Show. Don’t Tell.

That’s the mantra for this segment of the N – A – D – D.

            And the focus here . . . “Description.”

            Of the 4 Tools in the writer’s Toolbox this one’s the most used, the least understood, and the easiest to resort to for writers with little know-how of Narrative, Action, & Dialogue.

            Sad.  But true.

            Description, under the guise of “showing,” does little more than ‘tell’ the reader what to see, hear, think – come to ‘know.

            So the untrained writer, unaware, maybe just lazy piles up words as if cataloguing descriptors of a room, a scene, a face, a car . . . ad infinitum.

            It should be used the least.

            Adjectives & adverbs become stockpiled word choices, often plucked from a thesaurus, for the writer enamored by SAT/GRE vocabularies.

            Dickens knew all this.  When his contemporaries devoted 2 or 3 pages to the details of a carpeted drawing room. Dickens described what he needed in a paragraph or less.

            Like this, from Great Expectations:

                        A fearful man, all in coarse grey, with a great iron on his leg.  A man with

            no hat, and with broken shoes, and with an old rag tied around his head.  A man

            who had been soaked in water, and smothered in mud, and lamed by stones, and

            cut by flints, and stung by nettles, and torn by briars; who limped, and shivered

            and glared, and growled; and whose teeth chattered in his head as he seized me

            by the chin.

            In “kneeling at the Manger,” C. Winderl with spare frugality lets Mary show just this about the 3 shepherds:

I see on their adoring faces a

glimpse of mute surprise, some

wonder; in an eyebrow’s rise dis-

belief, while something

in their furtive sidelong glances

causes me to further ponder

            And in Atom & Go:  Trinity, Zachary uses frugal wordage to set the reader’s mind into over-drive:

            The abbey overlooked a deep river valley. The sisters had chosen the site well, centuries before. Trees of gold and red swept down the steep evergreen slopes like hearty veins along the back of strong, hard hands.

            At this point in his story, Z. Winderl shows his readers where to forage between & beyond the lines, sending their minds into high-gear.

            Of course, that’s because this Winderl hooked the reader with just the right words and imagery.  As Mark Twain noted, “the difference between the right word and the wrong one, is the same difference between lightning and the lightning bug.”  He would know.

            That’s the beautiful advantage of “showing”:  let the fully engaged & involved readers use their imaginations to flesh out the suggested images by the writer. 

            Thus, brevity’s the key for “descriptive” use.

            And the less time & space spent on describing, the more focus & energy can be spent on Narration, Action, & Dialogue.

            There:  where the heart of the story takes place for the eager reader.

            So, . . . wait for it . . . the last tool – perhaps the most important and fun one, for both the writer & reader – will be “Shown” next time.


            Until then, as in all things, keep your head up; keep your heart strong; above all, keep flying the black.

            Guest post by C. Winderl

2 thoughts on “Show. Don’t Tell.

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