Saturday, October 8, 2011
Show VS. Tell in Fiction
Every writer I know has either heard or learned about “showing” in creative writing. When the readers pick up a book, it’s the plot and the voice of the protagonist that hook them. After all, those are the key elements in fiction. However, if the writing is telling and passive, the story falls flat. The readers are less likely to continue reading if the book becomes a tedious task. That goes for other issues such as grammar and typos, but I’m going to focus on showing vs. telling in this post. I’ve listed examples and good and bad in dialogue and narration.
Showing in dialogue
“I want you to stay inside!” exclaimed Mom angrily as she walked up to her.
“No! I don’t want to,” argued Jenny sarcastically as she smiled coyly. “You can’t make me,” replied Jen calmly.
First, let’s take a look at the redundant and telling (summarizing) dialogue tags. “Exclaimed” isn't necessary when there’s an exclamation mark. "Replied" is also redundant because it’s clear that she is replying to her. Use “said” instead. The adverbs angrily, sarcastically, and coyly just summarize instead of describing the action that could show the readers.
Here is a reminder. Dialogue tags are linking verbs that connect the dialogue to the rest of the sentence. Their main purpose is to identify the speaker. They should not be used to sum up emotions of the speaker. Actions in conjunction with a vivid, self-explanatory dialogue should convey emotions. Hence, there isn’t a need for any tags unless you need to clarify who’s doing the talking.
“Jen, you’re not going anywhere.” She pulled her face within inches of Jenny’s. Her voice shook as it reached a peak. “And that’s an order.”
“Make me.” A coy smiled spread across her lips. She raised her brows revealing the glint in her eyes. “If not, I’ll be going out now as planned. Hope you don’t mind.”
Here, notice the lack of dialogue tags. Why? The dialogue itself tells us who the speaker is. Instead of telling us that mom was angry and screaming, the descriptions show us her movements along with the change in her voice.
Also, Jenny’s dialogue is self-explanatory. It’s clear that she’s being sarcastic. That is supported by the description of her facial expression. Notice that the adverb “coyly” was converted to the adjective “coy.” The difference, in this sentence, is that the adjective strengthens the verb while the adverb “coyly” was just summing up her entire emotion/facial expression.
Showing in narration
Bad: She dropped the coin on the floor. She bent down to pick it up. She got back up fast. She was happy because she even laughed a little.
This is too elementary, repetitious, and obviously telling. Also, this only tell us about her movements and her feeling, not much else.
Good: The wispy bang fell over her forehead as she bent forward. She glanced at the coin hiding underneath the corner of the desk. Her fingers skidded along the white-titled floor and immediately snatched it up. It felt cold to the touch. With the coin secured in her palm, she straightened her posture on her way back up. The corner of her mouth lifted at the corners revealing her pearly whites. Finally. It was about time she's done something right, and she did it without making another goofy mistake. She chuckled.
First, there is no overuse of adverbs and adjectives. Second, the adverbs/adjectives used was a part of action description. A good description convey the emotion/action by using all five senses so that the reader can have a vivid image in their minds. Choose an alternative start to each sentence to avoid being repetitious. Also, mixing it up by using various-length and differently structured sentences help avoid repetition and give the writing an even flow.
I hope this post made showing vs. telling easy to comprehend. The examples I’ve used may not have been the best, but I think they did the job nonetheless. Thanks for stopping by, and if you need professional editing service, please click here.
Labels: Long Writing and Editing Tips