“Show, Don’t Tell”

As referenced in my title, there is an expectation in writing that the author not “tell” the reader things, but rather “show” him. I understand this logic and have been very careful to be sure I’m describing my story well. For example, is the the character simply “angry” or does she “clench her fists at her side, turn red in the face and spew venomous profanities”? You get the idea.

But, I really enjoyed this article suggesting the overuse of “show, don’t tell.” A book is not a movie. To be sure, there should be much description in a novel to allow our minds to create images and understanding. And yet, there is power in the subtle art of expressing a character’s thought and emotions in words.

To support this, I think of the fifth Harry Potter movie and the reviews that bashed Harry’s apparent teen angst and anger that seemed to come out of nowhere. “Why is Harry so mad?” the reviewer asked. I read those articles in wonder. Hadn’t the reviewer read the book? Of course he hadn’t. If he had, he would have known (as any good Potter fan would) Harry was battling the (literal) inner demon of Voldemort. Harry wasn’t hormonal…he was haunted.

A movie couldn’t “show” that. A book would have difficulty “showing” it as well. On the other hand, the book could “tell” you. I guess, then, there is a fine balance an author must learn, and I sure hope I’m learning it.

Categories: Perspective, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on ““Show, Don’t Tell”

  1. Good stuff Laura! Just the fact that you are aware of “showing and not telling” will make a huge difference. Beginning screenwriters tend to make this mistake as well… yak yak yak! Telling us every single thing the character is doing or feeling. All of this verbiage will be immediately stricken from the script as soon as a director lays hold of it, with the desire for the actors themselves to come up with their own interpretation of a character’s emotional state. Good good stuff!

    • Lenny

      It’s hard to know when to do what…and the only answer is, I think, is that it depends. It depends on so many things, I won’t try to list them. Also, I’d just like to mention that the reader can and will make up his/her own details as (s)he goes. I believe one of the things avid readers enjoy about reading, as opposed to movies, tv, etc., is the ability to imagine the characters, etc. in the book the way they wish, or the way their minds naturally do so. It all depends on so many things, regardless of how many “rules” and writing instuction books may be out there. Any writer must figure out as well as possible what works at any given moment in their writing.

    • I hope so. I do want to avoid the yak, yak, yak.

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