Hello, and happy Saturday everyone. Today I would like to talk about show and tell.
As writers, we have all heard, ‘show don’t tell.’ By now we know it is better to show our story to the readers. We know showing helps to pull the reader into the story; helps the reader become the characters. But how much showing is too much showing? Is there a time when we should be telling?
As I write, I always wonder, did I show that specific action? Should I have just told it? Is the action clear….grrrrr. I go back through a scene and highlight the showing in yellow and highlight the telling in pink. There should be more yellow than pink. I heave a sigh of relief when yellow is the predominate color.
Though showing is the way to go, there are times when telling would be better suited for the job, and not only better suited, but simpler and clearer.
But when is telling better than showing? For me it is when an action or expression is known by the word. An example is the word wince. How does one show a character wincing? Too many words would be needed to show the action and you may only succeed in confusing the reader. If your character winces it is best just to tell.
John curled his fingers around the hilt of the dagger and plunged it into Tom’s back.
Sally winced as the blade sliced through his flesh over and over.
Another example is the word, gently. The meaning behind it is clear.
“He gripped her arm gently. “I will ask you again. Do you love me?
The meaning is clear and simple. The reader knows he touched her in a gentle manner.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting one becomes lazy in their writing; all I’m suggesting is there are certain times when telling is needed and can make your writing clear.
I critiqued a story where the author showed almost every little thing, and as a reader, it was exhausting. Also, some of the actions and emotions showed were unclear. I had to read sentences over and over to understand what was going on. I realized that some telling was needed. I laughed as I made my suggestion. “Could you add some telling in amongst the showing? It will help clear up what you are trying to say.”
Usually, it is the other way around. “Can you show this please instead of telling?”
Try this little exercise to help you see how much showing and telling is appropriate. Take two highlighters and mark up your favourite novel. Again, yellow for showing and pink for telling, or whatever colors you prefer. This gives you a good indication of the ratio between the two.
Hope this helps. Until next Saturday, happy writing.