The big show v.s. tell conundrum

Editors want you to show.

Readers want you to tell.
And authors are stuck somewhere in the middle of this tug of war. 
Some of the things I learned while writing fiction was that a book is made real when the author shows what’s going on instead of telling the readers what’s going on. There have been a million examples of this so let me try my hand at one!
Tell: “Joe went to the store and bought milk.” 
Show: “Joe traveled down the cobblestone path to the little convenience store on the corner. He wended around the display racks and squeezed through the narrow aisles towards the back of the store. Coolers lined the back of wall in a perfectly aligned row, illuminated and buzzing. Joe reached for the handle and swung it open, using his other hand to grab the milk. The cooler door shut with a thunk as Joe brought the milk to the front counter.”
Show allows the reader to get immersed in what’s actually happening rather than knowing the cliff notes version of a story. If you don’t want to read a story you can go to wikipedia, look up almost anything and it’ll tell you in a few paragraphs what happened. 
Tell is one of those things that a writer uses when they want to explain things they can’t show. These often crop up in huge “info dump” scenes. The main character meets someone who all of a sudden explains everything that’s going on in the story or they encounter a situation where everything is pieced together in a neat little package and tied with a bow.
This is something editors really don’t like, and often before a book is put on the shelves, editors will request that the scene is altered so there’s more show and not tell.
In fact, when editing Flame of Surrender, I had a scene in the first chapter where I made a statement, and my editor said “show don’t tell.” With it being so benign in my mind, I didn’t think of it as info dump or telling v.s. showing, but my editor caught it.
Here it is:
“It was the pressure and the lack of air that made swimming in the pond scary. The merfolk were actually gentle creatures, cooing and floating around her, pulling at her hands and wondering at her differences.”

Changed to:
“It was the pressure and the lack of air that made swimming in the pond scary, not the stories about the merfolk dragging unsuspecting kinfolk to the bottom. The merfolk were actually gentle creatures, cooing and floating around her, pulling at Kaliel’s hands and wondering at her differences.”

True, I didn’t add a lot, but I did expand on the idea a bit to show why Kaliel was thinking about the pond being scary. 

One of the reasons I show more than I tell is because it jars the reader out of the story if they’re being told a story. They need to live inside the story and the only way to do that is to make them feel like they’re there, experiencing it with the characters. 

Reading the reviews, I’ve noticed that some people find Avristar confusing. Today I added the extras section. I’m going to be adding some of my essays on the world of Avristar, the Flames, the Ferryman, etc. etc. so you can better understand where the story comes from. I can’t say the essays will be as pretty as the book but I hope they help to fill in the blanks!

Comments ( 2 )

  • Mari Stroud says:

    Folding exposition in gracefully is a skill as valuable as folding batter in cooking. Sometimes I think it's just an inborn talent, and the rest of us have to muddle as best we can. I think you're doing great. :)

  • Michelle @ Oh! For the Love of Books says:

    Hey girl. I wanted to tell you I got your bookmarks in the mail and I am going to send a few out with my upcoming book hop. <br /><br />When you get a second, shoot me an email. I have some questions about epub you may be able to help me. <br /><br />Talk to you soon!

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