Thursday, 24 September 2009

Show Don't Tell

We all hear the phrase Show Don't Tell and grind our teeth a bit, don't we? Well, Nathan Bransford has some good advice on this old theme and I've taken the liberty of jotting some of it down here so I can find it again easily.
(And as a reward for doing my homework, I rewarded myself with a picture of Aidan Turner courtesy of the BBC's "Being Human." How about him for the hero of your next novel?)
Anyway, back to Nathan and his good advice: "in general: universal emotions should not be "told." "

Instead, he advises that we should show how the character is reacting to their feelings. Being told that a character is "angry" is not very interesting - we're reading the book, we know his dog just got kicked, of course he's angry! It's redundant to be told that the character is "angry." More interesting is how the character reacts to seeing his dog kicked. Does he hold it in and tap his foot slowly? Does he explode? Does he clench his fists? Even if it's a first person narrative and the character knows he's "angry," it's more interesting for the character to describe how he's feeling or what he's thinking rather than saying, "I was so angry!" This also applies to:- Descriptions - It's not interesting to merely hear that someone is "pretty" - what characteristics make them pretty? Characterizing relationships - Not interesting to only hear that two people are "close". How are they close? What do they do together?

Yes, I've read similar stuff before today, more than once. But it never hurts to recap and remind oneself that this is the way to go. Eventually, I hope it will become second nature.


Carolin said...

Mmm-mmm-mmmmmmm! Aidan is eye candy!!! Read that Bransford entry, and agree with you - while 'show, don't tell' is a basic tenet of good writing, it's easier said than done consistently :-) Still working on it myself....

Jen Black said...

More pics available - may sneak them in soon

Anne Gilbert said...

It took me a while to get the hang of "show, don't tell", and I still "tell" sometimes. But once you get the hang of it, e.g. describe something the character is doing that "shows" how s/he is feeling, e.g. "she stomped out of the room and up the stairs to her bedroom and slammed the door", shows what the character is feeling and reacting to at that moment. Sometimes it's more subtle than that, and you have to work harder at "showing". But that's part of being a writer, I've found.