Show, Don’t Tell

As a fledgling writer you are taught that you should ‘show, don’t tell’.  But why, you might ask? What is the harm in telling anyway?  For that matter, what do you mean by that phrase?

Let me give you an example of show first:

Michael crept across the darkened kitchen and stopped at the fridge, his hand resting on the door.  He glanced round before opening the door. The light from the fridge made his skin glow as he fished for his favourite snack, salami.  After giving it a sniff he devoured the cylinder of pork.  Closing the door, he licked his fingers and returned to bed.

And here is an example of tell:

Ever since he was a child, Michael had fostered a secret habit nighttime eating.  The first time was at the age of eleven he had woken during the night with hunger pangs.  Desperate to have something to eat, he snuck downstairs and gobbled a plate of cheese left on the side.  His mother, Maureen, wondered who had eaten their food until one night she caught him red-handed.  The scolding she gave out did not deter him however.  He knew what he was doing was bad for his health but he could not help himself as he stole across the kitchen and raided the fridge.  This time he went for the salami.

Here’s the problem, in the first example the story evolves before your eyes.  You get an impression that Michael is probably impulsive by nature.  You don’t know what the original cause was for this secretive eating, you are left to your own conclusions.

In the second example I have told you the reason.  In order to do that I had to pull away from the story to tell you.  The flow was been disrupted in order to give you this piece of character-building information.

The reason I bring this up now is because of the book I am reading ‘The Improbability of Love’ by Hannah Rothschild. Parts of the book are engaging however Hannah does have a habit of telling rather than showing.

In short bursts, I admit, it is useful to tell some back story.  When it stretches to two pages and the story to one paragraph, then I have a problem.  While I haven’t finished the novel I keep asking myself the same two questions ‘Do I need to know the motivation of every character in the story?  Do I need the life history of said characters too?’

Currently, the answer is no.

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Owning a Creative Mind

What’s it like having a creative mind?  Maddening and wonderful at the same time.  I love seeing the world in a different light to most people.  New ways of imagining objects, a different twist to language ( why, for example, does stench have to be a word describing a bad smell, to me it indicates a strong odour.  Aroma is nice but delicate.  Even with the addition of ‘heady’, it doesn’t sound as strong as stench), are fun to me.

In the last few minutes I have thought about what to write for this blog, the subject list is as follows; weather, food, family, cats, Christmas (or at least a time of coming together as a family regardless of your denomination), the past, update on the Syria story.  While it is fun to be able to jump from one subject to another, sometimes it can be difficult to concentrate.  Still, it does mean I’m a whiz at word association!

The maddening side of it though, I have to keep my brain active.  Various inputs are necessary; music, film, modelling (not the catwalk variety, I mean plastic kits), photography, video games (esp. Dreamfall: Chapters, now that’s a beautiful story right there), reading, writing, cooking, philosophical arguments, space exploration (and not just because of Tim Peake), science and I’d better stop there.

Conclusion: I really need to learn yoga or some other form of meditation to calm this mental hurricane down.

The Ultimate Observer

More than once I have wondered what it would feel like to be unable to communicate via speech.  Speaking and by extension, listening, is an inherent part of me.  Yet it is said that ninety five per cent of communication is non-verbal.  So why does speaking mean so much to us?

It is one of the foremost ways of giving information to others.  We use speech to bond, to inform, to educate, to entertain.  Without speech, would life be bleak?

My answer is no and here’s why.  Recently I have experienced and seen what it is like to be unable to talk.  On a visit to my sister recently, we decided to take a tour of the town.  While doing so, we passed two women communicating through sign language.  In that brief moment, I knew they were having fun through taking photos and playing about.

The other example happened a few weeks earlier when I had been skyping with a friend.  Due to an error, I could not hear what she said.  Therefore we resorted to the traditional back-up, the written word.  During the conversation, it seemed to me that we were conversing on a deeper level.  Having to rely on body language meant I became more adept at reading her thoughts and emotions.

This lead me to wonder, could deaf people be the ultimate observers?

Why does this have to do with writing? Easy.  By putting myself in their position, I can see what life would be like.  This is the same process you need to perform for your characters.  Give them life by understanding that everyone views life their way.