Show, Don’t Tell

The best writing allows the reader to experience the story as the characters do

Every wannabe author hears “Show, don’t tell” until their ears fall off and fly away rather than listen to another dollop of unexplained advice.

Some writing teachers give examples but most often it goes something like this: “Here, this is an example of showing, not telling” with no explanation of what makes something shown and not told.

I mean, we’re dealing with words on paper. We call ourselves (figuratively) Storytellers. How can we share a story without telling.

Ah…let me provide an example much in the vein of Great Opening Lines – and Why!.

 
Here’s a paragraph from Carson McCuller’s The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and an explanation how things are shown (I’ll provide explanations of showing using the methodology I use when ala critiquing someone’s work. First, the paragraph:

Portia read from the Book of Luke. She read slowly, tracing the words with her long, limp finger. The room was still. Doctor Copeland sat on the edge of the group, cracking his knuckles, his eyes wandering from one point to another. The room was very small, the air close and stuffy. The four walls were cluttered with calendars and crudely painted advertisements fro magazines. On the mantel there was a vase of red paper roses. The fire on the hearth burned slowly and the wavering light from the oil lamp made shadows on the wall. Portia read with such slow rhythm that the words slept in Doctor Copeland’s ears and he was drowsy. Karl Marx lay sprawled upon the floor beside the children. Hamilton and Highboy dozed. Only the old man seemed to study the meaning of the words.

Now, what is shown element by element:
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Gable Smiled (work in progress)

A different take on A Horse and His Boy

[[Note: This content is edited from the public version. There’s a five question quiz at the end.]]

Valen patted Gable’s muscular neck as they trotted into Lensterville. They’d been ten days out, mostly soldiering Sipio’s vast Northern Plain, and this time of year that meant heat with a capital “H”. Valen could feel his own sweat trickling through the hairs on his chest and back, and every time his Ranger issue travel cords relaxed around him, his scent rose like steam washing his face.

Not pleasant.

Not so Gable’s smell. Gable was a Callisto class ModEquid, part horse part…something. Valen was never sure what and Gable liked to keep him guessing. Mostly horse on the outside, Gable’s sweat was the sweet musk of heavy horse, working horse, a gentle giant unless riled and it took a lot to rile him. There was a tang of trail dirt and rich plains tallgrasses and lathering neck and flanks that Valen thought wonderful, comforting, reassuring, and it made him proud that Gable had taken so to him.

“Let me know when,” he said to the horse.

Gable smiled back, Any time you’re ready.

Valen performed an emergency dismount, Gable still trotting so that Valen landed running beside him on the horse’s left, reins in Valen’s right hand. He knew Gable liked to run side-by-side, the two of them together, and the horse always smiled laughter at the man’s two-legged gait.

No speed, Two-Legs, he would smile at Valen.

“Yeah, well…speed when I need it,” Valen said back.

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Barry Longyear’s “Science Fiction Writer’s Workshop – I: An Introduction to Fiction Mechanics”

A Series of Open Book Exams on Writing, Regardless of Genre

This is another book I picked up years ago during my first round at writing. Longyear signed it and I’d highlighted parts of it so obviously read it before and didn’t remember doing so.

The power of this book is that it’s written from a student’s perspective. Longyear (I’m thrilled to see he’s still active. I lost track of him for several years) puts in the effort to remember his mistakes and the mistakes of others, and show the reader how to correct them. Another strength is the book’s examples – mostly from Longyear himself – with detailed explanations of what’s wrong with them and how to fix them.

 
Each chapter comes complete with an extensive Q&A/Study guide at the end, every answer to which can be found in that chapter or by combining knowledge gained from previous chapters with the current chapter. Anybody remember “Open book exams”? This is one and it’s a wonderful training program.
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Oakley Hall’s “The Art & Craft of Novel Writing”

A definite keeper. A resource. Read it twice and will read it again.

Rarely have I read a book that covers the entirety of a subject so well, so elegantly, so masterfully, with detailed examples and explanations. I had trouble finding pages I didn’t dogear, highlight portions of, make notes on, et cetera. This book is a must for anyone learning/practicing/perfecting their craft. My great loss is my local library not carrying any of his books. I’ll spend the money to see how this wonderful teacher applies his craft. If he’s half the master at writing as he is at teaching, Whoa!

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Man and Boy; Tennessee, 1932

It’s better to be wise than rich

“Boy, what you straining with?”

“Don’t know, pa. It’s fighting me, though. It’s fighting me.”

“Look at that pole bend. Ease up a bit, boy. Give it some slack. See? Your pole’s not twitching. Whatever it is, it’s not fighting you, it’s dragging. Maybe something crawling on the bottom.”

“But it’s coming, pa.”

“Want me to take her for a spell?”

“I’d like that, pa.”

“Give it some slack before we switch poles. Something that heavy, you got to work slow, might have to get upstream of it to pull it in without snapping the line.”

“Look, pa. There it is. I see it.”

“Damn thing’s in the glare of the sun. What is it? Can you see? Feels like some bottom grass. Pity if we can’t loose the line.”

“It’s a man, pa. A black man.”

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