Anyone who’s ever studied the craft of writing for any length of time has heard this phrase until it’s engraved in your brain like a tumor or you’ve read it a zillion times in “how to write” magazines until your tell-tale heart is flipping: “Show, don’t tell.”
For the longest time, I never knew what the heck that meant until I started studying the writing style of best-selling authors. Then one day, like a light bulb going on, I understood what it meant.
Now, most of the time, the phrase “showing” refers to writing in which the author cleverly works details into the plot through dialogue and not pages of lengthy dull descriptive narration, “telling,” (like we see in many of the “classics” from the beginning and mid-20th C. writers).
But sometimes, “telling” in a short narration can actually be “showing” if the writing is handled correctly.
I’m going to give you two short excerpts of narration. The first excerpt is “telling” and it’s flat, boring, and uninteresting. The second excerpt, taken from my 4th Keystone Stables book, SUMMER CAMP ADVENTURE, is the same scene done in a “showing” style of narration. It’s an excerpt, in my opinion, that draws the reader into actually being a part of, “experiencing,” that beautiful scene.
So, please analyze and compare the two excerpts. Notice what doesn’t work in the first one compared to what does work in the second. Then watch for my post next Monday when I’ll discuss when it might be the right choice to “tell” and not “show:”
Excerpt One – “Telling:”
The riders lined up their horses and looked at the waterfall about 50 yards away. Above their heads was water over some rocks. It tumbled on more rocks that were even with the riders. The water made big white splashes and then was smooth. The waterfall droplets and sunlight made a rainbow, and off to one side a little stream flowed away from the waterfall and down the mountain. A breeze made the waterfall mist fly everywhere in the air, hitting the riders in the face. Skye was amazed.
Excerpt Two – “Showing:”
Lining up their horses, the riders sat gawking at nature’s water show half a football field away. Far above their heads, the falls flooded over a table of rocks arrayed on both sides by the greenest trees Skye had ever seen.
The water thundered as it crashed down over more layers of rocks, tumbling, tumbling, until it splashed onto large boulders level with the riders. There, billows of white foam faded into ripples that quickly smoothed into a serene pool as clear as glass.
A rainbow arched in a stream of sunlight. Off to one side the pool overflowed, forming the gushing stream that had found its way down the mountain to form LackawannaLake. Fed by the falls, a steady breeze and fine mist saturated the cool air around the riders, welcoming them to the secret and special place.
From SUMMER CAMP ADVENTURE
(Keystone Stables Series Book 4)
Ready to “show” and not “tell?” Go for it!