Show and Tell

I had a rather alarming experience the other day.

With my manuscript creeping towards publication, my editor asked me to review the opening chapter of my book and approve some changes. What I found sent shivers down my back. The writing sounded clunky and the pacing was off… but most of all I realized there were large chunks of exposition. (Basically places where I as an author intrude into the story to list everything that’s going on rather than show you)… for example, consider the paragraph below:

White, for Aria, was the color of death. A wish rock had an endless appetite for magic and it never released any of the power it absorbed. Miriam, her wise grey eyes watching Aria closely, always knew exactly when to tuck the wish rock away. She had the knack of knowing when to stop before the rock began feeding on Aria’s life force.

This is an example of me telling you about something… it takes away from the intensity of the scene. Compare that paragraph to my rewrite:

Aria moaned. Deep cold clawed its way greedily through her body. The wish rock stole the heat of her magic and dropped her like a rag doll into Miriam’s capable arms. Her head rolled backwards as Miriam propped her in a chair before the vanity. Aria watched the feathers from her bed drift down from the ceiling and thought that they looked not so much like snow but like ash.

You might have heard it a million times before. I certainly have, and it looks like I’m still screwing it up. Show don’t tell. Show don’t tell.

I guess it will always be a learning curve. Now I’ve got an itch to rewrite my whole manuscript. But I won’t… you’ve got to stop sometime right?


About cjgosling

I paint, I sing, I walk in the rain. I'm clumsy and I love the smell of campfire. My head is full of imaginary things and the only thing I ever really want to do in life is write. My first book "Shadowlands: The Guardian" was released in Feb. 2011. The sequel is coming in 2012! View all posts by cjgosling

5 responses to “Show and Tell

  • Shannon

    That's what I keep telling myself. . . shhow, show show! I don't think you ever truly stop revising, even once it's in print you still look at it and think "Oooh, I should change. . . "

  • Rusty B.

    There is the common mantra screamed everywhere, show don't tell. BUT the more you show, the more burden it puts on the reader reading it (mentally). Rather than hear the story, they must build a picture from what you are showing, then derive the story from what they see. So, too much showing can also be bad. Some of the less skilled readers begged me to add more just telling of the story rather than extracting it from the scenes. I was surprised, given the mantra. More advanced readers get the story from the scene with no problem. So the balance between showing and telling determines who reads the book. Or as someone told me (in my hour of extreme frustration after the feedback), present day kids are more inclined to say "Mommy, where is my calculus pill" rather than be excited by the challenge.

  • Rusty B.

    You also have to temper my comment; It's like a reality TV show writer commenting on a piece of art. My writing tends to be more like a reality TV show (even though its Fantasy/Sci-Fi). So I might just be blowing smoke…

  • Elle Strauss

    Charity! Your writing is really getting strong. So excited to read it again when it's out in November. Good for you!

  • Dr Kathie M. Black, PhD

    I actually liked both versions… the second did have the gut wrenching feel of the cold, but I did like the explanation of what she thought 'white' meant. I don't want to confuse you, but I definitely see room for both of these statements. Perhaps a balance is the goal?? I, too, can't wait to read the entire work! K

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