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Learning To Show, Not Tell

August 30th, 2019

First, thanks to Amber for last week’s blog – I think it’s brilliant advice. If you shut yourself away at home all the time, you can be in danger of forgetting how to interact with people – and understanding how people tick is a vital part of being a writer. And this doesn’t just apply to fiction writers. You also need to know what people are talking about at the moment and what interests them if you hope to write non-fiction that sells. You can’t rely on the TV or internet as what you see there is often a rather skewed version of how ‘normal’ (?) people behave and react.

Moving on, one of the things that writers hear repeatedly from their critics is ‘show don’t tell’ – but what exactly does this mean? I know many people find it difficult to put into practice; so this week I’m going to give you an example from the Writers Bureau course that sums it up perfectly. Read the two extracts and you’ll know exactly what I mean:

Here is an example of telling.

Mary is an alcoholic and is distressed because her husband, Nick, doesn’t love her anymore. He is about to leave her. He goes to the door, but she tries to stop him. He pushes her away and she knocks over a table lamp, cutting her hand.

The following section shows the same thing.

Mary rubbed at her tearstained face. “I don’t believe you,” she hissed. “You do still love me. Say you do. Say it!”

She staggered across the room and fell against Nick, grabbing his arm to stop him from opening the door.

“I won’t let you go. I won’t.”

He jerked free and the room seemed to spin as she tumbled back against the table. Almost in slow motion, she crashed to the floor, knocking over the antique lamp which shattered into fragments. She used the arm of the sofa to drag herself up and saw a bright red stain spreading over the cream-coloured leather. Pulling a shard of porcelain from her palm, she held out her blood-stained hand in a silent plea.

Nick’s face twisted in disgust. “Love you? I haven’t loved you for years, but you’ve been too drunk to notice.”

The reader gets the same information from both excerpts but the first one is boring – the second one sizzles! So next time you sit down to write, really work on using a deft touch to show your reader what’s going on. Don’t just give lumps of static info.

Something I was glad to see in the paper last weekend is that Lee Child (author of the Jack Reacher novels) has been invited to judge the prestigious Booker prize. I’m not a fan of Child’s work as I don’t particularly like the crime genre, but I do feel that the judges need to understand what the average reader enjoys and buys. Literary fiction, at its best, can be wonderful and I really envy the writers’ skills, but accessibility is also essential. I think Child might be a breath of fresh air.

Before I leave you this week, I’m glad to say that our latest Flash Fiction Competition is now open for entries. As usual, there is a 500-word limit and prizes of £300, £200 and £100 will be awarded to the winners. Plus they will also receive a Writers Bureau Course of their choice. It’s £5 per entry (three for £10) or £4 per entry (three for £8) if you are a member of the Association of Freelance Writers. The closing date is 30th November.

Plus, the shortlist for our recent poetry competition is now available. So if you entered, you might want to check out if you’re on it. The standard this year was incredibly high and I can’t wait to announce the winners, which I should be able to do within the next fortnight.

My guest next week is Tracey Goddard who will be looking at the importance of planning thoroughly before embarking on any literary undertaking.

Author: Diana Nadin



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About The Author: Diana Nadin

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