Wednesday 30 December 2009

The "show don't tell" edit

We writers, especially those who teach, talk about showing instead of telling a lot. It’s one of the greatest signs of an inexperienced amateur – a great amount of telling. Sure, there has to be some exposition, but the less the better.
Of course, we also need to avoid the situation where we manipulate dialogue so that it becomes unnatural in our efforts to make one of our characters give the readers any background they need.
I’m reasonably good now at setting scenes into what feels like real time and space so I don’t have to do all that much usually in this particular edit. There are times, though, when I tell in order to propel the action forward. Sometimes this is because of laziness when I’ve not been bothered to write the actual scene. Other times, however, it’s because the detials are trivial and could bore the reader. This in turn sometimes means that scene wasn’t necessary. Other times though you do have to find another way of telling.
I find I get round the latter by telling the tale from the point of view of one of the main characters – the protagonist if possible. This generally works well.
It’s also important to refrain from naming emotions. It’s best to show the emotions by describing a character’s physical state and making him / her speak their mind.
“Telling” is characterised by long descriptions, often with several abstract words. “Showing” is generally full of dialogue and a considerable amount of action, giving the reader a real feeling of time and space.
I’ve now read the whole of Babel and found the weak points in this area. I’m now two thirds of the way through making the corrections.
Just three more edits to go.

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