Saturday, April 9, 2011

Writing Tools Part 4: Take it all off... or Show, don't tell

This is part four in a series called "The Writer's Toolbox."

We've looked at grammar and vocabulary in our first post. Our second post treated us to strong verbs and nouns. Finally, our third post covered active and passive voice. Now we're going to talk about showing rather than telling.

Telling the reader what we want them to see might work for our first draft. However, if all we know how to do is tell a story, it's highly unlikely that we'll ever get our prose published. The difference between showing and telling is like a chasm. On one side, you give the reader the information they need. On the other side, you present information within context and allow the reader to paint a more vivid picture.

It's easy to tell. We simply list out one thing after the other, form sentences and paragraphs and call it good. Showing requires an entirely different mindset. Showing requires that we place the reader within our environment and give them the opportunity to see what we're sketching without describing it point A to point B.

Here are two examples:

Jane's skin was wet with sweat. She was forty-five years old and had crimson hair and green eyes. There was no way she'd let these young 20-somethings outdo her. She was 5' 10" and had long legs and she used every inch of them to grip that golden pole. She knew tonight that she would be putting the "X" in exotic dancer.

Jane sweltered under the harsh lights of the stage. She had forty-five years of experience in this world and she knew for damn sure that she wouldn't allow those 20-somethings to show her up. She wrapped 36-inches of leg around the golden pole and flipped her crimson hair from her eyes. Every inch of her 5' 10" frame, from her green eyes to her tippy-toes, was ready to show the world why there was an "X" in exotic dancer.

Both of these paragraphs give us the same information, however, the first paragraph tells us about Jane. The second paragraph shows us. By showing our reader the information, we allow them to have the opportunity to paint a picture of Jane in their minds.

While I realize this may not be the perfect example of showing and not telling, I think it's still pretty easy to see the differences. If you find yourself caught up in the moment and you're giving your reader detail after detail after detail, simply take a break and think about the context in which you want your character to be viewed.

If you can do this, you'll be worlds away from other authors.

That's all for now.

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