Friday 31 January 2020

Common faults number 3 Show Don’t Tell

How would you "show" this?

Same old, same old

Ah. That old thing again.  I feel obliged to make a few comments here.
·         An experienced writer in a critique group once said to me “Well creative writing teachers always comment on that because it’s something that’s easy to spot and easy to fix whereas as other things are harder to comment on and fix.”
·         A colleague once stated that telling isn’t always wrong. I agree and we also have to remember that story tellers do tell stories 
·         It always slows the pace and fast pace is what’s needed in most fiction. How can we reconcile the two?
I have some counter arguments. So, creative writing teachers always talk about it, do they? Well news here. it is the third most common fault in texts by new writers. Some stories almost read more like a plan for the story they are going to eventually write rather than the story itself. And if it’s easily spotted and fixed why don’t we do just that?
My colleague also brings much wisdom. He’s right: telling isn’t always wrong but knowing when to tell rather than to show is a very advanced skill. Let’s master the easier skill first.
It may slow the pace but it engages us more with the characters. We care more them and so the stakes become higher. The pace and tension then come from our engagement with that character. We want them to win, to overcome the monster or to get the girl.


What is it exactly?

I always find it is useful to look at the actual words when seeking to define something. You should be showing your reader what your character is doing rather than telling your reader what to think.  You as a writer have a film in your head of what is going on.  You need to create that same film in your reader’s head.
So don’t say that he shouted angrily. Give us your character’s words and show his body language.  Is he frowning?  Has he sucked in his cheeks? Is he digging his nails into his palms?
Write with the senses. What does your character see, hear, taste, feel and smell? 
Get into your character’s head, get into the scene and then show your reader what you’re experiencing.

Getting this under control

How do we do that?
If you’re wise you’ll do a completely separate edit on “show don’t tell”. Beware of “ly” words.  They’re often a symptom of “telling” where “showing would be better.” Are you showing your reader what your protagonist sees.
Chances are you’ll make your script a heck of lot longer. You’ll go over word count.
Now comes the painful part: what can you cut out to get back to word count?
You must decide whether every scene is actually necessary: does it move the story forward, tell us something about the characters or create atmosphere?  Two of these things or all three at once?
Better in the end to have fewer scenes but make the remaining ones really engaging.
But perhaps this edit should be a topic for another day.  

Image by Wendy Corniquet from Pixabay 

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