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Showing vs. Telling Refresher

Monday, February 16, 2009

Happy Monday, everyone!

This is going to be a very busy week for me. Between trying to get caught up with where my word count on A Case for Love should be (which is 43,000 words today—you can see by the counter on the right that I have a lot of catching up to do!), I got my edits back on Menu for Romance last week and they’re due by Friday. I also have a couple of freelance projects that are due soon that I need to be working on. And then there’s a radio interview on Wednesday (it’s recorded, not live, so I’ll post a link as soon as they have it up on their site) and my annual eye exam on Thursday. So I thought this would be a wonderful week to spend some time highlighting some of the series I’ve done in the past, since I know a lot of my current readers are relatively new to the blog and may not have spent a lot of time exploring.

Today, I’m highlighting one of my favorite series, Showing vs. Telling. I learned so much through the process of writing this series that changed my writing and my approach to editing and critiquing for the better.

Showing vs. Telling (January/February 2007)
Showing vs. Telling—An Introduction

    “…Showing versus telling is like the difference between watching a movie and having the plot of a movie recounted to you by someone who’s seen it. Or, between reading a book and reading the synopsis or outline. The first is active, experienced first-hand, immediate. The second is passive, second- or third-hand, distant.

    Telling keeps the reader at arms’ length, while showing throws the reader directly in the middle of what’s happening and lets her experience the action through the eyes and ears of the character. …”

Showing vs. Telling—The First Date

    “…So many times, I have judged contests or critiqued beginning writers who want to convey all of a character’s backstory in the first chapter. … Whenever I do crits on pieces like this, I always compare the first chapter to the author’s first date—a blind date, even—with the reader. When we first meet someone, we do not tell them our life story. We reveal just enough about ourselves to interest the other person, to hopefully get them to the point where they want to know more, spend more time with us (keep turning the pages). …”

Showing vs. Telling—Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

    “…In this day and age when the standard for fiction is to write with a limited POV—1st person or 3rd person limited (in the head of only one character for a scene)—describing what the character looks like is tricky. In 3rd person, it’s a little easier because you can “see” your characters from someone else’s POV. In limited POV, you can only show what your POV character sees, hears, smells, tastes, feels, and experiences. …”

Showing vs. Telling—In the Eye of the Beholder

    “…When you see someone you find physically attractive, what is the first feature you notice? I personally am an eyes, smile, and height girl. (Hey, when you’re still single at 35, you’ve had plenty of time to learn these things over the years.) For me, the eyes are most important—a mouth can lie, but eyes always tell the truth—which is one of the reasons why many of my physical descriptions of characters in my writing center on the eyes and the expression conveyed by them. … All of the genres vary in the amount of physical description the writer should use. In romance, describing what the characters look like is a vital part of the genre expectations. In other genres, the descriptions can be more vague and given out in tiny increments throughout the first few chapters instead of close to the beginning, as it does in romance when the hero and heroine meet. …”

Showing vs. Telling—Feeeeeeeeeelings . . .

    “…Starting today, train your brain to associate the word FELT with that heavy, scratchy, stiff fabric used for arts and crafts and not character emotions. Felt does not make comfortable clothing, so why “dress” your characters with it? … One of the best pieces of writing advice I ever received was in a seminar in grad school: make the emotions DO something to the character. Make the emotion the subject of an active verb instead of just an adjective. …”

Showing vs. Telling—Do You See What I See?

    “…When we ‘tell’ that a character saw something (She watched him running down the street), we are holding the reader back from truly being inside the head of the character. When I see something, I am not (usually) cognizant of the fact that I am in the process of ‘seeing.’ I just experience the action going on outside of me. So how does this work in prose? …”

Showing vs. Telling—Do You Smell What I Taste?

    “…SMELL is such a funny word in that it can be used for the action of taking in and recognizing an aroma as well as describing something as giving off an aroma. If you write It smelled, are you saying that ‘it’ did the action of breathing in through the nose and recognizing a scent or are you saying that ‘it’ is giving off a pungency that is unpleasant? TASTE is the same way. TOUCH can mean to actually come into physical contact with something or to be affected emotionally by something. Therefore, we should be as specific as possible. …”

Showing vs. Telling—The Sixth Sense

    “…Two pet peeve phrases in this example: she thought and to herself. Let’s look at the second one first. Unless you are writing sci-fi/fantasy where your characters are clairvoyant, a character’s thoughts are always to herself, thus making the phrase redundant, and, frankly, patronizing to the reader, as if to say that the reader is too thick to realize that the character’s thoughts are in the character’s own head. The phrase she thought is also redundant based on the fact that we’re writing in deep-3rd POV . . . especially when using italiziced internal thoughts … The simple act of setting the sentence in italics shows the reader that these are the character’s thoughts. …”

Showing vs. Telling—Puppets, Cartoon Characters, or Live Action?

    “…Simply by replacing ‘walked’ or ‘crossed’ or any generic ‘go/went’ verb with a descriptive verb, the sentence now reveals something about the character—about the emotion connected with the movement—it shows the pace, the body language, the meaning behind the movement, not just the movement itself. …”

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