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Friday, June 06, 2008

Show versus Tell, example three

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.

”How dare you use wire hangers?!” Mama threw one at her, and the edge scratched her arm. She flinched.

She didn’t cry as Mama yelled at her. She had learned that tears only made her scream louder.


The italicized sentence is “telling” the reader about her past experience. (Actually, the “as Mama yelled at her” is also “telling” and extraneous because you “show” Mama yelling in the previous paragraph.) There’s a more active and emotional way to “show” this. For example:

”How dare you use wire hangers?!” Mama threw one at her, and the edge scratched her arm. She flinched.

She mustn’t cry. She mustn’t. She screwed her eyes shut, but a tear squeezed out and ran down the side of her nose. Oh, no. Her stomach heaved as the warm wet tickled the end of her nose.

Mama saw the tear, because the volume rose to screeching that stung Clara’s ears. “Crying is for sissies!”

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