Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Part 1-Show, Don't Tell Handouts

Here is the first handout from last night's meeting where we discussed the directive:
Show, Don't Tell

I've included instructions and three examples. If you have any questions, drop me an email. As always, I'm available to NJCWG members private discussions. All you need to do is pick up the tab for coffee at the Ringwood Diner (smile).

Please note that these handouts are in preparation for our 2/27/06 Writers' Workshop

Show, Don’t Tell
Workshop Preparation

by Louise Bergmann DuMont

One of the first things an agent or editor will tell a new writer is, “You must Show me the action, Don’t Tell me what happens.” But what does Show, Don’t Tell really mean? How do you achieve this? First you must understand what Show, Don’t Tell is – and what it is not.

1. Both SHOW & TELL can be descriptive but SHOWING creates a mental picture in your readers mind. TELLING only gives the reader information. Descriptive TELLING simply gives the reader more information.
2. SHOWING involves your reader in the story. It does this by evoking feelings and by getting them to think for themselves and draw their own conclusions. TELLING gives the reader information about the character’s feelings without drawing the reader in.
3. SHOWING helps the writer avoid preachy writing. You don’t TELL a reader what to think or how to act. You simply SHOW them the events and allow them draw their own conclusion – based on your illustration.
4. SHOWING recognizes that the reader is smart enough to “get the point” that you are trying to make. TELLING conveys that you believe the reader is not smart enough to understand your intent. You ‘bang the reader over the head’ with your text.
5. SHOWING uses strong nouns and active verbs. TELLING is more likely to use adjectives and adverbs.


Turn a ‘telling’ statement into narrative that draws the reader into the story.

Dani was angry – too angry. She feared that her tone and body language would alienate her sister. She took a deep breath and tried to relax before continuing the discussion.

Dani was angry and it showed on her face and in her mannerisms. She found herself waggling a finger in the face of her sister, much the way her mother used to. Dani knew that she had to calm down so she relaxed her stance, and for the moment, tucked both hands into her jean pockets.

As Dani’s words fell from her tongue, she caught a glimpse of herself in the hall mirror. One hand sat firmly on her hip while the other waggled a commanding index finger in her sister’s face. Despite the trim figure and waves of chestnut hair that fell to her shoulders, the reflection she saw was one of an evil witch. She forced the muscles in her face to relax and, for the moment at least, she stuffed both hands into her jean pockets.

Turn a ‘telling’ statement into narrative that allows the reader to know your characters and experience their situations.

The old man’s joints ached terribly as he hurried to meet his grand daughter at the other side of the mall.

The old man’s joints ached as he walked the length of the mall. Each step was evident on his face. He hobbled forward, his steps slow, his movements awkward, but he walked with purpose – eager to hold his grand daughter in his arms once again.

Ancient lines on the old man’s face deepened with each determined step. His bent back forced the weight of his frame onto gnarled white knuckles that clutched an antiquated walking stick. A small child with smooth pink skin escaped the grasp of her mother and scampered across his path like a baby bunny. Anticipation roped his heart as images of his grand daughter played in his mind. The man tried to smile at the pursuant young mother but the event forced his right foot to turn painfully inward. His mouth twisted along with his foot, deflecting the smile and replacing it with an anguished mask. The next step he took was slower but no less determined to meet his grand daughter.

Turn a ‘telling’ statement into dialogue that adds realism, energy and “pop” to your writing.

Dani and her ward, 16-year-old Samantha, fought vehemently regarding Sam’s recent decision to cut class. When Dani told her sister that she was grounded and that she would need to get a tutor to bring up her grades, Samantha was less than appreciative.

Dani didn’t know whether she should be happy or sad that her sister Samantha had been offered only an in-school suspension for cutting class. Since their parents’ death, Dani had taken charge of raising Sam. She loved her sister but it seemed they hardly knew each other anymore. Money was tight and now she would have to hire a tutor to get Sam’s grades up. It was hard to watch her sister spiral ever downward. Dani’s own emotional state didn’t provide the resources her sister needed and now she’d have to watch Sam even more closely. What happened to the young girl Dani remembered? Was there hope for Sam? For their sisterly relationship?

“Sam, you know I love you but…” Dani held back a grimace as ‘that thing’ once again thrashed about in her stomach. “It’s getting harder to trust you. The school said you’ll only get one day of in-school suspension. They’re going to be lenient this time, but the next time...” Her words trailed off. Could she assume there would be a next time? She tried again.
“If it happens again, they’ll have to suspend you.”
Sam’s fingers played with a loose thread that hung from a button on her sweater. Her eyes focused on the task, seemingly fascinated by something no obvious to her older sister.
Forcing her hands deeper in her pockets, Dani chewed nervously on her lip. Was she getting through? She had to get through.
“The school said you can’t make up the test you missed when you cut. Since you’re almost failing that class I’ll have to hire a tutor to make sure the rest of your grades bring up your average. You’re obviously grounded until things turn around and… ”
Dani froze mid sentence. A smile had appeared on Samantha’s face. It was not the innocent childhood smile Dani remembered from years past. This smile reminded her of the wicked witch of the west after she captured poor little Toto. The hair on Dani’s forearms rose and tickled her skin. She yanked her hands out of her pockets, placed them on opposing sides and began rubbing her arms as if to ward off a chill. When Samantha spoke her words fell like ice water on Dani’s burdened shoulders.
“That’s what it’s all about isn’t it. Money. First I can’t have a few bucks to go to the movies with my friends. Now, you’re mad because you have to pay for a tutor.” Ugly bits of spittle flew through the air and burned Dani’s arm with their malice.

Telling can also be described as portraying the character and action from the point of view of the storyteller or omniscient narrator. Telling is the easy way out for the writer but it sidesteps emotion and dramatic tension. Telling takes the story out of scene. Writing in scene is different from describing a scene. Writing in scene combines character and action. This usually includes dialogue and your character’s inner thoughts. The following will help you stay in scene and show instead of tell.
1. Point of view means you are inside your main character’s head, heart and gut—you are seeing the world through the eyes of your character.
2. Dialogue is one of the fastest ways to show a scene. Everyone talks. Everyone can write dialogue.
3. Action can be as simple as a disagreement between two characters.
4. Flashback (used sparingly) can help you find out what makes the character tick. Go back into a scene from the past that informs the present. When you are writing flashback, you are in that moment.
5. Name your characters. Sometimes this takes a while but make sure you get just the right name. Katherine (with a K) may become the character that Catherine (with a C) or Katie or Cathy could never become. Knowing who your character is will help you and your reader become a part of the story.

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