I’ve been thinking about showing vs. telling a lot this week, mostly due to a pairof blog posts by Janice Hardy and Jami Gold. Janice wrote a nice post describing the differences between telling and showing, including several “before” and “after” versions of the same passage. Good information, and I suggest you stop by and read it. However, some of the “before” passages, the ones with more telling, sounded pretty darn good to me. And it would never have occurred to me that they required fixing. Was I clueless or what? After some back and forth comments, we agreed that the "before" versions weren’t all that bad. Janice was just demonstrating how to make the wording even better.
Still, I wonder if I’m ever going to grasp the concept of showing in any meaningful way. I understand the basics – don’t tell us character emotions, show us through their actions. Don’t tell us their motivations, let us figure it out based on what you have the character do. I get that. But anything more subtle than that? Forget about it. I can’t see it. And even when someone else points out my sentences are telling, I’m often at a loss as to how to fix it – at least without turning my sentences into a wallowing, stinking mess.
I suspect part of my problem stems from my personality. I’ve always been a “just the facts, ma’am” kind of guy. Tell the reader what’s happening and get on with the story already. And to be honest, I find books that have a fair amount of telling to be much more readable. Too much showing often leaves me with the impression the writer is either trying to pad his word count or trying to avoid telling me what’s going on—like a politician giving a speech—hinting at what’s happening instead of coming right out and telling us in plain speech.
Maybe that’s why I’m not published yet. Well, that and the fact that I haven’t finished my book.
What we need are some good books dedicated to the art of showing.
P.S. My 3 month old silver Ford Focus was side-swiped this morning by a driver pulling out of a fast food parking lot without looking. I am sad. (Hmmm… I guess that’s telling, isn’t it?)