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Show vs Tell…

June 30, 2012


This is not a new topic. In fact, this is one of the oldest and hardest concepts in writing to over come … in my opinion.

Denyse Cohen has a great article on this topic. Denyse shows us how a simple phrase can be expanded to bring more detail to a scene. For me, the challenge comes in knowing when to expand the action to show things or to simply say what is going on.

Showing the action allows the reader to learn more about the characters and what is going on. It helps to pull them into the action. Compare the following:

Bob shut the door.
Bob pushed the door slowly closed. The latch “clicked” silently into place.

There is also, I think, a point where we show too much. We can try to describe so much that the action actually slows down and gets muddy.

Bob placed his hand on the brass handle and pushed the door. Inch by inch the door swung closed. As the door reached the latch, Bob pushed a bit harder to allow the latch to “click” silently into place. The door was now closed, secured, and locked.

Conversely, try not to simplify too much. Getting to the point too soon can prevent the reader from getting the information they need. They don’t develop that connection with the characters. The reader may not care if they stub their toe, argue with the neighbor, or discovers who the bad guy is. It all depends on what you, Creative One, want us to feel and experience.

There is no real way to “learn” what this balance is. As writers we simply have to read how others accomplish this by reading their stories and books. Then, we need to work on our craft each day. Write, write, write.

The choice is ours as to what we show and tell.

From → Writing

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