Thursday, March 24, 2011

Show, Don’t Tell, part 2: In practice

So, yesterday I briefly discussed the concept of Show, Don’t Tell. As you may have guessed, I’m a big believer in this philosophy. My stories are much better when I follow it then when I don’t, and I’ve noticed the same is true when I read other’s works. It’s just better.

But it’s hard to explain why. I mean, sure, I can use terms like “engaging reader experience,” or “fully immersed audience,” but the truth is those by themselves have little real meaning beyond being writerly buzz words.

So, instead of relying on buzz words, I’m going to follow the advice of the concept, and show why this works better, rather then telling you. Below is a paragraph from a made up story (I know, all stories are made up… just follow along).

Sara walked into the room. Last night there had obviously been a party, and the room was still a disaster area. Oh, and the smell! It assaulted her senses, and she almost threw up right there. She shook her head in disgust, and started slowly making her way through the room, kicking trash out of her way as she went. Eventually, she ended up kicking something that didn’t move, but it groaned. She blinked as she looked down at the moving pile of trash. A head poked up from underneath.

“Charles?” Sara asked in shock.

Okay, now, by itself, this is not a horrible paragraph. It gives us everything we need to know, and does so in a fairly entertaining way. Not too bad, right? Well, yes, it is, actually. There’s no description in there. The closest we get is that the room is a complete mess and that it smells really bad. This paragraph TELLS us all kinds of things, but we, as the readers, don’t experience anything, we’re not being SHOWN the story here.

So, let’s try this again.

As the door creaked open, the scent of stale alcohol and rotten eggs assaulted Sara’s nose. She clutched her stomach and pinched her nose as she felt bile rise in her throat. Peering into the room, she saw what caused the scent. The room was covered in brightly colored confetti, brown bottles, both broken and solid, labels from said bottles, pizza boxes, some with pizza still in them, and was that a pair of underwear? She almost gagged again. Keeping her noise pinched, Sara reaced out with one boot covered food and slowly pushed some trash out of her way. She gently made her way across the room, inch by painful inch, kicking boxes and bottles over as she went. Then, her foot connected with something solid, and a grunt escaped a pile of trash below. Looking down, she could make out clothing beneath the confetti and a turned over pizza box. It rolled over, dislodging trash from its form, and a brown skinned, confused looking face peered at her blearily.

“Charles?” Sara asked, her voice rising in pitch, and her mouth curling in disgust.

See? Much better! The exact same scene, but this time we’re there in that room with Sara as she makes her way through it. We’re disgusted with her, not just watching her be disgusted. See what a difference that makes? Plus, for those that, like me, enjoy watching their word count, the second paragraph is FAR wordier. But, more importantly, it’s just better.

So, that’s it for me on this topic for now. Before I go, I just want to say, I’m not an expert here. I’m still learning about the how’s and do’s of writing. This is mostly my opinion. So, take it for what you will.

Until tomorrow, when we’ll have another Flash Fiction Friday!

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