Show and Tell

I was recently asked to give editing advice to an umpublished author. He shows great promise, but the story suffered from one of the most common failings of beginning writers: telling vs. showing.

My own mentor, Jessica Maxwell, whose latest book, Roll Around Heaven won a Nautilus Award gold medal for spiritual writing, has done her best to drill this one thing into my head.

Show, don’t tell.

We tell stories, but when we’re writing, we need to show our readers what is going on. To show the reader what is happening will create a much more mesmerizing tale than if you just tell them.

Let me give you an example:

Telling is:
He pushed through the grimy door, anxious momentarily because he couldn’t see her. His eyes adjusted to the darkness. The naked woman lay sprawled on the blue mat, but he could see she was still securely tied. He could hear the chains rattling, and smelled her fear.
He smiled while holding up his knife. “Pleased to see me, my dearest? I know I’m glad you decided to stay.”
He was evil, and she was afraid.

Showing is:
His breath caught as he pushed open the grimy door. For an agonizing moment the darkness hid everything, but sharp, anxious breaths assured him she was still here. Slowly, his eyes adjusted to the dim light, and his heart soared as the ghostly apparition before him slowly transformed into a naked woman sprawled on a blue mat.
Taking in a relieved breath, his attention jumping to her hands still securely tied above her head. He lifted his knife and carefully tested its razor-sharp edge as the shackles on her ankles rattled.
“Pleased to see me, my dearest?” he sing-songed while giving the knife another quick once-over before focusing again on the squirming woman whimpering through the tape over her mouth “I know I’m glad you decided to stay.”

Tell me the second example doesn’t make you want to read more? Or better yet, run screaming from the room.

Clifford M. Scovell
Prison Earth – Not Guilty as Charged


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