Showing versus telling has been the issue of the week. I have been going back and forth in a healthy debate between two friends and writers, Ryan Wilson and Toff (check out Ryan’s post to catch up on the details).
I am going to hash out what I think telling is, and you, the reader, may watch, laugh, make fun, and eventually, agree. 🙂
See, most often show vs. tell is applied to either action or emotion. Rarely is it brought up for description. Why? Why should description get off so easy? Dialog and monologue get a free ride, because the character is actually thinking or speaking the exact text that is written, so it is out of the picture all together. Description, however, should not get away free and clear.
Look at the following example:
“He was tall.”
“He ducked through the doorway as he entered the room.”
Most would say the first is not telling. Why? Because it is description (in Ryan’s case, it is telling because it is ambiguous). I say it is telling, because the narrator is just telling the reader a fact. To show, is to have action (a point that Toff will kill me later for saying). If there is not action — even invisible action (say, blood pumping) — then you are not watching (which I would assume if you are “showing,” then I need to be “watching”).
If you just tell me, I didn’t see anything.
Let’s look at another example:
“She has blonde hair.”
“She pulled her blonde hair behind one ear and continued to study.”
In the first sentence, nothing “happens,” so there is nothing to watch (hence, nothing is being shown). In the second sentence, there is something to watch, so we are being shown.
Lastly, a more difficult example:
“I tripped over a man. He was bloody from head to toe.”
“I tripped over a man who was bloody from head to toe.”
While iffy, the second is not telling. Here’s why.
“I kicked a man. He was bloody from head to toe.”
Subject predicate object. Subject (linking verb) prepositional phrase (as an adverb)
“I kicked a man who was bloody from head to toe.”
Subject predicate object prepositional phrase (as an adverb)
In the second sentence, there is action covering the whole sentence. Big difference. That brings me to my first rule of telling: a sentence that has a linking verb, with no other verbs, is telling.
I realize that my English skills are… questionable. If anything here is incorrect (as far as how I broke apart the sentence), please let me know. Additionally, I would love to hear your opinion on the matter. Post up and let’s see what happens!
*P.S. I am quite aware that my opinion is just that, and as I learn, I may decide that this is completely bogus, and my friends are correct.