Show Don't Tell - by Donna
The cover for my new novel, CAN'T LOOK AWAY, will be revealed on Tuesday over at Tales of a Ravenous Reader, so I thought I'd share a little tidbit from the book.
First, a reminder from the archives:
The advice to "Show, don't tell" reminds me of those weird pictures from a few years ago where you were supposed to see something in the image if you stared at it long enough. Evidently some people (not me) saw hidden designs. Receiving a critique to "show, not tell" can sometimes feel just as obtuse. What does that mean? Is it ever okay to tell? When? HOW do I show?
The best place to begin might be from the negative side. If you get used to identifying a "telling" voice in a manuscript, then it's almost like a light bulb comes on when you see it. And, as is always the case, it's always easier to identify in other people's writing than in your own.
But you can't ALWAYS show. According to James Scott Bell, "Sometimes a writer tells as a shortcut, to move quickly to the meaty part of the story or scene. Showing is essentially about making scenes vivid. If you try to do it constantly, the parts that are supposed to stand out won't, and your readers will get exhausted." According to Orson Scott Card and others, "showing" is so terribly time consuming that it is to be used only for dramatic scenes. The objective is to find the right balance of telling versus showing, action versus summarization. Factors like rhythm, pace, and tone come into play.
In this scene from CAN'T LOOK AWAY, I wanted to show the dynamics of a family torn apart by tradegy and tried to balance the rhythm, pace and tone to match.
The back door opens and Mom comes in with a basketful of tomatoes. Strands of windblown curls have escaped her ponytail.
“This may be the last of them,” she says, putting the basket down on the countertop. “Weatherman says cooler temperatures coming the end of next week. They’re calling it a Blue Northern. Funny name, don’t you think?”
A tomato rolls off the top of the pile and lands on the kitchen floor with a splash of color. Mom stops talking, frozen by the red stain rolling across the floor.
I jump up from the table, grabbing a couple of paper towels from the rack by the sink.
“It’s okay, Mom.” I scoop up the tomato and get on my hands and knees to wipe up the mess. Her feet don’t move from in front of me. I glance up. Her face is expressionless, her mouth slightly open, her eyes staring at the floor where the smashed tomato used to be.
“Really, it’s fine. Look. It’s all gone,” my dad says, getting up from the table. He puts his arms around her shoulders and tries to pull her stiff body in for a hug.
“It’s just such a waste,” she mumbles, still staring at where the red stain used to be.