Today Becca (all the way from sunny from Florida) will be talking to us about 'Showing Not Telling'.
Over to you, Becca.
What's Telling and What's Wrong With It?
Simply put, "telling" is telling the reader something. The country was in turmoil. My sister has no manners. Angela is a lunatic. You have to get these things across in the story, so what's wrong with just telling the reader?
Telling usually explains everything right off the bat. There are certain venues where you want people to explain things as simply as possible: when they're giving directions or explaining a calculus lesson; when you're on the phone with your neighbor who never stops talking and The Walking Dead starts in 30 seconds. But in fiction, telling is a form of talking down to the reader; it doesn't give him/her any credit. At worst, repeated telling says to the audience, "I'm not entirely sure that you're capable of getting the point if I write it with any subtlety, so let me make it really simple." At best, it's a sign that you’re unsure of your own ability to make yourself understood without using the simplest of words. Neither message is one you want to send.
2. Telling oftentimes interrupts the flow of the story. Consider one of the statements from above: Angela is a lunatic. If the author has to explain this in so many words, she has probably stopped telling the story to do so. When she's done, the story will commence, but in the meantime, the pace has jerked to a stop, taking the reader's attention with it. Another something that you want to avoid.
3. Telling doesn't usually draw the reader in because it doesn't include details, emotion, or anything unique. Do you know someone who's a really good storyteller? My husband tells great stories; granted, they're usually embellished for effect, but that's what makes them so interesting—lots of emotion and hand-waving and little details, smattered with weird vocabulary to give it his own personal flair. When he tells a story, people get totally into it. This is what we want to achieve with our writing.
The alternative to telling is showing, which conveys your point to readers in a way that pulls them in and is far more interesting than simply stating a fact. It usually gets more information across, too. Here are a few examples contrasting showing and telling, pulled from my own writing not because I'm convinced of my literary genius, but because, sadly, I have ample telling examples to choose from.
· Telling: Nerien was frustrated.
· Showing: Nerien jerked upright in bed and reached out, but only felt crumpled blankets and the heave of his own chest. He fell back and groaned into his pillow. Why? Why did he always wake up before the dream ended?
But saying it doesn't evoke that emotion; it merely states it. Instead, showing his state of mind draws the readers in, helps them to feel the character's frustration via the sensation of jerking upright, the feel of crumpled sheets in one’s fist, and the heaving of the chest. Showing is also more active and immediate.
· Telling: It was a noisy river.
The sturdy stone bridge had no railing. Dara stood at the edge, watching the gentle Supine River turn crazy and wild where the river from Frost Berth joined it. It was particularly loud just below, where a branch had become tangled in the grasses near the pillars. The water gurgled and choked around it. Or was it the branch that was choking?
Dara touched the soft scars that marred her upper arm. She felt a certain kinship with that branch. She was often choking these days, but it wasn't water that squeezed her.
You're welcome, Becca. Look forward to reading part two on Wednesday.