Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Show not Tell

The writer's Cardinal Rule: Show, don't tell.

As I learn more about this thing I do (writing), I'm beginning to realize that many fiction techniques are not as hard as I thought.

For instance:

You could tell your readers that Lucille has a great voice, but if you want them to believe it, you better make Lucille sing. You could tell your readers that Sam has a temper, but you need to show Sam slug somebody if you want your readers to care.

Lucille might be nervous about a singing engagement, but nobody's going to know unless you make her anxiously pace and clasp her hands tightly in front of her. How about a furrow of worry across her forehead? Before Sam slugs the bouncer, show the flush creeping up his neck, his eyes flashing with anger. After he punches the bouncer, show the look on his face that says he wishes he hadn't done that. Maybe show him shaking his sore hand out because man, that dude's face was hard.

So there was a hurricane. Okay. What happened, what did it sound like, look like? Did the wind roar, did a wall of rain smash into windows? Did the neighbor's roof fly off, were trees crashing to the ground and sounding like thunder when they fell?

I'll be honest, in my own novel I've been lax in putting in the show instead of the tell. In my most recent revisions (I'm not lying -- I really am writing a novel which I plan to show somebody someday) I've begun to work on the details that show my characters' traits and the setting and circumstances instead of just telling my readers who and what and where and when.

I read approximately 2-3 books a week. And of course, writers read for many reasons in addition to being entertained, and I'm finding so many good writers who've got this show don't tell thing down to a natural instinct to enrich their stories with the right detail. I think show don't tell is just that -- the right detail for the right character, for the right setting and circumstances. I'm learning to pay attention to the particular details an author will use to enhance their work. 

George Orwell said about writing, "One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom you can neither resist or understand."


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