Tell, Don’t Show

Reading the newspaper: Brookgreen Gardens in P...

Reading the newspaper. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Are you a shower or a teller? For some reason I am a “teller” and I blame it on the fact that I write for a newspaper where there is not a lot of room for showing.

“Show, don’t tell” is the mantra of every successful writer. It is not mine (so what does that say about me?) but I do respect it. Becca  (Becca Puglisi)  from Bookshelf  Muse gives a brief rundown of “Show, don’t Tell” in a guest column she did for another blog (Wendy’s Writing Now) today. It is brilliantly simple–so simple, that I understood it. Here are a few of her wise words, but the whole post is worthy of a trip over:

“Telling usually explains everything right off the bat. There are certain venues where you want people to explain things as simply as possible: when they’re giving directions or explaining a calculus lesson; when you’re on the phone with your neighbor who never stops talking and The Walking Dead starts in 30 seconds. But in fiction, telling is a form of talking down to the reader; it doesn’t give him/her any credit. At worst, repeated telling says to the audience, “I’m not entirely sure that you’re capable of getting the point if I write it with any subtlety, so let me make it really simple.” At best, it’s a sign that you’re unsure of your own ability to make yourself understood without using the simplest of words. Neither message is one you want to send.”

In newspaper writing we tell a story, but we let the facts speak for themselves. I embellish every once in a while for fun, but in getting the information across, I do not talk about how a person is feeling when they make a statement. I let them live and die by their statement. In trying to make the transition to non-fiction writing and even creative non-fiction writing, I have to take a step back and really work on the showing part.

As I have written a weekly column for almost fifteen years (and earlier in my career for two years) I have somewhat perfected the art of essay writing (ha ha). Okay, not perfected it, but I have turned out a column every week for years, so I must have learned something. I think my column is a combo of showing and telling.  I am an advocate of simplicity, and showing rather than telling is something that I struggle with. I am willing to write with more subtlety, but I wonder if I will understand it. Perhaps I am too simple to garnish my writing with things that show instead of tell.

It is something to contemplate. But know dear readers, that if I do tell you stuff, instead of showing you stuff, it is because it is my style, it is not because you are lacking in skills to unpuzzle what I have said.

Is your bliss in show, don’t tell, or are you like me and tell too much?

Published in: on January 29, 2013 at 1:46 pm  Comments (59)  
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