Monday, March 12, 2012

What is Showing and What is Telling

by Cindy Davis, Editor

The difference between showing and telling is a difficult concept to understand. It takes practice and perseverance to master the nuances, to know when to tell and when to show. How do you know if you’re telling rather than showing your story? If you describe what’s going on in a scene, you are probably telling. When you tell rather than show, you are essentially telling the reader how to feel, because it’s your version of the story. Showing a scene instead, brings the reader in and lets them experience things right up front in their own way.
Why is there so much emphasis on showing instead of telling?
            • to put more emphasis on the character's reaction to it than a description of it
            • to immerse the reader in images, senses and dialogue rather than explanations of action
            • to present images in ways readers may not have seen them before
The question is, how to do this? One way is to use metaphors and analogies to compare the way things look, smell, sound or taste to that specific character. Rather than tell that the ocean breeze smelled like salt, show how the smell reminded the character of a romantic date he'd had. Or how it tickled his nostrils. Or how the scene affects this character emotionally. Let the sounds of your setting's everyday life permeate the scenes. The way a character reacts or thinks about sounds or events around him deepens the scene, develops the character. Shows the reader.
Always be thinking how the character views each scene. Rather than saying “Debbie sat on the bed,” show it creaking under her weight or show its legs scratching across the bare wood floor. The creak or scratch should portray how she sat. If she's angry and throws herself there, the bed will be more likely to bang against the wall. Conversely, if she's calm, she'll probably drop on the bed and it won't make any noise, but might puff up the scent of fabric softener from the quilt. Instead of a long paragraph telling how she was born in Boston, show it in how she says she “always loved the way the moonlight glistened off Boston Harbor” or that she “went to all the Bruins games.”


Gina Rossi said...

Useful post, Cindy and I have re-tweeted. You put it clearly and succinctly. Thank you! :-)

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