Saturday, June 09, 2007

More Show, Less Tell

Today, we continue with Showing, Not Telling:

You don't have to tell me that this character is the bad guy while this one is the good guy. Or that this person is a nurturer while this one is a lying cheat. It's fun to discover a person's character through his or her actions. I'm reading a friend's novel. She hasn't pointed out who the bad guy is. She doesn't need to. I can tell by the way he treats people, by the way he behaves. That doesn't mean he's all bad. On the contrary, he has some good qualities, but, as President Bush would say, make no mistake about it, he's the bad guy. She never said: Luke, who'd rather run your through with a sword as look as you. She doesn't underestimate her readers. They'll figure it out, and like the book more because they did.

Along that same line, avoid saying what your characters are feeling, what their emotions are. Let us see those feelings through the words you use. Instead of saying: Mary shut the door angrily, you could say: Mary slammed the door.

If you need to explain some procedure, process or information that will be new or confusing to your reader, stop and think back to books you've read that had long pages or paragraphs of exposition. Did you find yourself skipping past it all, anxious to get on with the story? Ask yourself if your readers *really* need to know the inner workings of an electron spectroscope magnetic imaging ray. The answer will probably be no. But if it's yes, then do they need to be told by you? Could it be discussed by two characters? Could it be shown through one character actually using it? Could you boil it all down to a single question a child could ask of the character using the device?

As you edit, remember:
Less is often more.
Don't underestimate your readers.
Edit down to the bone and muscle.
One exact word is better than five rambling ones.
Leave some things to the imagination.
Don't show the reader everything.


  1. I love this post!

    "Less is often more..." This is so true.

  2. We don't always remember this when we're writing, but, luckily, it's something we can focus on when we're editing!


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