Making it real--Showing vs Telling

If you've been writing for any length of time, you've probably heard the admonition to 'show, don't tell'. What exactly does that mean? And why should it be of concern to writers?

In fiction, you want your reader to feel a part of the action. "Telling" is a mere recitation of the action. It informs the reader of what is happening in the story, but at the same time it holds the reader at arm's length, refusing to let them in any way experience what's happening. "Showing" involves inviting the reader into the action, though vicariously. The experience can be anything from close to extremely intimate, depending on if you're writing third person or first, and on how deep into a character's thoughts and emotions you're willing to let your reader get.

Telling is a straightforward statement of what happens. For instance, one might write:

Ardith left in an angry huff.

This gives you the essential details. But it doesn't pull you close to the character. How angry is she? And why is she angry? It's a bit dry.

Showing might look more like this:

Ardith spun away and half ran across the parking lot. She jerked the door of her silver Mercedes open and climbed in, slamming it shut again as she inserted the key in the ignition. Her hand was trembling, and tears of anger blurred her vision. How dare he treat her like this? The engine started with a roar. She flung the car into gear and pulled away, her tires spitting gravel. Pings of rock hitting metal told her she'd showered his car with them. She smiled, unable to suppress a surge of vindictive joy. Served him right.

The second version pulls you tighter into the character's pov, how she felt, what she thought, and shows you what she did and why. You now know that this unnamed man made her angry enough to cry, and that she's vindictive enough to be happy she left pockmarks in his car's paintwork. Yes, it takes a little more work than simply telling does, but the reward is a more interesting experience for your readers by making the character and situation a bit more real for them.

Click on the Writing label for all writing posts.


No comments: