The Will-U Show Overture

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Lola Sharp put up a fantastic post about showing and not telling at her place, Sharp Pen/Dull Sword yesterday.  Not only does her post detail the various faux pas' associated with telling, but she provides a plethora of insightful examples.

I am up for air after two weeks going through the ground school ringer.  I feel smart(er) on flying this new aircraft, and this week, the movers are busy as bees depositing our various belongings in boxes for our move to Sicily.  Quite obviously, the blog has suffered, but I am anxious to get back to a more regular routine.  I thank you all for your patience and promise that things will return to normal again soon.

As I am getting back in the groove, Lola's post reminded me of a breakthrough I had last year which, for all intents and purposes, launched me on the current writer's trajectory I am on now.  And it dealt with showing vs. telling.

Her post does a much better job of describing the "how" of showing vs. telling than I ever could.  But my breakthrough came when I read an article that explained the "why" behind the showing vs. telling rule.  I read this fantastic article by Alexander Chee, and the following quote swept through my synapses like a Texas cyclone, clearing away all the old detritus that kept me from realizing what I'd been missing all along:
If you’re doing your job, the reader feels what you felt. You don’t have to tell the reader how to feel. No one likes to be told how to feel about something. And if you doubt that, just go ahead. Try and tell someone how to feel.
In short, nothing has been the same since.

You see, when you tell instead of show, the sin you commit is to essentially act like a referee or TV announcer who stands between the characters in your story and the reader and says: "OK.  That's out of bounds.  OK.  He just scored.  OK.  She's now twenty points behind."

If you effectively show, then there's no offending emcee.  The reader sees the scene--but far more importantly, the reader is allowed to interpret the scene.  In my humble opinion, that is the reason why showing is so critical to good writing.  This a good recipe for keeping readers engaged.  Show a scene, trust your reader to understand it, and they'll learn to love you for it.

What are some of your tips and tricks that help you with showing instead of telling?  What the was the source of a recent writing breakthrough?

16 bolts from the blue:

Lydia Kang said...

I loved that post! It's so..er..telling. Took me a long time to see the light about show vs tell!

Lola Sharp said...

Awww, thanks for the shout out, JP. You're kind.

I hope your move goes smoothly, and your little one enjoys her new surroundings. I expect photos of Sicily...and the food!!

Safe travels.

Courtney Barr - The Southern Princess said...

Wonderful quote! Lola's post was fantastic, wasn't it? Love it.

Oh and like Lola um I expect to live vicariously through a travelogue of photos from Sicily...yep, I sure do ;o)

Be safe...

Visit My Kingdom Anytime

Jerry said...

Extraordinary quote...I'll not forget it. The only thing I can share is what a teacher bluntly told me many years ago. "Get rid of all the damn commas".

Christine H said...

Still... trying... to... break... through.

Donna Hole said...

What an inspiring quote. Mind if I post it on my blog for a while - giving you full credit, of course.

I've missed you the last couple weeks; I leave here always with such encouraging feelings. But I knew you were in training, and probably having the time of your life. Like everyone else, I'm looking forward to a photo and narrative essay when everything settles down for you.

Can't imagine you ever having issues with telling instead of showing JP. Your narratives are so emotive, and leave me completely in tune with your characters.

Glad the move - and the training - are going well.

Much luck to you for the finish.

...........dhole

Jayne said...

Hello! It was when I read Stephen King's book 'On Writing' that I first saw the magic of 'show not tell'. It had to do a lot of redrafting - put it that way! But I can see the improvements. I still think I need to be occasionally banged over the head by a 'show not tell' mallet though.

Liza said...

Thanks for the link JP and the quote. I'm reading On Writing by Stephen King right now, and one thing I've learned from him with regard to the showing/telling thing, is that with showing, less can be more. Don't drown them in the detail; only show the readers enough so that they can add their own details...otherwise we run the risk of being boring.

Yup, pictures of the Sicilian food...please!

Travener said...

Shouldn't that be fauxes pas? I mean, if it's plural. Jen say pah myself, since jay nay parl frawnsay pah.

Rachel Fenton said...

Great post. Good luck with the move. As for show v tell..I try to avoid use of the words "felt" and "wondered"...

Jojomama said...

Great reminder as I do my billionth rewrite. (;

Erica Mitchell-Spickard said...

I found you via the lovely Jayne. Lola did have a great post on show vs tell. I used to tell a lot and one day I just stopped, I don't know what happened in this wee brain of mine but I started to show a lot more. Still working on it, but I SEE when I am telling when I should be Showing.
Have a great weekend and safe travels :)

Courtney Barr - The Southern Princess said...

Btw...Thanks. For all that you do to protect me, my family & generations to come. Your service is beyond appreciated and your love for your country is admirable.

JP - be safe.

Visit My Kingdom Anytime

Watery Tart said...

It's so true! (Love Lola--she sent me over and you look like a fabulously fresh voice to listen to). I always feel like my writing is succeeding most when I am crying my eyes out as I write.

And wishing the best to you on this next journey you are on. I hope it is safe and allows you the time to write.

Claire Dawn said...

I read an interesting theory. I'd like to quote it but it was on a blog and that blogger had taken it from someone else and so on and so forth.

The left brain is used for computation and logic and the right brain for big picture and emotion. When you tell a story, the left brain will understand what's going on and will be as affectionate about it as it would be about an algorithm. When you show, the big picture right brain jumps in, and you can have access to your emotions.

The theory sounded interesting to me.

Meghan Ward said...

Great referee analogy. My problem isn't with showing and not telling so much as inserting emotion into my writing. In some ways, I need to tell more and show less. My scenes tend to be all dialogue and description with little reflection.

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