Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Showing for More Engaging Prose

First, a note of shameless promo: My debut book, THE BODY INSTITUTE, is already showing up on Goodreads, if you'd like to add it to your "to-read" list HERE. Woo!

EXPLAINING or TELLING VS SHOWING
I've seen it. I've done it. It's so much easier (er, lazier?) to Tell your readers what they need to know instead of Showing them. But when we take the time and effort to Show, our writing can be so much more vivid and engaging.

A. MEAN GIRLS EXAMPLE
Her heart pounding, Gemma slowly dialed the combination to her locker, wishing she could be invisible. She didn't want to turn around too soon, because ever-popular Lilliana and her preppy friends were strolling the halls. She could hear their high-pitched chatter. Ever since school had started, Lilliana and her friends had been making Gemma's life miserable. They taunted her in the classroom, shunned her in the cafeteria, and tormented her in the halls. It wasn't her fault she couldn't afford stylish clothes or the latest high-tech phone. She worked hard at the Coville Pharmacy every day after school to help Mom pay the rent. She babysat on weekends. Honestly, she didn't know what else they wanted from her.

1. Does this feel a bit distant to you? It's acceptable as a paragraph, but we're not seeing or feeling all the interaction firsthand as we should. 
2. "Filter" phrases like "She could hear" contribute to a sense of distance. Watch out for distancing phrases like: he felt, she saw, I realized, etc. 
3. In general, adverbs (like slowly) are Telling; they relay how something is done without showing it.

B. MORE SHOWING, LESS TELLING
Her heart thumping, Gemma dialed the combination to her locker. If only she could be invisible. She didn't want to turn around too soon, because Miss-I-Have-It-All and her preppy minions were strolling the halls. Their high-pitched chatter prickled over her like a mess of spiders. Ever since school had started, Miss IHIA and her human accessories had taunted Gemma in the classroom, shunned her in the cafeteria, and tormented her in the halls. It wasn't her fault she couldn't afford stylish clothes or the latest high-tech phone. She worked hard at the Coville Pharmacy every day after school to help Mom pay the rent. She babysat on weekends. What more did they expect from her?

1. This paragraph adds some details as well as some voice, with words like Miss-I-Have-It-All, minions, and human accessories
2. Notice the difference between "wishing she could be invisible" versus "If only she could be invisible." The latter is closer to her direct thoughts, which shows more rather than tells about her wishes. Ditto for the question at the end of this second example.
3. Questions can feel more immediate and like you're in the character's head—but be careful not to overdo them. (I've been guilty of that, ahem.)
4. There's no need to say "making her life miserable" and then give (redundant) examples of how that was accomplished, as in the first example. 

C. MEAN GIRLS: EVEN MORE SHOWING
Her fingers shaking, Gemma dialed the combination to her locker. She didn't want to turn around, because Miss-I-Have-It-All and her preppy minions strolled the halls. They were nearly at her back, judging by the volume of their high-pitched chatter.

"Gemma-bear, what a shame!" Miss IHIA's saccharine voice held a note of false concern. "Did you not get the memo? We canceled the thrift-store dress-up day ages ago."

The minions erupted into throaty giggles. Gemma tugged on the corner of her frayed sweatshirt, her face burning. It wasn't her fault she had to help Mom pay the rent. She slaved away at the Coville Pharmacy every day after school, and babysat on weekends. Not everyone could afford stylish clothes and high-tech phones like Lilliana and her human accessories. What more did they want from her?

1. Instead of relaying secondhand what happened in the past (yaaawn), show something happening in the present, and imply or indicate it's an ongoing occurrence. 
2. Dialogue often enlivens and shows a scene much more interestingly than narration. Readers can see firsthand what a character is like. Whether you expand into dialogue depends on how important the info is to your character development or plot.

YOUR TURN
Isn't it fascinating how we can use nearly THE SAME WORDS (as shown here) and yet come up with different results, depending on how we arrange them on a page?
Do you write your initial rough drafts more Explaining and Telling, then insert more Showing details when you go to revise?




19 comments:

  1. OMGosh! I'm so excited you're already on Goodreads. I'll hope over.

    Sometimes in the showing of a story we slowly fall into telling and then rise back to showing. I find this is my latest writing tick. But when I let it sit and then read my work over, I see the telling and now find it easy to change. I have a list of questions I ask myself, which definitely makes it easier.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yes, I often start with telling and move to showing . . . except I think we have to choose which parts to show and which parts to tell.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Definitely! We can't Show EVERYTHING. That would be crazy. ;o) Only if it's pertinent, interesting, and doesn't drag down the pacing.

      Delete
  3. This is something I always find myself working on and never find all of the "telling" to eliminate it. I try to aim for some balance, I guess :) Great examples!!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi, Carol.... WOOT for THE BODY INSTITUTE! I added it on Goodreads!

    I used to TELL so much, so I would go back in and SHOW... But as I become more seasoned ... especially after this A-Z challenge I find myself showing much more. It's becoming more natural for me in my writing. YAY...

    How are you, Carol? Still flying high?

    ReplyDelete
  5. When I'm writing a fast first draft--just to get it all down--I don't care what it looks like, thus telling is everywhere. I always fix later... or my CPs have a word or two to say about it ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Am I allowed to mark TBI as read already? Since I have and it's awesome.

      Delete
  6. This is really a good example of how showing and not telling can polish up a manuscript.

    ReplyDelete
  7. What great examples of telling, showing, and showing more! :)

    ReplyDelete
  8. I've been better with more showing in drafts, but I do revise to have more of it later.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I love your examples - it does make a big difference.

    I added your book to my Goodreads list! I'm excited for this to come out! :)

    ReplyDelete
  10. I'm guilty of the 'could hear, could see' myself but I usually catch them on my second read through, Nice example of how to change telling to showing :)

    ReplyDelete
  11. I'm struggling with showing and telling. This post had great examples. Thanks for sharing!

    ReplyDelete
  12. I'm getting better at noticing when I tell and shouldn't. I read through something and it's like the words are flashing in neon. :)

    ReplyDelete
  13. Nice! I think this is one of the hardest things to learn in fashioning prose, but even more difficult is know when telling is acceptable--as exposition to bring us into the action, rather than detailing out every action. (You know, so you don't bog down the story.) Great examples!

    True Heroes from A to Z

    ReplyDelete
  14. YAY for Goodreads! I just added your book to my "want to read" list. :)

    ReplyDelete
  15. excellent examples! No wonder you f got a contract. You are good!

    ReplyDelete
  16. Excellent reminder! Thank you for this post, Carol. Oh, and I will definitely be adding your book to my Goodreads. Yay! :)

    ReplyDelete

Hi, bloggy buddies! I respond to all comments via email if you have an address linked to your profile. Sorry, I have had to turn OFF comments from Anonymous users due to Spam.