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Friday, June 20, 2008

Show versus Tell, example nine

From contest entries and critiques that I’ve done, I’ve noticed that often people don’t quite understand what exactly is “showing” and what exactly is “telling.” So, I’m doing this series to give numerous examples so that you can see for yourself the various kinds of “telling” that can occur in your own manuscript, and suggestions for fixing it.

She arrived at her parents’ home, which always reminded her of a gingerbread house.


The italicized phrase is “telling” the reader what the house looks like. Instead, why not “show” the reader her emotional reaction to the house while you describe it? It would make a more vibrant way of “showing” the same information. For example:

She arrived at her parents’ house, a great big gingerbread confection that made her want to gag at the sweetness.


or

She arrived at her parents’ house, a great big gingerbread confection that lifted her spirits as if she were on a sugar rush.


In the examples, the character’s emotions are incorporated in the description so that the “telling” about the house isn’t just tacked onto the narrative, but a vital part of her impressions of the scene. It’s just a tactic to convey the information in a more interesting way to the reader.

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