Thursday, September 29, 2005

Show Vs Tell Handout #2

The Do’s and Don’ts of Show and Tell

Do not lead with exposition. New writers often start their manuscript by setting a scene or by giving background information which explains why the action will take place. Don’t. Start with action or important events. Then work the necessary information in using appropriate dialog between characters, or fill narrative section in later.

Simply naming the feelings that you experienced (telling your reader what you felt) is not enough to create interest in the reader. You must generate (in your reader) the same feelings that you experienced. You can't do this by changing the word "alone" to "very alone" or by changing "miserable" to "so miserable that I thought I would die."

Describing how you felt about a person, thing or situation in more detail is still telling. (Example: He looked at me in a way that wasn't exactly threatening, but still made me uncomfortable.) To show you must give the reader a vision of what happened. What did the man say and/or do that made you feel threatened. Describe those things and your reader will experience the event along with you.

If something is obvious, clear or without doubt, you will not need to use those words. When you say, "Clearly the facts indicate…" you are really saying, "I know I haven't shown you enough evidence to make my point but…" When you use the 'showing' technique, you will not need these words.

Match exposition to pace. The faster paced your story, the shorter your expository sections should be. Action must be shown not told. Take your reader on a journey, carry them into the scene -- don’t just tell them what happened. How many times have you heard someone tell a story that fell flat? When no one laughs, they respond with "I guess you had to be there." Your job as a writer is to take them there. Don’t let your writing fall flat.

Try to alternate shown scenes with told exposition. Too much of anything is not a good thing. Too much showing is like running consecutive marathons. Your reader may faint from the pace you are setting. If you give a rousing opening, your reader will be able to sit still for at least some exposition. The breather will make them eager for your next action filled section. Always follow narrative with one or more dramatic 'show' scenes.

Always *show* your climax. The climax is the place where the opposing forces in your story finally clash (there may be a number of small climaxes before the big finale at the end of your piece). This is true whether those opposing forces are two armies or two values inside a character's soul. The climax needs to be as vivid as you can make it, and that means – Tada (drum roll please) – DRAMA! Use every tool at your command: dialogue, action, description, thoughts and feelings. Put the reader right in the middle of the action.

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