Remembering to Show NOT Tell

(sorry if you’ve seen an earlier draft of this post. it wanted to post LAST Thursday instead of schedule for THIS Thursday)

Remembering To Show NOT Tell

I’m well into my 5th round of revisions, that means much of my story has been moved around, reworded, and changed.

One paragraph in chapter four seems to have made itself through 5 rounds untouched—until my editor marked it and told me to turn it into conversation. This was something I needed to SHOW, not to TELL.

I thought I was good at knowing when to summarize and when to delve into a scene. After reading the paragraph she’d highlighted, I realized I was wrong.

 

TELLING

We passed a couple small townlets before reaching our destination later than I would have liked. We were both at fault for getting a slow start that morning. Fine, I suppose I should blame the slow progress on a break or two I’d requested. I would rather credit the mud weighing down my boots. Stopping to clear off a layer or four of mud was a very useful task for boosting my walking endurance. I decided to mark them as unavoidable delays. [82 words]

SHOWING

I was afraid this was going to be hard to show, but as I worked on it, I realized it was already three-quarters the way to a pretty solid scene. Half the mental commentary easily translated into action and the rest slid effortlessly into conversation. (Well, almost effortlessly. These things don’t edit themselves).

With the addition of 25 words, what was my transition paragraph is now a smooth lead in for the next scene.

Dusk was coming in before I saw the chimney smoke heralding our destination.

“Wish we’d gotten a faster start, we might miss prayers at this rate,” I grumbled, forcing my throbbing feet to pick up the pace.

“You that worried?” Gellin looked back at me.

“I’d just rather be there before dark.”

“Hey, you’re the one who had to stop every hour to scrape the mud off her shoes,” he held out his hands, blamelessly and I glared at him.

“The mud was slowing us down, or at least me. Those delays were inevitable!”I said, not wanting to admit my feet were novices to the road. [107 words]

Where I’d thought I was summarizing and getting us quickly to the next scene, in reality, I was saving a scant 25 words to passively narrate.

Places Where One Can Easily Fall Into Telling

From being both a writer and a reader myself, these are the places I typically either find myself or others slipping into that telling frame.

  • introducing new concepts, places, or characters
  • transition paragraphs
  • battle scenes

 


Happy Hunting!

Got any fun stories of times you told instead of showed?

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5 thoughts on “Remembering to Show NOT Tell

  1. You can’t show everything, because then your story wouldn’t get anywhere. It’s good to mix up the pace with some occasional telling I think, but you’re right, it has to be done in the right way and if it’s not saving words, there’s no point.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t entirely agree with the phrase “show not tell”. I think they both have their merits, as long as the author has good reason for whichever they choose to use. Showing is powerful, but also focuses the story on key moments. Telling can cover a lot of information, or summarize a lot of plot, in a short span of time.
    I forget where I first heard it but someone once said that a good story uses 75% of its words on 25% of the actual story. Of course the numbers may vary, but I do agree with the idea that summary and “telling” have their uses. most notably in getting the audience to the next strong moment as quickly as possible, while covering the essential ground along the way.

    Liked by 1 person

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