Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Show, Don't Tell

If there’s one thing every writer hears, it’s “Show, don’t tell.”

Writer Nancy Kress says: "Tell me a story," is probably as old as the human race. But it would be more accurate to say, "Show me a story." That’s what readers want—and what you can deliver.

An author “shows” by writing in immediate scene so that the reader sees the events unfold as they happen to the point of view character. The scene includes characters, setting, and action. An author “tells” by relating the events secondhand so that the reader hears what happens rather than sees it.

Writer Dennis Jerz says, “Show smoke, and let the reader infer fire. An author who tries to show the fire (by presenting elaborate descriptions of the flames, the heat, the crackling sound, etc.) makes the fire itself the focal point, rather than the protagonist's discovery of the fire, the trauma faced by those trapped by the fire, etc.”

In Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Brown and King warn, “Be careful not to try to turn all your exposition into immediate scene. Switching between scenes and narrative summary creates a varying rhythm. Scene after scene can be exhausting to read. “

Nancy Kress says, “To show or tell isn’t a battle of good versus evil, but the skilled storyteller knows how to play each to maximum effect.”

Always show:
--your climax
--character’s emotions
Telling—Sherry felt embarrassed.
Showing—Heat rushed through Sherry’s cheeks. She turned away and stammered, “I’m sorry.”

Always tell:
--explanation of a character’s past.
--explanation of events that occurred before the story opened.
--explanation of information necessary to understand the plot.

E.L. Doctorow: “Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader. Not the fact that it’s raining, but the feeling of being rained on.”

~Roxanne Sherwood

1 comment:

Vince said...

Hello Roxanne:

This is a very good explanation of “Show Don’t Tell”. I have written about this myself. I do feel, however, that all ‘showing’ is ‘telling’ and that there is something much more fundamental going on “under the writing hood”. I enjoyed your post today on The Seekers.