Showing vs telling – Slush pile notes
Writing is a difficult craft. Not only do you have to learn all sorts of grammar rules, you have to learn technique and style. You have to find your individual voice and sometimes put it aside to write something you are unfamiliar with. There are all sorts of tricks and guides that you don’t know about until you have already painted your characters into a corner.
One of the most obvious mistakes of a new writer is telling instead of showing.
To the pros, they know what this means and the proper times when telling is acceptable, but when describing a character, showing can be much more interesting.
She was a milliner.
This sentence states a fact, but doesn’t let you know exactly what a milliner is or what time period. The reader is TOLD information.
Madame Bute’s shop was next door to the dressmakers and we always had time to stop by. Her hands were always stained brown, grey or an ugly red that no amount of soap could erase. She didn’t mind as we watched her pull the wet wool over a form and shape a new design. Once it had dried, she cut and sewed ribbons, lace and bright thread along the edges. Her rough fingers delicately sketch patterns with beads and even feathers. Her designs drew women from the austere houses but she always had smaller, less expensive designs for the ladies of the middle class.
This paragraph describes the woman, what she makes and gives us a hint as to what kind of person she was. The reader can accurately guess what occupation the woman has without being told. The paragraph also gives hints as to the world and society the woman lives in.
Showing allows the reader to make certain assumptions which will be unique to each reader.
As a reader, I prefer the second example. I can imagine Madame as a very hard working woman who enjoys creating hats for other women. The paragraph allows me to make some assumptions like, she works alone, is very businesslike, but has a soft heart.
So when you are writing, remember to show your readers who and what is going on. It makes things much more interesting for the reader.