Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Show Vs Tell - The neverending discussion

Anyone who has ever written a book and had it reviewed by someone other than their dog has been told at one point or the other to show, not tell. For the last few days I was reading a book in the paranormal romance genre. Now, it usually only takes me a day or two to read a novel (depending on what is going on at night, as that's the only time I have to read), but I was constantly pulled from the story. Why? Because instead of showing me what was going on, the author constantly told me.

Ex. "I felt the grass beneath me."
     "I saw him do x, y, z."
     "I heard x, y, z."

How does one show instead of tell?

Let's take the first example above.

"I felt the grass beneath me."

The author has told us what the character felt. But, if the character were allowed to show us what she was feeling, it may look a little like this:

"As I woke, something tickled against my bare skin, the ground was soft beneath me. I opened my eyes to see the stars bright above me."

Sure, that last sentence used a lot more words, and may not have been the best example, but you get the point, right? Let's try another one.

"Tenna was angry." (For those of you who have read She Who Hunts know Tenna can get pissy sometimes)

How does this look?

"Tenna jumped to her feet, stomped across the room, and slammed the door shut behind Jason."

Does the latter say the same as the former? Is it more interesting?

One of my problems with the show/tell thing is when an author "tells" me how a character feels, or sees, or whatever they don't trust me enough to come to the correct conclusion by what is going on in the story. If you tell me a character swipes their hands down their jeans before turning a doorknob, I will conclude that her nerves have caused her hands to sweat. You don't need to tell me "Jane was nervous. Her hands were sweating."

Here are five techniques you can use to avoid telling a reader:

1. Write from POV (point of view)
2. Dialogue is a fabulous way to show me what is going on
3. Use action verbs and picture nouns
4. Be sure to use all your senses. You know, smell, sight, sound, touch, taste (yes, even taste)
5. Write in scenes

Marta V Snyder has a great blog post going further into the five techniques. If you want to read further, feel free to head over and check her post out.

Do you have problems with telling instead of showing? Have you been drug out of a story because the author had a problem telling you everything?