Monday, February 7, 2011

Show vs Tell

We hear "Show don't Tell" over and over but what does it mean? Here is a good example from You Don't Have to be Famous: How to Write Your Life Story.

"Ginny was elated when she won the tournament. It was very emotional."

First of all, the two sentences have passive forms of "to be" verbs. The verbs don't do anything. Elated describes many different actions. Compare that to this paragraph of showing.

When Ginny won the tournament by sinking the three-foot putt, a roar went up from the crowd. She hurled her putter into the air, dropped to her knees, covered her eyes and sobbed.

I've changed the quote a bit to include active verbs rather than "ing" words the author used. A warning: don't think everything has to be shown. Some events, etc., require telling. All showing gets boring, too. Mix them for the best effect.

Remember that "the weakest tools for descriptive writing are adjectives and adverbs." Most times a noun or verb can take their place. I eliminate every "ly" word I see. "A noun is much better off alone than with a predictable or inadequate modifier.

Take for instance: She was stepping into snow above her knees. Instead, take away "was" and replace it with a form of the "ing" word. She stepped into snow above her knees. Better yet is "She sunk into snow above her knees."

Try painting a word picture. Here are two examples from a recent chick novel I read by Kristin Hannah.

"She led the girl across the necklace of stepping stones that meandered through the garden." Here, too, I changed a couple of words. I think I cut a few words.

Another example from the same book is "The rain softened the world into the muted blues and greens of a Monet painting." Both of these examples paint a word picture you, the reader, can see.

Go through your manuscript. Circle all the verbs. Are they active or passive? Change them to active. Then underline all the adjectives and adverbs. How can you replace them and keep your meaning and at the same time paint a word picture? It isn't easy. Try it.

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