Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Show - Don’t Tell - What Does It Mean

Any writer needs to get the reader involved in the story to the extent that all else fades away and the reader is transported into the story. The author must lure the reader into the fictive dream by the writer's ability to have the reader identify with the characters in the story. The reader must feel the emotions of the character - whether it is joy, anger, guilt, shame or passion. One way of keeping the reader in the fictive dream, is to show rather than tell.

According to James N Frey in his book How to Write Damn Good Fiction, 1994, a writer is showing when 'he or she is suggesting the sensuous detail that draws the reader into the fictive dream.' In plain language this boils to 'showing', what the character is feeling, smelling, hearing, seeing, tasting and touching.

An example of telling might look like this:

He walked into a room full of strangers.

Showing might look like this:

The copper handle of the door froze his fingers. The door creaked open and all laughter and conversation stopped. Perfume and smoke drifted up his nostrils as he searched the faces of the women in cocktail dresses. He recognized none of the painted faces and shoved his hands into his pants pockets.

This might not be the best example, but you should get the idea. The second example contains sensory detail - feel (froze), sound (creaked, laughter), smell (perfume and smoke), sight (painted faces) and emotion (awkwardness - hands in pockets).

Being a novice at this myself, I hope I offered some insight into this problem we all have. Above all - KEEP WRITING!

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