Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Show vs. Tell, Revisited by Request

One way to describe telling is to think of a voice-over announcer, someone off-camera who is providing information. Another is to consider a news broadcast where talking heads identify what's going on and provide a bottom line. Both of these situations give you the picture in a succinct manner.

Example of Telling: The cemetery was old and overgrown.

There is nothing wrong with telling when telling is what your story calls for.

Showing takes a little more thought and a lot more words (unless you're Dean Koontz). Showing is the drama of the scene. Drama rarely happens during an unbiased accounting of a news event, or through the voice of a professional announcer.

Drama is visual. Using drama gives readers a chance to come to their own conclusions.

The heavy air smelled of the crumbling decay of carved headstones and rotting foliage. A rusted gate, dangling from one hinge, mingled its plaintive cry with the wind. Ferrel cats stalked their domain in search of smaller, still living, creatures.

I hope there's a difference my reader can feel.

The emotions surrounding people are much easier to flesh out and show.

Example of Telling: The angry man stood in the doorway, threatening to act on his emotions.

Again, if the story calls for succinct in this particular spot, telling works.

He stood in the doorway, breath coming in forced stabs while he grabbed both sides of the jamb. Muscles radiated in a ripping motion through his arms when his hands loosened then tightened their grips. Wild eyes searched for his next target.

Telling is an announcer. Showing is drama. All drama and no telling is like all icing and no cake. It's a little too much.

But cake wihout icing? Boring.

Currently reading: Salvation in Death.

Working on: I have a new great word. Lacuna. From M-W: a blank space or a missing part: gap. Somehow this fits the current scene I'm struggling with. Only the lacuna is in my bichoking more than in my work. {sigh}

It's all better with friends.

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