Show And Tell – When do you use what?

There are any number of English teachers (and other writing types) that will tell you you have to show your character in a story rather than telling about your character. That’s a crock, in my opinion.

Showing has its uses, yes, but telling has a use, too. Take, for example, a Twitter-friend of mine. She wanted to know how to say “turn around” or “spun around” without actually saying that. The only thing I could think of was some camera work I had done about 20 years ago.

Now, I’m functionally illiterate in the sense that I don’t read words. Letters are pictures of sounds and the sounds represent things in the “Real World”. For me, reading is like watching a movie.

What better way to figure out who’s standing where in the scene than to treat it as a movie scene with various character  POV, or a wider POV, or panoramic POV.  I was having problems with one character getting dizzy trying to keep track of all the other characters in the scene. That’s when I realized that maybe I should open up the scene a bit to include all the speaking characters at once. I dollied my mental camera back to show the three speaking characters in the scene. Once I did that, it was much easier to show what was going on by telling the story from an outsider’s POV. I still had the dialogue from the two main characters and the asides from the third, but the description of the scene was done from a different perspective. That telling made the scene work better than just showing. I could show the body language now, as well as the tones of voice and facial expressions. I could include a whole picture instead of a series of close-ups that were confusing.

“Show” don’t “tell” is a good way to get your reader involved in the story. You’re putting them right in the middle of the action. That’s a good thing, but it can be exhausting to always be in the thick of things. Sometimes, you have to dolly the camera back to tell the rest of the picture, give your reader a break from the action, a chance to catch their breath, as it were.

Feel free to tell me that I’m full of hot air. I’d love to hear from you.

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