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Showing vs. Telling–When to TELL

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

For this last Showing vs. Telling post, I’m going to show you why telling is sometimes better than showing:

Showing

    She ran to the car and fit her key into the keyhole in the door of the dark green Pontiac G6 coupe. The lock clicked open and she lifted the door handle to yank the door open. She turned and slid her right leg in the car first, her rear-end sliding across the leather seat with ease, drew her left foot in, and slammed the door–in which was the panel holding the controls for the power windows, door locks, mirrors, and driver’s seat adjustments. She poked the key into the ignition, turned it to the right, and engaged the engine. With her foot on the brake—because the car required the brake be engaged to be able to put it into gear—she pressed the button on the gear shifter with her right thumb and jerked the stick down to the R-position. Without looking behind her, she took her foot off the brake and positioned it on the accelerator and pressed down hard. The car backed out of the space faster than was safe. Once out of the space, she put her foot on the brake again and shifted the car into drive. She stomped her foot on the accelerator and the car lurched forward, tires making a squealing sound against the pavement.
    (Did you make it reading this far? If so, good on ya!)

Telling

    She jumped in the car and peeled out of the parking lot.

The first example is an exaggeration, of course, but I think you get my point. In some instances, we need to give the reader the benefit of the doubt that they understand what it means when we write that the character got in the car and peeled out of the parking lot. Sometimes, it’s okay to tell when it’s the difference between a twelve-word sentence that keeps the action moving and an entire paragraph that brings the action to a screeching halt.

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