Five: Show MeA Lesson by Meredith Greene
The importance of showing VS telling...
Good fiction novels exist in a ‘Show Me’ state, as in the vastly repeated phrase: "show, don’t tell." It is a mantra that almost everyone's English teachers/profs eschewed often and then got all worked up about when this advice was flagrantly ignored in creative writing assignments.
It is an easy phrase to bat young writers over the head with… but WHAT IS showing verses telling? Janet Evanovich gave us a good single-sentence example: "It is the difference between actors acting out an event, and the lone playwright standing on a bare stage recounting the event to the audience."
Here is an example of Telling:
“Emily’s life was one big problem; she loved her cat but she didn’t like school. She was very impatient. One morning she woke up late, couldn’t find her favorite clothes and got mad; she hated seeing her hair and her face and quickly took a short shower. She didn’t like the cold water.”
Note: While succinct, the above paragraph consists of nothing but dry information, told in a fashion similar to a bored secretary rattling off a grocery list; not exactly riveting stuff. The reader would be stupefied by such droning prose and would simply close the book to watch TV.
Re-written to 'Show':
“Insistent ringing woke Emily from a dreamless slumber. At her feet she felt her cat, Sebastian, stir and stretch. Rubbing her eyes she rolled onto her side and peered blearily at her alarm clock. “NO!” Her anguished cry sent Sebastian scampering for the door. The young woman swatted the alarm clock with force; it dropped to the floor, landing on a pile of dirty clothes. Standing hurriedly Emily ran towards a laundry basket, filled with neatly folded clothes. Pawing through the pile the young woman grabbed a faded pair of jeans. “Where’s my Jonas Brothers hoodie?” she demanded, loudly. "Come ON!” Sebastian peered out from under the bed; he watched his mistress with curious eyes. Catching sight of him, Emily stopped; stooping down she stroked the soft fur on his back. Turning back to her clothes Emily’s eye fell upon an faded gray sweatshirt. With a snort, she yanked it out of the pile and dashed into her bathroom. Jerking open the shower door she turned on the hot water; the clean clothes found a resting spot piled haphazardly on the back of the toilet. Emily's pajamas fell into a warm heap on the tile floor. The bathroom mirror reflected her drawn expression, framed by a mass of tangled brown hair. Emily spied her hair straightener poking out from a basket, under the sink; the young woman shoved it out of sight. “No time… no time!” the young woman hissed at her reflection. “I’m ugly anyway. Stupid school…” Hopping into the shower, Emily gasped as the lukewarm water hit her skin. Grabbing the bar of soap, she muttered to herself as she washed.”
As the reader can probably tell many more words are required when Showing, but the picture is thereby more complete. I never once said that Emily was late; the reader can tell this by her actions and reactions. Her own words let us know what she thinks of school, and her actions towards her feline companion let us know she favors him; we even get a glimpse into the character’s impulsive, self-loathing personality and find that she—at least today and yesterday— tends to procrastinate in putting things away, or in setting the alarm early enough. The prose does not mention her age but one can guess by her choice of words and favored band. A few details about her appearance are made known and how she thinks others view her. In short: thoughts, emotions actions and reactions all allow the reader to be shown what’s going on , verses the information being related in a third-party fashion.
Added on August 9, 2011
Last Updated on August 9, 2011
AboutAuthor, columnist, freelance writer, book reviewer & poet. I review non-fiction books for The San Francisco Book Review & The Sacramento Book Review publications. Read my free course Top Ten Ti..