Saturday, May 7, 2011

Show and Tell by Marvin Wilson

An important element in effective writing in fiction is knowing when you are telling the readers your story and when you are showing it to them. There is a place in any good book for both methods, but the shown passages are always more illustrative, while the told passages are more narrative. They create two entirely different effects. Instead of telling you the difference, I will show you. Here is a short paragraph, an example of a story being told to the reader.

Bob walked over to the door. He turned the knob, opened the door and started to walk outside. It was an icy cold winter day so he hurried back inside and put on his coat.
Now, if I’m the reader I haven’t missed anything, I know what’s happening, but the passage doesn’t draw me into Bob’s world. It doesn’t let me feel or sense much of anything. Now I’ll rewrite the same passage showing you the story.
Floor boards creaked underfoot. Step by step, across the room. The chill of cold brass felt smooth in his palm as the knob turned. A ‘thunk’ sound nudged against the quiet as bolt released from its locked position. Squeaky old hinges cried “please oil me” to Bob as they pivoted. A final push, swing and a step. Whistling arctic wind whipped his face as shivers crept all over him.

Wow. Cold
. Bob thought better of his choice of clothing.


Nippy fingers worked their way through the dark foyer closet, feeling for heavy suede.

In the second example, we see, hear and feel Bob’s world. It’s a much sexier read. In fairness, I did not try very hard to write a powerful narrative in the first passage, because I was trying to emphasize a point. There are cases, lots of them, when narrative prose is just the right thing. A fist, knife or gunfight, for instance, often demands a fast, even hectic pace and needs to be told in a hurry. Short sentences. Slam bang. Hit me again and hard. It depends on the speed (pace) with which you want your story to move … but that will be the subject of another post.

Marvin D Wilson, multi-published author and editor with All Things That Matter Press, using the pen name “Professor Old Silly,” posts writing tutorials on his blog each Tuesday. The above tutorial is a re-post from the archives of his blog at:

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