Why you should REALLY listen when they say Show, Don't Tell

Jun 17, 2010

It's hammered into from the day you announce to the world you want to be a writer.

Show, Don't Tell.

Three words, the mantra of writing instructors everywhere. They've almost become cliche, and you'll probably find three bazillion blog posts out there about how to do it. It's said so often, I kind of brush it aside with a "yeah, yeah, I know."

And then I read a book last week that broke this rule, particularly in reference to characters. And it was amazing at how much it affected my enjoyment of the book. I couldn't get into the characters because I was being told "this is how this person is." Their actions didn't show it, there were no flashbacks or back stories. The author just jumped out of the page and told me.

It didn't happen all the time. But it happened enough that it did several things for me as a reader: weakened the character's motivations, undermined character relationships, and dampened the suspense. I just wasn't invested in what happened to the characters, and I didn't believe they were real. Who knew that a few missteps on one tiny rule could be so damaging to a reader's enjoyment of a book?

And after all, that's what we're aiming for when we write. To craft a story that reader's will enjoy and connect with. To paint a setting that readers are immersed in. To create characters that will live in reader's imaginations. That, my friends, is what show, don't tell really means-- and why we should all pay attention to it.


Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I think you're right that it may ruin my appreciation of a book ... now. My ability to read a book with the same immersive enjoyment has been seriously hampered by becoming a writer. Do you find yourself analyzing as you read, too? :)

Angie said...

So, so true!

Shallee said...

@Susan I think it depends on the book. If it's well-written and draws me in, I don't usually analyze (at least not at first) because I'm so drawn in. If I'm not drawn in, I tend to look for those things that prevent me from getting invested. But I usually analyze pretty much everything! :)

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