Saturday, April 14, 2012

Show, Don't Tell

Week of April 8, 2012—JUDGE FOR YOURSELF
Saturday, April 14, 2012—Showing Instead of Telling

As I wrap up this week of complaining about . . . I mean, reflecting on the short stories I judged, more quotes from Donna Jo Napoli come to mind. Dr. Napoli told us that plot is important, but it isn’t everything. “We need to know and care about the characters.” But character and plot aren’t enough. “Character and plot takc place in a world—a time and place.” So setting is important. But wait, there’s more. “On top of it all is language and style,” Dr. Napoli said.

When I read and critiqued those fifty-seven short stories I found that I wrote over and over: “Too much telling. Show me the story.” I found a wonderful explanation of showing vs. telling on Beth Revis’ site ( Beth says the difference between showing and telling lies in the verb. Her examples are:

It was cold.    Telling
Amy shivered in the cold.  Showing

Beth also says there’s a difference between boring and appealing showing, and that difference comes in the emotions writers convey. Her examples:

Amy shivered in the cold.   Boring showing.
Amy shivered: the cold seemed to reach all the way through her skin and into her heart. Good showing.

From my point of view, one of the strongest tools for adding showing is sensory details. Let’s use the same It was cold theme from above and see how a master picture book author shows with sensory details:

Our feet crunched
over the crisp snow
and little gray footprints
followed us.
Pa made a long shadow,
but mine was short and round.
I had to run after him
every now and then
to keep up
and my short, round shadow
bumped after me.

From: Owl Moon by Jane Yolen

I don’t know about you, but I had to put on mittens and a woolen cap just to read that passage! I felt the cold—I was immersed in the cold—I saw the cold. Sensory details were the key.

So avoid pitfall number four discovered during reading fifty-seven short stories. Always show, and don’t tell.

1 comment:

Cheryl Velasquez said...

Rob, Owl Moon is one of my favorite books. Thanks for the reminder, I struggle with this myself.