Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Showing and Telling Revisited

In writing the recent post Words Aren't Everything, I talked about how certain feelings and experiences are simply indescribable, but that, although words cannot describe the feelings themselves, we can use words to elicit those feelings in our readers, which we do by portraying all of the scenes and actions that went into creating that feeling.

When I gave that advice, I realized that it was my own way of saying that good authors show and don't tell.

Now, I wrote about showing and telling a couple of years ago, and I had a pretty different take on the matter (namely, I thought the advice was BS). Today, I understand the advice. (What was BS was the people who spouted it without ever explaining it properly.)

We have to tell our readers something, but we should not tell them how to feel. We have to show them what is going on, why people are doing it, and how it affects themselves and others. If we can do that, then our readers will feel exactly what we want them to without ever having to be told.

In reading my old post, I find it interesting that my advice was pretty similar back then: "Just tell people the stuff that matters to your story." Today, my knowledge goes deeper into how and why - it has been refined with time and thought - but the advice remains the same, which makes me happy to know that I was on the right track. (And if my original advice was dead wrong, then I'd still be happy that I wasn't on the wrong track anymore.)

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