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Monday, June 30, 2008

Show versus Tell--when to tell, example one

Telling isn’t always bad. In fact, sometimes it’s preferable. However, you ought to have a darn good reason to tell.

One reason could be to telescope time. If you’re skipping from one place to another, or one time to another, that’s where telling is good.

Say Joe has been arrested and then in the next scene, he’s talking to his jailmate. It’s okay to tell in a sentence or two what happened in between. The reader doesn’t need to know all that detail, and it’s useful for letting the reader know that time has elapsed.

The police slapped the handcuffs on him.

Exactly forty-two minutes later, after being slightly roughed around by the cops who processed him, Joe turned to his bunk mate with a casual, “Got a smoke?”


Or

Joe got on the plane, flew to San Jose, and rented a car.

Two hours and one accident during rush hour later, he arrived at Amelia’s house, ready to break some heads.


Here, we didn’t need to see everything Joe did on the plane, in renting the car, in sitting in traffic. We just need to know what’s going to happen next.

So in these examples, telescoping time and/or space is a perfectly legitimate reason for telling instead of showing.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad to see some posts on telling and its use also. There's always a lot of confusion about this topic, and too many writers treat "Show, not tell" as a strict rule that has to be obeyed.

    I just critted a writer who saw that advice and followed it as a strict rule. He ended up with a first chapter laden with meaningless details like the angle of a character's arm as he picked up an object, and then described how the sleeve moved as he performed the action. He didn't understand the concept well enough to know the difference between showing, telling, and leaving out what wasn't important.

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