My Love/Hate Relationship with ‘Show Don’t Tell’

screen-shot-2013-11-20-at-3-24-03-pm.png(Sorry for the delay in posting, this week.  The universe decided to throw me a curveball.)


She picked up the pen.


The pen was smooth under her fingertips.  She ran a nail up and down the cool plastic till it caught in a small divot made by her nervous habit of chewing everyday objects.

Which one do you like more?  The five-word sentence or the two sentence paragraph?  Arguably, there is a place for both of them in the world of writing, but most would say that they prefer the latter example.

The reason for this is because we are Showing, rather than Telling.  It’s is a common, and oftentimes infuriating adage.  Infuriating because let’s be honest, it would be so much easier to simply say that the character picked up the pen.  There is little to no work involved.  But writing is all about the work.  You get back what you put in.  ‘She picked up the pen’ might fly in the world of screenwriting, but in a novel, you need to do more.

You have to paint a picture for the reader.  Not the whole picture.  Just enough to stoke the embers of their imagination until they’ve evolved into a roaring flame.

The second example doesn’t just tell you that the character is holding a pen, which is true.  It also tells you that she’s absentmindedly playing with it and that she has a nervous habit that involves chewing writing utensils.  You know so much more about the character than you would have with that first example.

As much as I’d like to pretend I have mastered this art, I’d only be lying to myself.  I am one of the rare writers who would lean towards brevity, finding myself with significantly fewer words than are necessary to complete a manuscript.  I plan on reading through my manuscript and picking apart each sentence.  The work will be arduous to the point of mind-numbing tedium, but it’s important.

I want to be the best writer I can be and if there are any instances of ‘she picked up the pen’ anywhere in my book, I want to flush them out.

Bye for now!

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