Friday, November 11, 2011

The Most Interesting Thing--Back to Basics

"Easy reading is damn hard writing."
--Nathaniel Hawthorne

What was one of the first things you learned about the craft of writing? For me it was show, don't tell. Sound familiar? Yet after years of writing, my first inclination is to tell rather than show. In fact, just this week I caught myself writing this sentence: Overwhelmed by the information I found. . .  Arrgggh! Why does this happen? Because I'm a super lazy drafter. Which means I have to be an extra diligent reviser.

What helps me overcome my telling weakness? I try to picture my characters on a stage, they can't talk, but have to show me what's happening. My job is to write what I see.

What about you? Do you sometimes struggle with the basics? Any tips you want to share about recognizing and overcoming the showing/telling problem?


  1. I'm right there with you :) I have a tendency to tell rather than show. I have to remind myself with every sentence. It's tough. We need a club: Extra Diligent Revisers ;)

  2. Charissa--Thanks. Good to know I'm not alone in my tellingness.

  3. Oh absolutely, I fall into this. My latest WIP was written in 3rd person - I wanted it to be close. First draft was more omniscient - Agh. I like your stage idea. May have to try that in the future.

  4. JRo--I think the close, deep POV takes amazing talent. Or inspired revision. Its what I aspire to. . .

  5. Actually, I think there are times when telling is in order. A story is made up of scene and summary: scene is when we're seeing and hearing everything directly (that's the showing); summary is when the narrator just tells us something, and it's usually to save time and get us from scene to scene. Also, sometimes telling can help us understand how a character is interpreting the action.

    So I suppose the critical question is when to show and when to tell!

  6. Yes! I'm such a spare drafter too! All my first drafts are super super short. I blame NaNoWriMo ;P

  7. I have trouble showing rather than telling as well; and I'm so used to it, sometimes it doesn't even register that I'm telling when I go back to read what I've written.

  8. Jenn--Excellent point. There is a time to tell. But it's telling when "on scene" that poses the challenge.

    Sophia--But I'd rather add words than delete them, so I don't mind the sparse first drafts.

    Golden Eagle--Yep. I cringe when my betas point it out.

  9. It's an ongoing battle! I love your idea of having the characters on a stage and having to act out what they're trying to say. That's so cool. I'll have to try that!


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