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Friday, June 13, 2008

Show versus Tell, example six

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.

Jeannie looked Amy in the eyes. “So, tell me what your Mama told you.”

Just like Jeannie to be straight to the point. She’d always been that way, even in grade school. Sometimes her directness was a bit tactless and got her in trouble. Amy was so unlike Jeannie—tender-hearted to the point of not wanting to hurt anybody’s feelings.


The entire second paragraph is telling. What information in that paragraph does the reader absolutely need to know for the current scene?

Also, the first sentence in the paragraph is extraneous—you already show her directness by her line of dialogue.

Here’s a better example.

Jeannie looked Amy in the eyes. “So, tell me what your Mama told you.”

Amy found the violet pattern on the china cup absolutely fascinating. Why did Jeannie always have to just jump straight into it?

“So?”

Amy spoke to the cluster of violets. “I’m too drained. I don’t want to talk about it.”

“But I want to know.”

Amy raised her eyes to glare at Jeannie. “Show some tact for once, will you?”


The information about Jeannie being direct is “shown” by an emotional reaction to it—her unhappy thoughts wondering why Jeannie had to be that way. Also, Jeannie’s tendency for lack of tact is “shown” with Amy’s angry line of dialogue.

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