping tighter around his glass until it breaks bringing pain (can’t you picture the blood dripping on the floor and hear the anger in David’s voice?).
Here are two examples from my current WIP. You tell me if they are showing or telling. In the first example, Jen (protagonist) meets Perseus (a disguised Greek Prince) for the first time. The second paragraph, from my first novel, describes Jen’s impression when meeting her Supreme Commander of her Army for the first time.  What examples of Showing and telling do you have from your WIP?  
• Jen waved the line closer and for the next two hours, she greeted each person and held their hands as they told their story. One young man approached with a bloodstained patch over his right shoulder—his arm hung useless by his side. Jen liked what she saw. He is not rich, by the cut of his clothing and he is Greek, not Egyptian, she thought. His long brown hair, tied in the back, hung down past his broad shoulders. In addition, his dark brown eyes sparkled of pride and courage. Bowing in front of Jen, he thanked her for saving his best friends life with her magic.

Jen liked what she saw. Narmer was a middle-aged man who had a no-nonsense demeanor. Taller than most of his contemporaries, his hardened face expressed assurance and at the same time wisdom. Jen guessed his weight to be around 180 pounds and almost six feet tall.

No comments:

Post a Comment