Show not tell!


Today’s photograph is looking over towards the countryside from the park at about 10.30am on a blustery bright cool day.

My lovely friend Jackie in Brighton sent me the first three chapters from a book a friend of hers is writing, who wants opinions and critique. I was happy to do it as equally I am happy when someone who doesn’t know me has done that for my writing. I hope I gave her some useful insights.

One of the things I kept writing on the manuscript was ‘show not tell’, which is a criticism I keep getting at Renegades Writers whenever I read. It is one of the hardest skills to master. After all we are telling a story to a person whose only knowledge of our thought process is through the words we are writing, and we are desperate that they get the point, or the plot, or the character. And yet the joy of reading is in the unfolding of a story and our interpretation.

Writers pre the 1920’s would often tell you what they thought and what you should think, guiding you through their plot and making sure you thought the same thing. It is a very tempting thing to do, a sort of Greek chorus, but not very satisfying for the reader.

A short description of a character is one of the greatest faults. ‘He had black hair and a thin face’ fine it tells us just that, but we all know we could do much more to entice the reader to create the person that we see in our mind. Perhaps we don’t think about the reader enough, I know I don’t, which is why I will never get rich from all this! Maybe it comes from my fine art training which was just about interpreting what was inside you and if the viewer liked it great if they didn’t it didn’t matter. The longer I go on creating the more I am trying to change that, not giving in to the lowest common denominator to make cash – sex, violence, pornography (sounds a bit like some of my stuff!) – but making sure the reader is as captivated by the writing as I am in my mind when I am creating it.

In yesterday’s blog, the interview with Eve Hanninen she made the point about making poetry not too obvious, allowing the reader to interpret, to find out. I think in a novel it is also about what the reader needs to know and sometimes you do need to tell. If you are setting a story in say Paris in 1956 then it is probably best to tell that, as you could go round the houses before the reader realised where and when they were. I remember reading an interview by Truffaut with Alfred Hitchcock and he said that he would use the most obvious image to set where something happened so as not to get in the way of the plot, i.e. if in Paris a few frames of the Eiffel Tower sets the place, even if the rest of the film is shot in a studio.




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