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Show vs. Tell II

December 4, 2013

Let’s go back an examine Show vs. Telling. (I’ll attempt to drum up more source material since I burned through every decent article the last time I did this. *bangs head on desk*)

Show vs. Tell is arguably the most told advice that a writer receives. But what the fudge does it mean? The more obvious side is instead of saying ‘Sue is angry.’ Show the reader her anger. ‘Sue slams the plate down on the table.’ Also avoid this ‘Sue slams the plate down angrily.’ Trust in your reader, the verb slams in a violent motion and conveys anger.

Telling ‘Sue is angry’ is a conclusion rather that generating a visual that the reader can see. It is the final sentence on a paper without the paper to go along with it.

The blog by Patricia Wrede Show vs. Tell warns writers that this isn’t an absolute YOU BREAK IT AND ARE GOING TO DIE IN SEVEN DAYS rule, but a tool for writers. Its application is dictated by several things, the pace, situation, and necessity.

Jerz’s Literacy Weblog lists seven tips for more engaging writing.

The first is to choose a specific detail to illustrate your point.

‘Sinead tried her cell, which a few moments ago had full bars. Now, ‘no signal’ flashed across the screen.’

Sinead stared at her cell, the signal bars red and ‘no signal’ flashed across the screen.

The second is ‘to give the reader a reason to feel your emotions’

That one sums up the Sue is mad example. It doesn’t engage the reader it just tells them that she is angry.

Telling is a summary of the passage while showing involves the reader in the prose. Have faith in your reader that they will get the idea.

The last is telling is a generalization, an easy way out, while showing is a specific account where word choice matters.

Slam, shout, rush, all convey something different than toss, whisper, meander.

I’m going to use some examples from my writing. Italics were marked as telling.

Jacob seized the woman by the throat and thrust her on the floor. He tore a hole in her neck drenching his face in blood.

Jacob seized the old woman, thrust her to the floor. Her screams resounded through the room. He howled before he sank his teeth in her neck. Everything hung for a single moment, her eyes widened then Jacob tore through her neck. No more screams. Just the crunch of bone and a feint garbled whimper.

Not sure if that is better. It’s pretty hard.

Jacob straightened, soaked in blood. He searched the four of them then met Sinead’s gaze. She did scream.

Jacob straightened, soaked in blood. Sinead pulled her chair closer to her chest and held her breath. Her throat constricted when she met the monster’s eyes. She bit down on her lip. When he charged for her, she screamed.

“Are you okay?” Alex asked lowering his gun. She didn’t know whether to cry or throw up so she nodded unwilling to risk it.

“Are you okay?” Alex asked lowering his gun.  Her stomach twisted, hot bile filled her throat while tears burned behind her eye lids. She nodded, afraid to puke on the corpse at her feet.

I’ll stop here for today.

Further Reading:

http://pcwrede.com/blog/show-vs-tell/

http://jerz.setonhill.edu/writing/creative1/showing/

http://www.scribophile.com/academy/the-show-versus-tell-debate

2 Comments
  1. I love all of your hints and tips for aspiring writers. Thanks for posting them!

  2. Glad to know you have your chin up again! And since showing vs. telling seems to be a struggle for many writers, this is a great post.

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