I’m dissecting the article Hunting Down the Pleonasm, by Allen Guthrie, using it as a cattle prod to search for little nasties in my manuscript. Yep, you can join in the fun, too. Let’s take a looksee at topic #8
8: Show, don’t tell. Much vaunted advice, yet rarely heeded. An example: expressing emotion indirectly. Is your preferred reader intelligent? Yes? Then treat them accordingly. Tears were streaming down Lila’s face. She was very sad. Can the second sentence be inferred from the first? In context, let’s hope so. So cut it. If you want to engage your readers, don’t explain everything to them. Show them what’s happening and allow their intelligence to do the rest. And there’s a bonus to this approach. Because movies, of necessity, show rather than tell, this approach to your writing will help when it’s time to begin work on the screenplay adaptation of your novel!
I have to admit that I am guilty of this, and when I’m writing, I don’t even realize it. I KNOW not to do this, and I can pick it out in someone else’s novel in a second.
So why is it in my own? I’m not really sure, to be honest, but when a beta reader points it out, I always scratch my head and say, “How the heck did that get in there?”
Let’s reiterate SHOW DON’T TELL. For instance:
Tell: The vicious dog barked at the fence
Show: The dog’s lip curled up as he snarled, his teeth biting through the chain link fencing.
In the second example, we don’t come out and say he is vicious. If you’ve done your job well enough, your reader should be able to figure that out. Also, you will notice, there is quite a different emotional reaction in the second sentence, isn’t there? That’s the magic of show rather than tell. The shown image sinks in and resonates with the reader.
Pluck out a telly sentence from your own novel and try to change it up. How did you do?