Thursday, March 31, 2011

Show and Tell

 A while back I completed a WIP that finally gave me that feeling of being something special.  After typing “The End”, I allowed it to sit and marinate before reopening it for a harsh edit.  I focused on tightening the pace and polishing it to a decent draft shine.  With a smile, I shipped it off to my first non-family beta and prayed for a glowing response. 

What I got was an education in the difference between showing and telling:

“The ratio is too high on the side of telling. Yes, you have an intricate and different world. No, we don't need to be told all about it up front, and we never need to hear about it as though we're sitting in a lecture hall. Your MC lives in your world. There are a lot of things he's going to take for granted and not talk about, and other things the reader can pick up from interaction and dialogue.”*

Ladies and gentlemen, truer words have never been spoken.  Show, don’t tell.

Telling it easy. It’s the boom-boom that gets an emotion or plot line out in the open. And sometimes you simply have to tell some stuff. 

The question is how much is too much? When do you cross the line? How do you know the difference? 

Movies are a good educator for show vs tell. What does the MC look like when he/she is seething with anger? When they are sad? The subtlety of a look or slight change in posture telegraphs their emotions to the viewers with more emphasis than simply stating how they feel.  It is artful and viewers connect with the characters on a deeper level.  

Readers are no different. We want to be enticed, wooed, and surprised. We want hints of what is to come and experience the joy, sorrow, or frustrations along with the characters. We want stories that envelope us in the world or plot, so much so that we cannot put the book down at 2 in the morning. Many of us are picky and our once interest is lost, we may set a story down for good.

Luckily, showing can be learned. Our stories might tell more than show, but it is something that can be overcome. Those of us behind the keyboard may not always realize the difference, but between experience, education, and some helpful outside eyes, we will eventually point ourselves in the right direction. 

*Quoted with permission from the reviewer.


  1. Oh, boy, I'm so envious! I must finish my dreaded MS to be able to have some betas beat the c*** out of it... Call me masochistic, but I'm looking forward to it!

  2. Not masochistic at all. The mark of a great writer willing to listen and learn!