Like all newbie writers I struggle with the concept of Show Don’t Tell.
Except I’m not such a newbie.
I’m a former journalist and PR writer.
And that’s part of the problem.
My job was to ‘tell’ readers what I’d seen and what I knew.
It’s a shorter, simpler more economical way of writing.
And, I’m a journalistic Scrooge: why should readers get three sentences when I can ‘tell’ in one?
So, I’ve had to develop some ‘show and tell’ strategies.
They can be summarised as:
- The movie director notes
- The prayer book
- The Luddite
Let me explain.
The job of the movie director is to give clueless actors notes on how to play a scene.
My characters are my actors and I rehearse them – usually on early morning swims – moving them around the film set in my head.
Together we experiment with different scenarios, varying the way they stand, the movement of their hands and heads and the tone of their voices.
By the time my swim is finished, I’m ready to write the director’s notes so characters can ‘show’ rather than ‘tell’ the story.
Hopefully, readers see the same pictures on the page as the ones on my mental movie reel.
Second: my prayer book is Kate Foster’s blog post on the differences between showing and telling.
What Kate doesn’t know about writing could be written on a postage stamp.
I re-read and re-write
Her blog post doesn’t just ‘tell’ writers how to show and tell.
It shows you how to do it.
When I get stuck, I open the prayer book and re-read.
Finally, I tap into my secret Luddite.
Editing on-screen is a recipe for typos, errors and grammar mistakes.
Watch out for too much back story
I always, always print off new chapters and, red pen in hand, read aloud.
It’s surprising the things you spot: timeline inconsistencies, repetition, too much back story as well as too much ‘telling’.
Of course, despite my best efforts, there are still times when I fall into the telling trap.
But I’m learning.