Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Showing instead of telling

This is one of the hardest things for some authors to understand. After years in school of being taught to write long, involved descriptive passages, now there’s an editor/agent/publisher, slashing through their carefully wrought prose demanding they “show, don’t tell”.

Fiction is different from literary writing. In literary writing people want to sit back and picture the scenery described, imagine the inside of the room that’s explained to them, putting each little nick-nack in its assigned place.

In fiction, the reader is turning pages urgently, wanting to know what happens next. Does the villain shoot the hero? Does the heroine escape?

That doesn’t mean we don’t want to know any details about the dungeon where the villain has incarcerated the heroine. It just means the author needs to show the reader instead of telling her.

Instead of:
The dungeon walls were solid stone, dank and slimy. The heroine took great care not to let her delicate skin touch against the hard stone.
Try something like:
The heroine stared at the long red graze on her arm where it had knocked against the solid stone walls of the dungeon as the villain thrust her inside. She tore a strip off her petticoat to wipe the slimy dankness off her pale skin, hoping antibiotics had been invented in this story.

Helen Woodall
Helen is available to line edit and/ or content edit fiction and non-fiction. Rates on application.

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