Back to Basics

My blog has suffered over the last three weeks. I hit a wall at Easter, travelled, drifted, lost confidence, rested, and did a whole pile of other stuff that meant the blog posts and twittering dried up. So now it’s Friday 27th April and I’m back and trying harder than ever.

Friday posts are about writing techniques for fiction. So let’s go back and cover some basic ground. One of the first things you hear about when you start on the road of writing fiction is ‘Show don’t tell’. So what does that really mean?

  1. Don’t explain
  2. Stick to the action
  3. Give the character thoughts and feelings as he/she would experience in real life.
  4. Let the reader live the story for him/herself.

Coming from a business background, much of this is counter-intuitive. Formal training teaches you to present information that explains and reports facts from an objective point of view as briefly as possible. The most efficient way to do this is simply to tell it like it is.

Fiction is the opposite. You want the reader to work it out, and to experience all the bias, feelings and emotions of the character. In order to achieve this, you have to present the evidence, rather than report the conclusion.

Examples (not brilliant examples but you get the idea):

Tell: Graham stepped out his front door. It was a windy day.
Show: Graham had to pull the front door hard against the wind to shut it behind him.

Tell: Graham’s boss, John, was angry.
Show: When Graham arrived at work, John was waiting outside his office door, pacing the floor.

Tell: Janine had a broken leg.
Show: Janine arrived later than the rest of the gang, hobbling on her crutches.

So that’s what ‘show’ means – present the evidence and let the reader work it out. It makes the whole thing much more interesting and exciting. Get inside the head of the character and present the overall dominant impression of what is happening all around, allowing the reader to experience that for him/herself.

A couple of exceptions:

If there are a series of straight-forward facts to be presented, then sometimes it is better and more efficient to just get on and tell them. It depends on the type of novel, but many historical novels have some straightforward facts that are better just presented.

If there’s a small point to be conveyed that is immaterial to the plot, then simply telling the fact is less obtrusive.

More next week – honest. I’m back on it.

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