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Sunday, 23 October 2011

Showing Versus Telling

My internet problem still hasn't been resolved. However I do have the connection back this weekend but it's unlikely to stay on during the rest of this week. In the meantime I'm just trying to make the most of things while they last.

'It seems important to me that beginning writers ponder this - that since 1964, I have never had a book, story or poem rejected that was not later published. If you know what you are doing, eventually you will run into an editor who knows what they are doing. It may take years, but never give up. Writing is a lonely business not just because you have to sit alone in a room with your machinery for hours and hours every day, month after month, year after year, but because after all the blood, sweat, toil and tears you still have to find somebody who respects what you have written enough to leave it alone and print it. And, believe me, this remains true, whether the book is your first novel or your thirty first.'
Joseph  Hansen memo, from Rotten Reviews.

Actions speak louder than words whether it's in real life or in a book. Authors can tell the reader every little single detail about their characters or they can leave the reader to decide for themselves what they are really like.

Writers can tell their readers their protagonist is disabled over three pages or they can describe it simply by showing them how they struggled each day to make the journey out of bed into their wheelchair. It is the author's purpose to show the readers what the character's personalities are like by the actions they commit. If the writer told the reader that his disabled character is a hopeless romantic then that would be a fact. But if the writer showed this character declaring his undying love for everyone they met, it opens up an area of ambiguity to the situation. The reader would wonder whether their behaviour was a result of their disability - do they have a learning difficulty as well? Or is the character just desperate for love they are seeking it from anyone? Does their disability make them feel that unloved to begin with?

If the readers are given the opportunity to decide for themselves what really lies beneath the character's situations, they are more likely to feel a connection with the book because they feel like they have worked the mysteries out. Showing a scene instead of telling it leaves room for a huge amount of interpretation and this is what the readers are after.

If you convey a scene simply by telling and not showing, the writing will likely feel dull and emotionless. It will read as a mere story outline and the reader will not have been able to penetrate the inside. People read to escape and they want to enter another world and make it their own. They have to feel as though they are in that character's life, living the moment.


  1. Oh, yes! That is so true about showing not telling, and it's the hardest thing to do effectively.

    I find I tend to tell in the first draft, which is fine as it's me working it out in my head. When I go back, this time knowing the character so much better, that's when I find I can work on the showing part.

    Having just been through an editing process, it's strange how often I've thought I've been showing when actually a bit of telling has crept back in without me spotting it! But also having just tweaked bits like that, I can already see how much more satisfying they are.

    I think us humans love peering at everyone around us and doing a bit of people watching! In women it's called gossip, of course. I've found most 'gossip' to be as astute as they come, and working out the intricacies of what is really going on beneath the surface, motivation, character, family influence ... All the showing skills, in fact!

    Great post!


  2. Thanks for commenting Juliet, and I'm glad you liked the post. I do the same telling instead of showing process in the first draft and sometimes I think I'm showing when I am telling. This is why you've got to read your own work carefully :)