Friday, 25 February 2011

Show and/or tell?

If I read another how-to-write article telling me to show not tell, I will explode.

Yes, I know there is some sense in it. I know some novice writers need to be encouraged to bring their work alive by involving all the senses, etc. Or to use more dialogue - to let us see a character for ourselves rather than be told what she is like. And I am as prone as anyone else to write dull early drafts that need livening up when I revisit them.

But please, please, please! Stop telling me never to tell. Stephen King, much as I admire him, has a lot to answer for (and he tells, anyway, more often than you might think). Everyone tells. I just read Moby-Dick and there's tons of (wonderful) tell, as well as tons of (wonderful) show. Melville knew when to do which.

That's what we all need to know - when to do which. We all get it wrong at times. New writers need to learn when to show and when to tell. But that's it. Stop telling them never to tell, because that's wrong... I'm telling you.

I could show you, but I don't have time and I'm sure you don't, either.


Pat Posner said...

I agree. Done right, 'telling' can be powerful and dramatic, or restful after a scene full of tension. And I think children like the occasional tell; it can add something to the story.

Patsy said...

I agree. Saying 'never tell' is wrong. Many writers tell too much (a mistake I make myself sometimes) but sometimes a bit of telling is the right thing to do.

CekaTB said...

I agree too! It's become a no-argument mantra in some circles, this 'show don't tell' business.
Bits of both and all in the right mix, that'll get the story across!

Rosalie Warren said...

Thanks, folks - so pleased you agree. Yes, it has become something of a mantra, as has the avoidance of adverbs - another piece of advice that started off as a sensible warning about over-use but has now been taken to extremes.