Tuesday, November 22, 2011

What exactly are you trying to tell me ... and why?!

By Fellowship of the Rich

 "Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass." Anton Chekhov

This is one of my favorite writing quotes! I love the simplicity and the way Chekhov captures the very essence of showing vs telling -- which is, in my opinion, one of the biggest turn offs in writing.

Telling is one of the fastest ways to kill a story. It pulls the reader out of the driver's seat and puts them on the passenger's side.  If you write 1st person, this is just an epic fail. The reader won't relate to your character. They won't feel what your protagonist is feeling. After all, shouldn't a 1st person story be an experience?

I've come across a LOT of (potentially) wonderful stories lately, but the writing has been so ... not enticing. From the opening paragraphs, I find myself cringing and disappointed. This isn't to say I haven't been there or don't have my own struggles in writing. It's just a learning process. And, to be honest, we don't always have the best examples to go on. With the easy and cheap options of self-pub out there, and Tom, Dick, or Sally can be published. 

That brings us here: What exactly is showing vs telling?

Here's an example of something I've seen many times. (This is ONLY an example. It isn't taken from anyone's work.)

"I walked outside and went down the stairs of the old house. The wind started blowing, and a strange feeling came over me. I sniffed and made a face. A mean looking dog waited by the corner of the yard. He growled as I got closer."

Now then, this is boring and senseless sentence. It tells us what the writer might want the reader to know, but sheesh. It's a story, not a police report.

What would happen if we watched and thought through the character's eyes? You don't decide to walk outside and decide to go down the stairs. You don't feel the wind, and think, "Geez, I'm cold." Bring in your senses! How would you react to that chilling wind? What do you see, smell, taste, hear, or feel when you step outside? The reader wants to experience the journey. Make them.

Let's try it again with some F-E-E-L-I-N-G!

"The steps groaned in protest as the rail's paint flaked under my fingers. A gust of wind howled across the yard, raising goosebumps on my skin. The scent of rotting earth and mildew filled the night air. A low growl emanated from the shadows as a hulking dog emerged. I froze. Foamy white drool dripped from his fangs and spattered the dirt."

Okay, this isn't the best in the west, but it gets my point across. You can show what's happening just as easy as you can tell it. The latter, however, gives you more information in a way that's exciting rather than to the point. Use every tool in your physical arsenal to paint a living picture.

I will say this though ... it's okay to tell certain things. You don't want to inundate people with details either. If you're writing a scene where you want the reader to be fully immersed, yes, go sensory all the way. If your character just needs to go from point A to point B, don't weigh people down with senseless rambling. We don't need to know what color the airport is, or the exact angle of a fence post. Think balance :) It's all part of the learning process.

Writing is a journey, but as most authors can tell you, it's never really over. Learn as you go, and enjoy every second of it! And remember, we all struggle with different aspects of the craft. Don't let it discourage you, and never give up!

What are some of things you deal with or bother you in writing?


  1. Dang girl! You nailed this post! I loved the Chekov quote. Have it taped just above my monitor! Awesome writing tip! Think I'll end now; I've used WAY too many !!!!! LOL

  2. Thanks, chica! Telling is just such a story killer. So many works have great potential. I hate to think they might not do well when they deserve to. It's something we all deal with at some point. Just hard to pick out in your own writing :P

  3. Hope, Since I have been doing reviews for the YA Fantasy Guide I have been given a lot of manuscripts to review that I don't even get to finish for this exact reason. I can't take it. If I can't be in the story I don't really want to read it. As a writer I think that one of the most invaluable tools I have come across is my critique group. They help me to find the places where I lose my showing voice and start telling my readers how it is, great post, great thoughts! :)