Monday, June 6, 2011 | By: Megan Held

Show me, Don’t Tell Me

Seriously? This comment has been appearing on every novice writing website and group I have joined where other novice writers give this as advice.
Here is the problem: you cannot show a person without telling them the details. You want the reader to see a scene, you tell them about it. Writing is meant to be to the point and allow imagination to occur as the reader is reading.
I admit, I hate reading books that drone on with setting the scene. I don’t care if the grass is a vibrant green. All I care about is the characters, the plot and how well the book flows.
What’s my advice? Don’t change your writing because a novice writer is telling you to. It’s your novel. Do what you want with it. I think telling a writer something is important if it is meant to be known. I understand some people will “show” aspects of their books.
Maybe its because I am still a novice writer that I get annoyed by comments such as this one. I do not care if I ever get professionally published, I am just happy knowing I have written 14 books.
Mystery novels, or thrillers, require extreme details. But, you don’t have to show people what you are wanting them to see. IMAGINATION people!!! The whole point of reading is to escape and imagine what is happening.
Honestly, when I hear this phrase I think of love, and those type of novels. You always want to be shown something. So here is my theory, show me your writing. Show me the words on your pages. Show me your effort into writing. Just SHOW ME your ABILITY TO WRITE.
If you are a novice writer, listen to me and not them. Most writers feel like failures after hearing this phrase about their work that they have tried hard to write. It’s your story, do as you please with it. I can say, if you have written even 5 pages, I am proud of you for doing so. Writing is not easy, its hard.
Well, I am back to writing. This whole rant about how people assume since they wrote a novel and have been told this phrase that they are experts. WRONG! Only you are the expert on your own book.
Keep writing. I believe anyone can write a novel.


Hart Johnson said...

There are so many phrases just like this that I think people REPEAT but don't give nice solid examples... or they give examples that are so drawn out you roll your eyes and think 'dear digression, surely NOT'. I think a huge amount of this is pacing.

Showing makes the reader FEEL THERE. They sense... they have motions, smells, sounds, sensations... that make the reader FEEL IT. And for the main action of your book, this is PERFECT. But there is a lot of in between scene stuff that the reader needs to KNOW, but that ISN'T critical to the heart, and THAT is better told "this and this happened, which had fabulous MC doubting the truth of XYZ"

I think part of the problem is so many people 'show' only visually and in too much detail. The appropriate level of that is a genre thing (romance writers all want deep descriptions of the gorgeousness of characters--DRIVES ME NUTS--but then I don't read romance... much... I have a good friend I beta for, but that's the exception) but then they read my plot driven suspense and want to know what these people LOOK LIKE... well... what do you WANT them to look like?

I ALSO happen to think telling is how you get a first draft out... then in the rewrite you change 'she did this and that' to a meatier, feel like you're there scene.

If you are a NOVICE at 14 books, you are doing GREAT. My advice for jumping to the next step... find some beta partners and critique. There is no better learning tool than taking on someone else's work, then coming back to your own.

Megan Held said...

Thank you! I am not alone. I find hearing phrases such as the ones you mentioned become generic. I have a lot of friends who are not afraid to critique my work and be honest about it. My theory is, if they don't understand it or dislike how it is, I can fix it. I always handwrite my first drafts and as I type, I edit. Then I do another edit before my friends get a chance to help. Cannot wait to read more of your blog and comments!

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