by Juanita Houston
I’m borrowing from the book, Painting the Paper Canvas by Barbara Christopher and Kenlyn Foster Spence. I’ve been pulled information from this book for the newsletter with Barbara’s permission. Hopefully this will help those that struggle with this. I’m splitting this up over several weeks, so bear with me.
Show, Don’t tell. – Part 1
I’m sure that beginning writer has heard it: Show, Don’t Tell. If you aren’t familiar with this “rule” it means that stronger, more effective writing is writing that shows the reader what you want o him to see in his mind’s eye, rather than telling the reader what he should see in his mind’s eye.
Most self-editing strategies work to maximize this principle. In fact, every topic we cover from here on will have the “Show, Don’t Tell” principle at its core.
In commercial genre fiction, stories usually develop through:
1. Action scenes
2. Dialogue Scenes
3. Introspection/interior monologue scenes
4. In narrative summary.
Action and dialogue really “show” the reader what is happening in the scene. Even introspective/interior monologue can move the story forward.
While narrative summary can convey details necessary to your story, it does so by telling rather than showing. Long blocks of sentences indicate that you are telling. Highlight these paragraphs. We’ll come back to them later and work them into scenes.
Bill was out of breath, He as Cassie had raced to the corner and back to see who was the fastest. He lost and now he would have to buy her dinner.
This paragraph doesn’t show the reader anything. It just tells or summarizes the sequence of events. Here is an example of the same information converted to an action scene:
Bill bent forward, rested his hands on his thighs and forced oxygen into his lungs.
His friend clapped him on the back. “What were you thinking? I warned you Cassie held the women’s Olympic sprint record.”
“I know,” he managed to say around his gasps. Of course, that hadn’t stopped him from making the bet that he would win the race. As the loser, he was obligated to buy her dinner-and that was exactly what he’d wanted all along.
First, we “show” Bill out of breath. Not once do we “tell” you he is out of breath. We know he lost the race, as a consequence, he must buy her dinner. But wait, in his interior monologue, we learn that he wanted to lose. This gives the reader a little more insight into Bill’s character.
What are the consequences of his actions? Hopefully, the reader wants to know. This is how a scene pulls the reader into the story – it involves you, both on an intellectual level and a visceral level. You are invested in the story because you have seen the action as it occurred in a scene.
Next Monday will be Part 2. Come check it out.