show, don’t tell

It’s a standard part of the curriculum in a grade school classroom: show and tell. It’s also a standard part of novel writing, but fiction writers are encouraged to only show, not tell.

As I spend my weekdays writing my first novel, I am constantly in the process of self-education.  I took one English class in college (the required class) and I have no experience writing fiction. My writing resume is firmly grounded in the blogospheresailing magazines, and my diary. A friend recommended the book “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers” by Renni Browne and Dave King which I devoured in two days and then re-read two months later. The first chapter “Show and Tell” urges writers to put words on paper that engage the readers: “You don’t want to give your readers information. You want to give them experiences.” (p. 16)

Luckily, the blogosphere is a treasure trove of information for new writers. The blogs that I find most useful are ones maintained by published, experienced writers. Anita Nolan wrote a series of blog postings specifically on showing.  Author Mark Sarvas posted a different take on the show, don’t tell mantra back in 2007, reminding me that there is no specific formula for fiction writing.

I am firmly entrenched in the editing process of my novel and my challenge for this week is to show, not tell. Without giving too much away (since you’ll all be buying the book in mass quantities to get it on the NY Times Bestseller list!), a woman is found drowned in the first chapter. Throughout the whole novel the two main characters speculate and theorize on what happened, concluding that she was murdered. This speculation goes on for 19 chapters.  19 chapters! There are no clues, no evidence, no mysterious characters lurking in dark alleys to prompt these theories or to get the readers suspicious. Instead, all the reader gets is two characters talking and thinking. How boring!  Time to add some action!

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3 responses to “show, don’t tell

  1. Thanks for the mention!

  2. And thanks for your postings! They’re really helpful.

  3. I’ve been working on a piece and sometimes can’t get my characters to shut up. I’m not sure what that’s about. Anyway, good luck with it.

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