By Jenny Martin:
If you’re a writer, you’ve probably heard “Show, Don’t Tell’ a million times. It’s one of those maxims you can’t escape. But I’m going to stick my neck out and declare…
I think that advice has led to a lot of really terrible writing.
Before you come at me with your sharpest pitchfork, let me explain my […]
I have to agree with this article. Most of the writing blogs, including this one, have given people the ‘Show, Don’t Tell’ advice, and while it’s certainly valid, there’s a time and a place to use it. The article states that the use of generic emotion phrases and reactions don’t really tell us a lot about the specific character in question and by solely showing, you lose opportunities for development. The author uses an example from The Hunger Games to illustrate her point and I feel it’s done really well.
I also want to take this opportunity to address an article that’s been floating around Tumblr. It’s entitled Unpacking by Chuck Palahniuk. Boiled down the article tells people to write without using phrases like ‘I thought’, ‘he thought’, ‘she thought’ or anything similar like ‘I remembered’, ‘I supposed’, ‘I forgot’, ‘I realized, ‘I imagined’, ‘I believed’, or ‘I wanted’, and instead unpack those phrases to show the reader what a character is thinking (and let them infer) instead of telling them.
So instead of writing: “Adam knew Gwen liked him.”
You instead write: “Between classes, Gwen had always leaned on his locker when he’d go to open it. She’d roll her eyes and shove off with one foot, leaving a black-heel mark on the painted metal, but she also left the smell of her perfume. The combination lock would still be warm from her butt. And the next break, Gwen would be leaned there, again.”
We all know that showing is harder than telling because showing requires you to write more. I don’t think it’s feasible to replace every thought verb with this kind of unpacking, especially when you consider what this does to pacing.
Pacing in writing is essentially how fast or how slow you move through a scene. Fight scenes, for example, tend to be more fast-paced while dramatic scenes to build tension will be much slower.
Say your character was in a hurry to get to a doctor’s appointment and she thinks quickly that she doesn’t want to be late. Would you spend a paragraph or more trying to describe the entirety of her thought process instead just using ‘she thought’ in that instance? Probably not. You also probably wouldn’t spend any significant length of time describing every crack and stain on the sidewalk she’s running on either because it’s going to slow your scene down to a crawl.
Unpacking is fine. Showing is fine. But there’s a place for it. The best advice I can give is to read more books and look for instances where showing and telling are used separately, and together. Make note of what works well, and what doesn’t. Then try to practice that in your own writing.