Friday, October 26, 2007

Showing vs. Telling

Imagine a blank movie screen in front of you. A voice says, "The man is angry." That's telling. And lazy. And you're not involved. The screen is still sort of blank.

So how does a novelist "show" anger? We use words, not pictures on a screen.

Aha! Exactly! We paint with words. Show the man is angry by describing him in more detail. Are his fists clenched? Is his face tight? Eyebrows drawn together? What are the nonverbal clues?

By painting a word picture, using strong verbs, your reader is engaged in the scene. They "see" the man is angry for themselves. You don't have to tell them.

Telling isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's just something you don't want to do a lot of.

When I'm reading a book, I'm much happier as a participant--smack in the middle of a scene and feeling its power. I'm seeing what's going on rather than being told what's going on. I'm also able to feel more. Make sense?

Showing isn't easy, but I have to say, it is more fun. I try and go through and find any place in my "movie" that has a voiceover. That's a spot where I'm telling something maybe I could be showing.

And then, I get out my word paints.

It's all better with friends.


  1. Good job, Peg. Some people have a hard time getting the concept.

    And I LOVE your tag line. Gulp.


  2. Thanks, Ane. I'm hoping this helps someone have a lightbulb moment.

  3. Thanks for the analogy--movies compared to showing or telling. Nice job and lovely blog...and now I will follow that link to nonverbal clues...gotta keep on learning.

  4. Cathy, thanks.

    The great thing about writing is you're always learning. I can't imagine any writer--ever--thinking they've got it all down.

    Sometimes we take elephant steps and sometimes we take baby steps. Oh, and sometimes we go backwards, trip up, and fall on our rear ends, but we're always moving. ;-)