Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Show vs. Tell

Show vs. Tell?  What is that?  What does that even mean?  Why is telling bad in my writing, and how can I fix that?

It's simple, really.  When you "tell", you simply write what's going on or how something is, without letting the reader experience it.  Showing is actively engaging the reader in what's going on and letting them figure things out for themselves.  Here's an example:

John walked into the room.  I don't like him at all. He's just plain annoying, but he seems to like me for some reason.  It's too bad I sit by him in every single class I have.

And the alternative:

John walked into the room.  "Hey, Olivia!" he said as he sat down beside me.  
I glared back, not bothering to give him a reply.
"How's it going?" he prompted, ignoring the way I turned my back to him and pretended to write something in my notebook.
"Fine," I said curtly, though on the inside I screamed, "Stop talking to me, stop talking to me, stop talking to me!"
"Hey!"  He grinned like the Cheshire cat.   "Want to hear a joke I just heard?  It's actually really funny.  None of that orange-you-glad-I-didn't-say-banana stuff."
"No."
He shrugged.  "Alright, then.  I guess I can tell you next hour, or the hour after, or the hour after, since we sit together in each class."
"Don't remind me," I muttered.


Honestly...which one is more interesting to read?  Okay, both are bad, but the second one, right?  That's the example of showing.  The first piece was the telling example. See how boring it is?


So how do you know if you're telling?  If you make statements like "Fred is annoying", you're probably telling.  In that case, find a scene where you can show us just what you mean by that.  Give us an idea of just how annoying Fred is.  It's much more engaging for the reader.

Now, this is just a very, very brief intro to this.  There are places where telling is okay, but I don't know enough about that to blog about it.  If you're looking for some good resources to learn more about showing vs. telling and good telling vs. bad telling, click here, here, or just go browse around kidlit.com for awhile because the advice is phenomenal.

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