Show VS Tell

It wasn't until I read the book, "Self Editing for Fiction Writers" by Renni Browne and Dave King, that I really noticed it, and how much of an impact it cane make on your writing. Seriously. It makes it turn from dull and lengthy to strong and action packed.

You can get it cheep on Amazon.

Chapter one of the book is what I want to focus on, and it's called....(drum roll) Show and Tell.

While back in the day, telling an entire book was the norm, now a days readers strive to feel part of the action, and you can only accomplish that through showing with scenes. (I think it has something to do with all the motions pictures out there)  I'll use a bit of my work for an example. 

Here is a scene from the first draft of my current novel, The Cursed Prince. 
 With another roar of thunder, the prince stood from his seat in the dark room and placed solid block paper weight in the corner of the paper fluttering in the breath from the storm. There were muffled voices outside his door, that of an argument between the maid and the guard about the cold. It was a late autumn night, and though the air most usually cool and dry, that night the storm put a chill in it. She wanted to get in and light his fire, but it was his father’s instructions to keep all out of the prince’s room. The more time the guards gave him the better.
There hushed argument rose in volume when the prince’s hands pressed against the slippery cold rock, and he looked at the long drop bellow only seeing the dark fall ahead if he should slip. The rain poured harder as if, like his guards and his father, trying to keep him locked away behind stone walls.
It's fine, all be it a few issues here and there. (This was before any editing took hold of my writing.) Now here's the same scene as I have it now, changed to show rather than tell.


With a crack of thunder, he stood and placed a polished black stone on the corner of his letter. Beside it was a silver dinner knife, and that he placed deep in his trouser pocket. There were voices outside the room, and muffled though they were, he could hear each word.
“Who’s there?” asked the guard.
“I only bring firewood.” The queen’s youngest maid had a voice that trembled like the papers that fluttered in the breath of the storm.
“Tis a cold night, and that boy needs more than quilts to stay warm.”
“I can’t” said the knight. “It’s the King’s orders. This room remains locked until sunrise.”             His voice was deep and hummed through the door.
 The boy crept from the plush violet carpet to the puddle at the barred window. No one knew the center one was loose.
The wind and the rain slew their arguments. It made them nothing more than shifting shadows under the door. He jiggled the bar until it loosened enough to drop at his feet, and looked down the dizzying drop at the crumbling stones, and jagged cracks that smoothed into the darkness like the black waters of the mote. The wind and rain lashed against his hands and face as if to keep him locked within stone walls.
 “I can do this,” he said. The slick stone kneaded under his shaking fingers
With the changes you get more to the story. There's more subtle emotions to pick up on. In the original  paragraph you knew that the door was locked, there was a guard, and the King didn't want to let the maid in. In the revised version you know all this information, but get the benefit of feeling submersed in the book. It also helps add depth and personality to your character. 

Now you don't have to go and change all your telling scenes to showing. Telling is good to slow things down and give a broad view of an entire picture, but if there's one piece of showing you should never do (or at least it makes me twitch whenever I stumble across it) it's telling emotion. You should never have to tell your reader someone did this begrudgingly. Someone said that happily. Because it can be shown through the dialog, and the beat that follows it. Lets look at that paragraph above again, only this time lets put in emotion where, in my opinion, it doesn't belong. 
   

With a crack of thunder, he stood and placed a polished black stone on the corner of his letter. Beside it was a silver dinner knife, and that he placed deep in his trouser pocket. There were voices outside the room, and muffled though they were, he could hear each word.
“Who’s there?” asked the guard.
“I only bring firewood.” The queen’s youngest maid said shyly.  
“Tis a cold night, and that boy needs more than quilts to stay warm.”
“I can’t” said the knight firmly. “It’s the King’s orders. This room remains locked until sunrise.”  
His voice was deep and hummed through the door.
 The boy crept from the plush violet carpet to the puddle at the barred window. No one knew the center one was loose.
The wind and the rain slew their arguments. It made them nothing more than shifting shadows under the door. He jiggled the bar until it loosened enough to drop at his feet, and looked anxiously down the dizzying drop at the crumbling stones, and jagged cracks that smoothed into the darkness like the black waters of the mote. The wind and rain lashed against his hands and face as if to keep him locked within stone walls.
 “I can do this,” he said. The slick stone kneaded under his shaking fingers.
It looses some of it's impact when you do this, and reads a bit noobishh. You also rob the characters of personalty. After all if an emotion shows up after dialog, chances are the dialog is strong enough to portray your characters emotions, so adding it in after is just redundant. As far as emotion showing up alongside a character's action, you cheat yourself out of a way to help your character mold from a paper cut out to a flesh and blood human being. People have different ways of doing things happily, or nervously, or angrily. 

For instance if I really wanted to make the boy's nervousness prominent, (Something I might go back and do) I could say, "... and looked down the dizzying drop with a pit in his stomach." Or, "... and looked down the dizzying drop with his bottom lip between his teeth." Or, "...and he looked down the dizzying drop -insert your act of anxiousness here-"  

 So, to bullet point:
  • Have too many narrative scenes? (A.K.A. telling) Than change some to showing. Especially if they involve main characters or important bits of plot. But don't get carried away. Some telling is good. (Balance is key.)
  • Showing emotion where it doesn't belong? Stop! To put it bluntly. lol Your work will be stronger without it. 
  • Buy the book. It'll change the way you write forever. 
I hope this was some help to someone out there in the big world. Any questions, feel free to ask. I love answering them. 


Comments

  1. Great advice. The whole "don't tell emotions" thing can be abstracted to a simpler form in "avoid adverbs." Although, that's much more of a guideline than a rule. Adverbs are usually an indicator of weak prose, like passive voice and softeners (i.e. "sort of", "a little"). Also, we almost never use them in speech, interestingly!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Really? I never knew that. Though I know one person that used, 'sort of" a lot. lol

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

From the Ashes comes the Phoenix

Kiki's Delivery Service (Inspiration)

Neverland