On Writing: Telling and Showing

Like many new writers, I have a hard time with “show, don’t tell,” but today I came across a graphic example of the difference between the two.

I was reading an article in a sports magazine about a baseball player who was an all around good guy. He was honest, had integrity, was kind, was raised right by his parents. This “telling” of his virtues continued for page after page without once “showing” us an example of his honesty, integrity, etc.

At the very end of the article, though, the writer finally showed us who the athlete really is. After receiving a $400,000 signing bonus, this very fine, honest, upright athlete went to Wal-Mart and bought the furnishings for his apartment. He kept the receipts (taped them to the merchandise so he wouldn’t lose them) and returned the used products in ninety days.

If the article had been about screwing Wal-Mart (or rather the Wal-Mart customers who would have bought the used merchandise thinking it was new) then this example would have fit. If the article had been about the athlete’s frugal ways, then the example would also have fit. But in a story about a person of integrity? No.

One of the lessons I gleaned from this is that if I am going to tell, don’t show. What I might think is a good example, readers might not, and I run the risk of alienating them.

The other lesson I learned is that I shouldn’t try to foist my feelings for a character’s action on readers by telling about the action. I need to simply show the action and let the readers decide how it makes them feel about the character.

Posted in life, writing. Tags: . 2 Comments »

2 Responses to “On Writing: Telling and Showing”

  1. nomananisland Says:

    What have you figured out about my characters so far? I’ve started reading Lightbringer, and given that they seem motivated by forces beyond their control in the first two chapters, I haven’t really got a sense of yours yet. Hopefully soon.

  2. Bertram Says:

    Hey! I didn’t know there was going to be a test!

    But to answer your question, nothing except what I already told you, that I was beginning to see Ethan’s inner conflicts, and also that everything in the story seems to revolve around him, his games, and his problems.

    Interesting how the characters in both our books are being pushed around by unseen forces.

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