Saturday, January 1, 2022

How Can You Show More and Tell Less In Your Fiction?

 You always hear show don't tell. There are times to tell, sure, but a lot of writers, especially inexperienced writers, struggle with being able to see when they are telling too much. So what's wrong with telling? One word—boring. Most telling slides into listing information or navel gazing or telling emotions, which can be deadly for a story. You want the reader to connect to your characters and what they're feeling when something is happening in a scene. If the reader isn't feeling the experience with the character, it creates a filter between them and the story and they disconnect. Avoid this at all costs. The other problem, also big, is telling too much leads to mistakes, like overwriting or making the wrong choices about where to go in a scene.

So how do you avoid this problem, particularly if you're inexperienced and find it hard to know if you're telling too much?

Obviously practice is the main way you get a feel for show v tell. But one way to work on this is to consider POV. Doesn't matter if you use first person or third person POV; if you can narrate from your character you will be more likely to keep showing rather than telling. So see the scene and what is happening through your character's eyes and show how they feel by actions and reactions and through dialogue

This is the first paragraph from my work-in-progress:

Sheriff July Jackson opened his eyes. The room was dark, but bright light slipped in the space between the blinds and the window frame. He turned away from it,  forcing himself to sit up, expecting a headache and other symptoms of a one-too-many night. Velcro, 130 pounds without clothes, leaped from the floor onto the bed. His tongue moved up July’s cheek. It was like the scratchy side of a wet sponge.  

That's showing. I'm trying to show the reader the beginning of this scene and let the reader experience it rather than telling the reader what is going on or how the POV main character feels. 

Here's the same scene with too much telling:

Sheriff July Jackson opened his eyes. The room was dark but bright light from the window hurt his eyes. He turned away from it, sat up. He thought his head would hurt because he'd been out drinking the night before but he felt pretty good. Then his dog, Velcro, 130 pounds without clothes, jumped onto the bed and bounced July so that he almost lost his balance and ended up on the floor. The dogs tongue drenched his cheek. He hated that. He loved the dog but he hated that sticky tongue. He'd definitely need a shower to get that off.

The example is just one paragraph but imagine if you had ten or twenty pages, how the show writing would start to distance itself from the tell writing.

The other befit of keeping yourself and narrator out and letting the POV character narrate is, of course, you'll learn about the character. What she sees and the way she describes it will help illuminate who she is.

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