Monday, March 14, 2011
Monday's Writing Tip: Sometimes It's Okay to Tell and Not Show
Writers have been hearing about the importance of 'showing' for so long that they've begun to forget the value of 'telling'--of exposition, of summary, of omniscient narration." Robert Masello, Robert's Rules of Writing, Rule 12. Tell, Don't Show
This rule sounds contrary to anything most writers have ever read or been taught. It's of course important to show everything worth showing, such as dramatic interaction and heated dialogue. But it is acceptable to tell a few things, too.
Utilize the power of description about surroundings, what's going on inside a character's head, or in the world of your story itself. Masello points out the opening of Dickens A Tale of Two Cities, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." So if Dickens can do it...
Also, things that don't need to be seen don't need to be shown. Who wants to read about a heroine getting ready for work? We know she'll shower, style her hair, put on makeup, get dressed, make coffee and eat breakfast.
Only show these things if something important happens to affect the story. Perhaps she slips in the shower and breaks her leg, or spills hot coffee and scalds herself, etc., etc.
Masello mentions something that Elmore Leonard, a master of pacing, once said. He keeps his books moving briskly along leaving out all the parts readers don't want to read.
Anything in your current WIP that can be told and not shown? Happy writing, and thanks for visiting with me today!
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Thanks for this reminder! Sometimes I get bogged down in the myriad detail of logistics - how did the character get from A to B, or what kind of latte did they decide to order when they stopped at Starbucks... sometimes we as readers just don't need to know ;-)
Happy writing to you too!
As I am (or was until last week!!) in full editing mode - I am having to slash and burn swathes of writing that I love but know just kills the action dead. Painful thing to do but necessary!! Thanks for the reminder! Take care
This is a great post, and a good reminder that sometimes we have to "show" and sometimes we have to "tell". A lot of the rules are broken in novels, it's the "how& when" that gets confusing.
And speaking of WIP, I'd better get back to mine!
Aren't the kids so smart when they "Show and Tell"?
Great point! Especially about only telling what is necessary...everything should move the plot along somehow.
Tell a good story. Show a good story. I don't care which, as long as it's a good story.
I agree with you! Sometimes people get obsessed with the showing not telling thing... and their story suffers for it.
I do a bit of telling when it comes to time jumps and the uneccesary bits that don't matter to the story but should be mentioned in passing.
This is a great post. I think it is impossible to write only showing what is happening - sometimes the reader needs a little clarity ;)
Wonderful post with sound advice. I always loved show and tell :)
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow
SO true!! It gets to be this obsession where "show don't tell!" bounces around in your head, but that makes the art of telling even harder to accomplish when it's necessary!
What a good thing to remember. Sometimes it helps the story better if you just say that a character gets from point A to point B, rather than showing all the mundane details of it.
Great advice! I usually do a bit of both, but I'm currently in the middle of edits, and I'm trying to hold back on the telling, and do more showing :)
Very good points and well written.
Very true, you just have to know when to use one or the other. I use Tell to narrate backstories most times.
Excellent advice - as always!
Great points, Maria!
At the moment, I'm finding a balance between showing riots and unrest on the one hand, and indirectly referencing them by telling.
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