Until a couple of weeks ago, I thought I had “Show, Don’t Tell” in the bag. And then, while driving around Kansas City at World Con, I got an email that said my manuscript had too much telling and not enough showing. I asked Emer, Emily, and Giles about it (since they’ve all helped with this book). Everyone said my book felt much more showy than telly. I laughed at the email's comment, passing it off as one of those subjective things.
That was before. This is now: if I told you the amount of telling I’ve removed from this book, you would faint. The process has been painful in the way that a good editing pass makes you cry. When your personal trainer finds a muscle group that’s lacking and forces you to work on it, you feel the burn. Sometimes the pain continues into sore muscles the next day. If you have a good trainer, that soreness results in a stronger body.
After that initial denial, I went back to my trainer’s email and considered her words. I used her notes to edit the first chapter of my manuscript, and I realized something terrifying: she was right. I thought I knew the difference between showing and telling. I used to tell everyone that I was really good at showing instead of telling. *facepalm*
Now that I’m about twelve chapters deep in clearing out all this ridiculous info-dumpy telling, I think I might have the hang of it. I know now that one of the reasons I overwrite is because I not only tell the reader things, I show them the exact same thing in the next sentence. Ha! Who needs to pick one when you can pick both of them?
If you’re trying to figure out if you “tell” too much, dive into your book at the paragraph and sentence level. Does your narrator present the reader with a picture to interpret, or does he/she use a filter (I see, I look, I smell) to describe a moment for the reader? I’ve had to re-evaluate every phrase in my manuscript to make it more active and engaging.
How do you spot issues with telling in your own writing?
Michelle’s writing buddy, the fluffbeast called Dell, has lodged a formal complaint about holiday weekends being used to write, edit, and wire bathroom lighting instead of playing with the dog. The pup is incredibly disappointed in her human.