Friday, December 15, 2006

Show vs. Tell

As a writer, I now have the ability to surf the web or go to the library to research writing techniques. That’s all very good, but to achieve what published writers do, the best way that I've found is to read the type of books, articles and stories that I enjoy and would like to write. The next step is to utilize what information I gather from reading and put that into my own writing. This is where the test is passed or failed. To touch my readers and to invoke a reaction from them, I have to show not tell the story.

Webster's Dictionary meanings:

Show – to cause or permit to be seen, exhibit, reveal, disclose, a demonstrative display, a theatrical presentation.

Tell – narrate, say, to inform.

When I first started to write, I often wondered about the difference between the two. After much research, I realized that the main ingredient for accomplishing showing was missing in my work. I wasn’t including the five senses in each scene. No matter what I describe, I have to add the senses to it. Does the grass tickle your bare feet? Cool the bottoms off, dampen them with the dew? Are birds chirping and flying across the clear blue sky? Is there a strong pang of black coffee in your mouth and the rich aroma of the steam traveling up your nostrils?

I find that when I immerse my whole mind into that of the character’s Point of View that I’m in during the scene, the showing becomes almost second nature. How do you do this? Well, I am an observer in that character’s mind. Every reaction, touch, and thought that he or she has or feels, I share and I put all of this into words. Sure, I don’t use all of what I've writen but sometimes it’s better to have too much than too little. As an author I can go back and review my work and change, delete or add to what I’ve already have in the scene.

For me, my favorite method is to show by pretending I am staring through a telescope. What does that mean? Well, when I am in my character’s Point of View, I take notice of all about me, atmosphere, room, decorations, taste, smell, etc. Not only do I have external aspects to consider but also internal ones also.

In other words, I don’t want to tell a story like I would at the office to a friend. I want to put on paper a black and white movie that will play the story out for the reader. I want them to not only see the beautiful scenes but I want them to feel the anguish and laughter of the characters inside and out. When I do this, I have a longer version of what I want to say. I create a vivid picture in the reader’s mind thus causing them to react to the story. One way that I do this is to replace linking verbs with more active ones. I also use very descriptive adjectives and nouns.

In the end, my story is stronger, fresher and has a wonderful flavor to it.

Practice with the senses. See how this will work with your story. I’m happy I did.

Judith Leger

Posted by Speck for Judy


Anonymous said...

Nice post Judy...

The most difficult thing for me to "get" when learning the craft of writing was showing rather than telling.
This is great information and itwill help those who take a minute to read.


Cheryl said...

Great post Judy. I also feel it is a difficult thing to master. There are times when I know I am totally immersed in my character's POV, but others when I don't feel it at all.

I like the telescope idea. I've always been a bit too busy and flighty to be much of an observer, but if I do as you suggest, I know my writing will have more depth.

Thanks for the advice.


Jean said...

It took me practically forever to finally figure out how to show the story.

Remember it is okay to tell on those first drafts. It is more important to get the idea down and we can always fix later.


Anonymous said...

Hi Judy,

Wonderful post. The telescope is an excellent idea.

I was just looking over my past assignments with the BIP course and how many times Show dont Tell was written on my manuscripts.

I just recieved assignment 9 back and it said Excellent Showing. Eureka! I still have to concentrate on it because still isn't second nature to me.

Another tip I've learned from ICL is to use colored pencils, one color for each of the five senses. This help show your balance.


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