Monday, August 11, 2008

Show vs. Tell

A number of folks are asking on writing forums about show vs. tell, so I thought I'd share my response to them here:

It’s actually very simple--though true understanding and practicing it with agility can take a while :)

When we talk about show vs. tell, we mean implying what is happening by showing through the 5/6 senses of the character ’on stage’ rather than telling (worse--the author telling.)

I recently wrote this elsewhere as an example of show vs. tell:

Tell: He opened the door and stepped outside.

Show: The cool brass knob turned easily in his hand. Hinges squeaked loud in the afternoon quiet. Warm air and sunshine washed over him as the porch bowed beneath his boots.

In the show--I imply he opened the door and that he stepped outside by showing what happened when he did.

Of course, there are times when simply stating a character opened a door and walked outside is the better choice. It all depends on the atmosphere you want to create and what else you have to show. In the end, the key word to remember is "imply." Can you rewrite without once using the ’tell’ words? Like "he opened’ or "the door" or "stepped" or "outside"?

Any questions? :)



Marvin D. Wilson said...

Nice. A very concise, clear example showing the difference between good descriptive writing (showing) and sophomoric (telling) writing.

Good post!

J.R. Turner said...

Thanks Marvin! I'm glad you thought I done good! :) LOL :)