Happy birthday to Debbie Fuller Thomas! She's 39 again and we wish her every happiness today!
"The difference between showing and telling in writing is simple!
Telling: Becky was sick.
Showing: Becky sniffled into a tissue, then vomited.
Hmmm. Not so much.
Perhaps we need to take the discussion of Show vs Tell and throw it in the same place as Becky's crumpled tissue. Writers need to stop talking as if Showing is some easy literary device. Something you can choose to employ or un-employ at whim.
It is, instead, the preferred method of storytelling. Method - not device. It is part of the theory of the modern novel. It is the discussion of intent, not meaning. It is the unveiling of the human condition, not the opening of a toolbox.
Didn't know there was a theory of the literature? There are several. But that is for another blog.
If Showing were simply about writing long and detailed explanations of the chain of action-reflection-reaction-action, no one would ever get a book written - moreover, no one would care to read the thing anyway. Who wants to read an encyclopedia of people in motion?
This explanation doesn't give insight into why some of our most beloved novels have wide swaths - pages and pages - of narrative summary. These often pop up in fascinating tangents where a character has experiences something, and then ponders the nature of the experience at length. Is that "showing"? The answer is: Yes, in part.
Something much more interesting is going on when we speak of Showing. An author who shows the story is an author with a light touch - one who respects her character's choices, who balks at easy answers, and stares messy incompleteness in the face. A writer who shows is a writer able to capture the subtleties and nuance of human hearts in motion.
Showing isn't really about an explanation of the action occurring in a novel - it is an exploration of the people themselves. It is taking the characters, laying them flat and rolling, like a scroll, their essence. Recognizing the inadequacy of our efforts, we, the writers, pull out what it is to experience the story we are telling. We examine a facet here, an angle there, all the while weeping for the parts we cannot tell within the limitations of the medium.
Showing is to cause the reader to be awash in the experience of your characters. It begins with word one, and ends as the last page is turned. It is the author's ability to step aside, and let the characters experience the story. It has nothing - I repeat - nothing to do with how many words you use to help the reader picture the turning of a door knob.
Sometimes you just need to get the door open and who cares how it got that way - if I explained the tedious gripping of a handle, the turning of a wrist, the click of tumblers, it would slow the story down - bog it down, actually. Instead the door is opened. Ah! A greenish Becky enters, crumpled tissue in hand. Oh good!
So what do we call it when the author pushes aside the doldrums of "Becky was sick" in favor of "Becky sniffled into a tissue and vomited"? I would call it being precise.