The Show and the Tell

 

All writers balance the Show and the Tell. All writers have been told to “show, don’t tell” more than once.

This morning, I’m reminded of this moldy aphorism because I’m judging for the Royal Palm Literary Awards, and I just wrote it. As beginning writers, all of us lean toward using both a Show (to describe the situation) and a Tell (to nail it down). I think there’s something of human nature in this: the need for control. As a novice writer, I work the words to show the look of astonishment on a character’s face changing to anger when she learns an uncomfortable truth. Not easy to describe, so just in case the reader doesn’t get the picture, I tell them that she’s astonished, then angry.

 

 

 

It takes a bit of writing and getting critique to understand the truth of writing: The picture in the reader’s mind is unique to the reader, a mix of the writer’s words and the reader’s experience. The writer needs to balance the Show and the Tell skillfully to create a vibrant picture in the reader’s mind … accurate, but not exact.

The normal critique group comment is “cut the Tell.” That’s almost always said in the context of dialog. Tell has its place, because Tell is compact, a good way of giving information quickly.

I think the reason we often lean toward the belt and suspenders Show/Tell is that need for the reader to see it our way. (The mental equivalent of the plaintive, “What I meant to say was …”).

I must be maturing; I’m learning from advance readers of Skins and Bone that I sometimes do too little Tell. (advertisement: You, too, can be and advance reader. Punch HERE.)

If you haven’t been hit with the blog’s front page or received my newsletter, you should know that the second note in the Mayfield-Napolitani series of thrillers, Skins and Bone, will publish in June. To entice you onto my mailing list, I’m offering a free ebook of the first book, Fatal Score, HERE. I’ll be asking for advance copy readers in mid-April. Those readers will get a free ebook of Skins and Bone.

I know many of you have read Fatal Score. If you haven’t, pease do grab the ebook copy. If you have already read it, please do join my newsletter list so you’ll get word when Skins and Bone is ready for advance readers. And if you have the time, I’d love to have you readers of the blog also be advance copy readers.