Saturday, 21 May 2011

Saturday Matterday #2

Hellur my superduper Alterheroes!

I am so sorry I have not been able to blog as often as I used to; things have become quite busy in this little bubble called "life" and my posts have become a tad sporadic.

Today I would like to address an issue all writers face. So dreaded is this problem that many manuscripts have died a horrible death in a dark and damp drawer. Yes, people, I am referring to the one and only Show don't Tell.

It is one of the first writing rules you'll ever learn, yet so many still struggle with it--including yours truly. So, with the help of Sandy Tritt and her wonderful site, Inspiration for Writers, I am going to cover the basics of Show don't Tell.

Without further ado, let the lesson begin.

Show, Don't Tell. Yeah, that sounds easy, but what, exactly, does show mean?

Let's look at an example: Carey ate breakfast, then he took a shower and went to the store. At the store he met a girl and they talked for a long time. Carey liked her but she blew him off. Then he went home.

Tells you a lot about Carey, huh? Okay -- so this example is really exaggerated, but it hits home the necessity of showing and not telling. What can we do to fix it? We need more detail, especially dialogue and action. Consider:

Carey studied the frozen dinners. He'd had turkey and dressing for the last four days, so salisbury steak would be good for a change. But did he want the Big Man's or the regular?

A scent teased his nose. Not the overwhelming smell of fish and frostbite, but a fresh smell, like the smell of skin just out of the shower. He glanced sideways and saw the most perfect arm he'd ever seen in his life. Long, slender, graceful, full of sinewy muscle and smooth skin. His eyes followed the arm to the shoulder and then the head. Her head. A head covered with long blond hair and containing a face that made his heart stop.

"Hi," she said, her voice rich and melodious.

Carey's mouth didn't work. He tried to return her greeting, but only a grunt came out. He tried to smile politely, but his face erupted with a grin as large and toothy and goofy as a cartoon character's . . .

So now you have the idea. We need details. We need to know thoughts, feelings; we need to smell the perfume, taste the wine, feel the cashmere. Anything less cheats the reader from experiencing our imaginary world.

We also get into the "show, don't tell" problem in less apparent ways. For example, in description. Mary was a pretty girl, with blue eyes and blond hair. That is telling. Consider: Mary's blue eyes glistened with joy, her blond hair bouncing with each step. That is showing.

Instead of saying Molly is a wonderful person, say Molly is always there when anyone needs her. She's the first to arrive with a casserole when someone is sick, the first to send a note of encouragement to those who are troubled, the first to offer a hug to anyone -- man, woman or child -- at anytime.

Dialogue is another area where we have the opportunity to show or to tell. "I love you," she crooned. "I love you, too," he sputtered. And I cringe. First, using creative dialogue tags (crooned, sputtered) is one of my pet peeves and the topic of a tips page. Second, it is cheap. It is telling, not showing. Let the power of your dialogue and the accompanying action show your reader the tone of voice and the emotion, don't tell them. Consider: "I love you," she said, her voice smooth as her fingers massaged his Rolex. "Love you, too," he said. His glassy eyes roved over her naked body, his mouth too wet and limp to form words properly.

You can't tell us someone is a wonderful person, a talented musician or a spoiled child. We won't believe you. You must show us. Throughout your manuscript, look for any opportunity to show us in real time, to act out, to let us feel. The difference will amaze you.

 c) copyright 2001 by Sandy Tritt.

To be frank, Sandy really shows you how to Show vs Tell, and she is one of the best teachers I have never met. (LOL) However, showing takes a lot more words to convey and the thing that really sets a great writer apart from a novice is knowing WHEN to Show and WHEN to Tell.


J. Jones said...

lovely, you cannot get enough of this show and tell lessons, if you can check a post by MARYKOLE on her kidlit blog she featured someone's essay on show and tell, it was very informative, well cheers.

Ps: your alterheroes are cool

Barbara Kloss said...

Great post yet again, Tyson!

I can never see enough examples of this. It always helps me when I edit (I start hearing voices like yours in my head...get out of there! lol). Our story-world is so clear to us, sometimes we forget we must "show" everyone else. *sigh* That's why stepping away from my ms has benefited me. I get back and realize I have no idea what I was talking about two months ago.

Love your alterhero images. Do you draw them?

T.D. McFrost said...

J. Jones - I am so glad you stopped by, and congrats on the soon-to-be- release Septavalent Stone. I just love the cover!

Barbera - Hey, waz up? I'm loving the new pic. Even from the side you look like a movie star! These examples of show don't tell were very good, I can't thank Sandy enough for posting them.

The animation pics I use in each Saturday Matterday posts are not mine (I wish), they're characters from Disney's blockbuster video game Kingdom Hearts. The weapon they carry is called a Keyblade and the first guy is Sora and this one is his other self called Roxas. They are the same person, actually--Kingdom Hearts has a weird story. (LOL)

Jo Schaffer said...

(= Great reminders. If I read a book that lacks details and "showing" I lose interest fast. It's the same way in real life--I click better with people who get real and share rather than stay on the surface.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

All too true, Tyson. Hey, did you ever receive the autographed Jim Butcher graphic novel I sent you?

They told me it would take some time to get to you, but they must have sent it by hot air balloon! Roland

Barbara Kloss said...

HA! I just try and keep up with you :D

I'll have to look up Kingdom Hearts..I love those drawings!

I love Jim Butcher! For a gift, one of my coworkers got me a map of Alera, which was addressed to me and signed by Jim Butcher. *sigh*

Michael Di Gesu said...

Another great lesson for us all, T. D.

I must say for such a young writer you really do get the core of good writing. Your research is impeccable.

I could have used this article a few years ago when I was wrestling with this problem. It took a while to beat it into my head, but it's finally there for good.

Where do you find the time to write with all your superhero duties?

RaShelle said...

Found you through Mike's blog. SHOW DON'T TELL! Yep, great post. =D

T.D. McFrost said...

I just wanna say sorry Barbara, it seems I still can't spell your name. :D

Jo - Hey Jo! Thanks for stopping by, I love it when you do, 'cause I get to see your pretty face; you and Barbara. :D

Roland - I'm so happy to see you Roland, it's been like forever! No, I haven't gotten it yet, but I check every other day. I'll get it, don't you worry about a thing! ;)

Barbara - Hey again, pretty lady! Kingdom Hearts is an awesome story of love, friendship and finding your true self. If you have kids or nephews and nieces, it's a definite MUST buy!

Michael - You know how we crazy kids are...always finding stuff. I usually wander upon these stuff at random and bookmark it for later. I have bookmarks from 2005. All writing related. I have a wealth of knowledge to delve into, and I hope I can share it with you guys. I have been writing for a very long time, and I still don't think I'm good at it. I guess all artists feel this way unless their work has been validated, and even then some doubt their ability. I truly believe I will be one of those. Sucks, I know, but, in the end, I will be better because of it.

Ra Shelle - What a beautiful Black-sounding name. (LOL) I have a friend named Aquanesha and another called Shanana! AHAHAHA I mock them whenever I get the chance. Not that yours is bad, it just reminds me of them, which is FANTASTIC!

So good to meet you, and you can count me as a new stalker--I mean, follower. Yes, you can count me as a new Serial Follower! ;)

Tracey Neithercott said...

Great post. I've been seeing a lot of "show don't tell" posts these days and I feel like I learn something new when I read each one. I agree, the real trick is knowing when to show and when to tell. Great point.

Anonymous said...

Great lesson. I love reading examples of this. A few days ago I stopped reading a book because there was too much telling. I don't like reading it, so I shouldn't be writing it.

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