The Balance of Show & Tell

Eo-scale_of_justiceOn Saturday I attended the Writing Workshop led by Michael Stewart as part of the Literature Festival and, like most workshops on writing, the topic at hand was Showing and Telling. It was explained that there needs to be a recognised balance between what you show in your writing and what you can tell. The following were quoted:

He who does not imagine in minute particulars does not imagine at all – William Blake

Don’t show me the moon is shining: show me the glint of light on broken glass – Anton Chekhov

I learnt a lot throughout the two hour workshop and even if it wasn’t all new information, it was good to cover old ground and remind myself of the nuances of both showing and telling in my writing. Here are a few snapshot pieces of my notes:

Showing opens up the interpretation to provide subjectivity and evokes emotion.
Showing often takes up more words than simply telling therefore it takes longer: affects pace.

The use of adverbs should always be questioned if a stronger verb can replace it:
i.e: ‘She walked slowly’ – she ambled, she shuffled, she sauntered. The use of a strong verb can change the context and attitude of a sentence, creating ambiguity that can be used to make a connection. [Of course, exceptions do exist!]

Remember: R.U.E – Resist the Urge to Explain
Opinions can be an impediment to reading, the reader wants to judge, not have the author judge for them!

The danger of telling something is that the reader may not agree!
Worst case scenario is that the reader judges the writer more than the subject of the telling

Write scenes not summaries

Consider giving characters defining actions to demonstrate their uniqueness, these can be inconsistent and paradoxical providing they move away from traditional instances and clichés.
i.e: A character who only smokes on No Smoking Day – this demonstrates more about the person than explaining that they are defiant, confident and like playing with irony!

Showing techniques include:
– Detail
– Setting
– Character actions, reactions and interactions
– Thoughts

Detail can provide atmosphere.

SHOW what is significant
TELL what is incidental

As you can possibly tell just from this snapshot of notes, it was a useful session to remind myself of some valuable titbits of information on writing. As a result, I feel that I might be more able to edit my work with such advice in mind, making my prose stronger, clearer and give the whole piece more intent.

Do you have any other tips about how to balance the art of showing and telling in your stories? 


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