Category Archives: show don’t tell

It’s Elementary, and Only the Beginning

showing

Good morning. As we make it through Friday, a time when us weekend warrior writers look forward to letting loose and exercising our alleged talents – we know who we are – I want to follow up on Jesi’s posting from Monday about “showing” descriptions in our stories, as opposed to “telling.”

In writing fiction, in particular, the basic concept is rather elementary, yet I have found lately that a significant segment of emerging writers do not understand what it means or how it works. Of four writers I specifically have in mind, as I sit down to write this, three of are more mature – well into their 60s and 70s.

I was lucky, I suppose, having picked up the notion of “show, don’t tell” in high school English. Although, I do have to admit, it took a while before I understood even the basics. At first, I was frustrated because I could not get how writing, alone, could lead to creating some picture or visual setting.

But, when I finally caught on to what my teacher was talking about, it all seemed so magical. I felt like a new world had been opened and that I had been bestowed with a fantastic new power of insight. It truly became a new dimension of writing for me.

Jesi’s example of taking a few sentences of a description about a tree that reads more like “stage directions,” really hits the problem. You can see her example in her posting, as she shows the modified three sentences of dry description and, using the vehicle of a third-person perspective, brings it alive for the reader’s imagination. It makes all the difference between falling asleep out of boredom and having the curiosity and motivation to read on.

To me, using a rough description from one of my own stories, it is the difference between listing the attributes of a mountain valley with its green trees, small creek and tall mountains, as opposed to having the reader step into the picture to discover a creek with its overflowing winter’s runoff, meandering through the lush greenery of its aspens where a family of sparrows is playing. The birds get scared off by an approaching wolf and takeoff toward the heights of the sky-reaching snow-covered peaks.  Again, it is just a rough draft version, but hopefully it helps illustrate the point.

Sorry Jesi if I’m riding the coattails of your topic this week, but I think you have hit on a critical point of writing that I think is worth repeating, because some people are just a bit challenged, as I was, as they attempt to grasp the concept.

From there of course, the goal is to strive to perfect “show, don’t tell,” which is the lifetime challenge of the art. Personally, I’m always looking at fresh variations to try to experiment with, as I strive to draw the reader through the story. I know some writers have come close to perfecting the art, but so far, I have a long way from being one of them.