Friday, September 21, 2012


If you’re looking for a warm-up exercise here’s a good one that I use to get my creative writing class started sometimes. I think I got it from Pamela Painter’s book WHAT IF. Start with a sentence that begins with A. Then make the next sentence begin with B. Work your way through the alphabet. Sometimes this kind of forced writing path will give  interesting results. At any rate, fun warm-up.
Some thoughts about Show and Tell:
 Novels are made of scene and summary. If you think about a novel in this way, simple though it is, you see that it is the interplay of showing and telling that gives your novel its rhythm and structure at both the local level of a scene and the global structure that begins with word one and ends with THE END. There is summary between scenes and summary within scenes. So it’s complete nonsense to say a writer must always show.  A writer must show and tell and it’s the choices the writer makes—when to show and when to tell that contribute to the work’s success or failure.
Show the interesting moments, the dramatic ones, the ones that reveal character and push plot along in a dynamic way. Show what needs to be shown. Good. Show the boring, show too much. Not so good.
Tell character back-story or summarize some bit of action that isn’t important and so on. Often in first drafts I summarize too much. I'm telling because I'm trying to figure out bits of my novel. I try to be aware of this so I can cut in revision. 
Picking the right time to show and the right time to tell is essential to pacing and rhythm and many other aspects of writing a good story.
Or so I think today.


Anonymous said...

Great post, Brian. Those don't tell, show rules -- and others -- can drive a writer crazy. But, while they're good advice in general (i.s. it's not good to fall back on telling just because it might be easier), rules like these should not be adhered to wholly. I think it's important for writers to take in all the rules, then follow their instinct.

Brian Yansky said...

So right, Sam. It's a general rule--show don't tell. But people start repeating it like it's one of the Ten Commandments. Pretty soon inexperienced writers think they have to always show and never tell which is, to use an English word, bollocks. Why is it English insults and slang are so much better than American ones?