Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Writing Tips: Show Me a Story

“Show, don’t tell.”

This is practically lesson one with writing. Seriously, whenever I go into a new writing class, this comes up. So why is it that I’ve been reading many published books that directly describe a character’s personality, tell me how they feel, and describe exactly what’s going on instead of let me figure it out for myself? I don’t have the answer to that. Maybe the writers are afraid their point won’t come across. Maybe it’s something else. Whatever it is, I think the rule should be stated yet again: “Show, don’t tell.”

Following this rule generally makes your writing better, because it makes for a more interesting read. Instead of being told what to think, readers are given clues and can make up their minds for themselves. They are able to participate in the story and make it their own. They create it along with you, the writer. So don’t tell me that John is a nice guy. Show me how nice he is. Don’t tell me he’s angry. Have him punch a wall. And don’t worry about me not getting your point. One professor taught me a valuable lesson when facing this problem: Trust your reader. Your reader is a pretty smart person. S/he will pick up on clues fairly quickly. Sometimes, s/he will catch things you didn’t even notice you put in. And if you’re worried about it, have a friend read it and ask them what they’re getting from what you wrote. That’s the best way to tell.

In her latest Hip Tips and Tid Bits post, Kalina Kay had a quote that completely describes the “showing” instead of “telling” aspect:

"Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass." Anton Chekhov.

And here’s another one from my favorite author of all time:

“Don’t say the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream.” Mark Twain

And yet another:

"Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader -- not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon." E. L. Doctorow

So what do the rest of you think? Is this a pet peeve for you as well? (I fully admit that it’s one of my pet peeves) Or do you not mind being told instead of shown? I would love to hear your thoughts. :)

Until later,