Monday, October 1, 2018

Do You Know How to Show Versus Tell?

Since I don't write fiction, I might not be the best to describe the Show, don't Tell principle of writing. It is, nevertheless, an important writing skill to hone. It is as important to hone as learning to write in active tense rather than passive. 

Just 12 years ago, or so I was tutoring a high school student. I was teaching him based on old rules. I taught him to embellish his sentences with flowery adjectives. I didn't know doing so was now passe. No, we are not to say she donned a very lovely dress--very and words that end in ly are now to be axed.


The point is, we need to keep up with new writing rules. 


So back to the show versus tell example. The manuscript I'd looked at for a woman had deplorable descriptions that went like this:


Bob picked up his toothbrush, squeezed toothpaste onto it and began to brush his teeth. Then he turned off the tap, the lights, and made his way to his room. He pulled the blanket off the bed and climbed in. He was troubled because his wife was so belligerent to him and had cheated on him.   


I didn't see the entire manuscript so am unsure the importance of this detail, but it struck me as too much detail. It also struck me as telling not showing. It's like she wrote a report. 


I'm not sure the sample showed anything about Bob's character or appearance or that it was important to the story to move the story along. I mean, don't we all do this at night to get ready for bed? Isn't it a little insulting to the reader to give so many obvious details? Could she not have said: Bob got ready for bed?



Here is a quick example of what she might have written in a more showing format:


Bob gripped his toothbrush tightly, brushing his teeth rapidly before making his way to the bed, "Why did she have to cheat on me? What do I do now? I can't stay at my brother's forever."


The single bed seemed small, the room dark and lonely. The thin flannel blanket would be Bob's only solace. 


Again, I'm not a fiction writer so not sure I nailed it, but the second format explains the same series of events as the first, but in a way that unfolds the story. 


What do you think? Are you willing to practice showing over telling? 



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