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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Show, Don't Tell

I opened chapter three of Elswyk's Moon with my main character talking to the reader. It was an interesting idea, and if I had executed it better, it might have worked. (Just let me lie to myself about this, okay?) However, I committed the biggest fiction-writer sin of all. I did a whole lot of telling. Showing, not so much.

Don’t believe me? Let me give you a small sample:

I had been working for them for about three years, and I was just promoted and moved to the Torindal location. I had been in Torindal for nearly seven days, and so I was still unpacking. I was given an apartment on the third floor of the building—not as transient as the second floor where those who transport the books stay when they’re in town and not as nice as the fifth floor where those who have lived here for generations make their home, but serviceable. It was enough for me, and soon enough I would make it my own.

It goes on like this for a couple pages. Ugh.

It’s early in the story. I do need to establish a base from where the character starts. But I don’t need much of that backstory. In fact, some things will have more impact if I imply them rather than stating them outright.

I can cut all the talking to the reader stuff. The basic plot of the chapter takes place during a normal work day for Elswyk. I can establish that she’s new in one short exchange of dialog, and the rest of it can just go.

Have you ever tried a talking to the reader section? Could you make it work?


Misty Waters said...

Dialogue with a character who wouldn't know the backstory themselves would be the best way to go, then you aren't having an, "As you know, Bob," convo. I've definitely done it, but was lucky enough to have that new character to spring board off of when I realized it was too telling a section. Not only that, but I was missing a golden opportunity to show off my shiny new character who was awesome:)
Your floors sound interesting, too, so if I were you, I'd show those rather than have them in dialogue if you can.

tlbodine said...

This sounds pretty standard for all my first drafts. I'm a bit of a pantser, so my first draft is often a lot of instructions written to myself in the guise of narrative: Listing out everything that's going on in a scene, from backstory to physical description and action. In draft 2, I have the delightful task of picking out the important bits and converting them into something someone would actually care to read.

This is much easier come edit time than when the opposite happens. Every so often I get a narrator who's terse and refuses to explain *anything*, lol.

Liz A. said...

That entire paragraph and the page is was on is gone. Cut, cut, cut.

Liz A. said...

Too bad this was my fourth or fifth draft. Ah well. It's gone now.