January 19, 2012

Show and Tell

Ever since childhood, the concepts of showing and telling are perpetually linked in our minds: bring something to class and tell everyone about it, draw a picture to illustrate the story, sing the song with actions included. The two concepts are joined in our understanding of how to get information across and we rely on them both to ensure that the whole story is told.

For Writers, however, this can cause a big issue. Readers don't want to be told. They want to figure things out for themselves, see the characters in action, make their own judgements, and be caught up in the world of the novel without a narrating voice telling them what to think. Unfortunately, the distinction between showing and telling can get a little blurry at times.

Far too often, Writers can get so caught up in their main action that they deem it necessary to simply state character traits or feelings without allowing the reader to see the results of those traits or feelings first-hand. They think they are being economical and keeping the story moving, but too much of this can distance your readers and make your characters feel boxed in. By creating the world of your story, your characters and situations should have the room to live, breathe, and prove themselves without your divine intervention. No one needs the ever present narrative voice hinting at a painfully obvious outcome or nudging you in the ribs saying, "Did you get that? Did ya?"

So be careful when writing to treat your reader with respect. They have a brain. They generally know how to use it. And if you let them, they will create a richer space than you could ever have dreamed you would have the power to create for them. But if you hold on too tight, you stifle their creativity and push them out of the world you have so lovingly created. And no matter how good your story, if you tell your reader too much, they will feel cheated and distanced. Make them part of the process, and show them instead.

A blog with a writerly perspective, and much better examples than I could have created, was what inspired this post, and I feel it is only fair to share it with you here.

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