Monday, October 1, 2012
Show and Tell Is The Game I Play
The advice "Show, don't tell" is one of the first things you'll hear when you start talking to folks about writing. OK, let's unpack what that means.
Reality presents itself to human observers through the five senses. Each of those senses work a little differently with each individual. My eyesight is better than my wife's and it's not as good as it was when I was a kid. And I can hear better from one ear than another. Sensa are the sum total of everything that comes to the observer through the five senses.
We continuously encounter more sensa than will ever fit on the printed page. The job of the writer includes figuring out all the sensa in a scene and deciding which of them s/he can record in prose. When I write anything, I have in mind a point of view character. If that POV character is a city slicker, s/he will be oblivious to bent blades of grass or disturbed soil. Conversely, a woodsman will notice such things.
You have to trust your readers to take the prose you put before them and come to understand what's going on.
#28 Show, don’t tell. Witness, do not preach.
I am a Christian, and an Evangelical to boot. Part of my religious background includes an emphasis on communicating the content of my faith. Evangelicals are encouraged to witness to non-believers. Sadly, this does not happen very often. Instead, a lot of my zealous coreligionists preach too much. And this is a mistake.
The same goes for your writing.
When you write about some element of your story--a girl for instance--you can say she's beautiful, or intelligent. But these are summary statements. It's better to describe the shape of her face, her eyes, lips, complexion...all of the things your POV character would sense that contribute to an impression of beauty. Likewise, an intelligent girl will use bigger words, solve mathematical problems, or do other things smart folk do.
You may have some deep insight into the way the world works. There are certain facts that brought you to this insight. Trot them out in the sequence that will lead your reader to the same conclusion.
But you can't be heavy-handed about it or you'll come off as propaganda.
Only Commies like propaganda.