October 27, 2013

Show, not tell - an introduction

Dear M,

Remember I told you how I could never get rid of adjectives? I could understand the redundancy of adverbs - once you begin to notice them, you realise how ugly the writing looks. But adjectives - I admit, I do find them excessive some times, but most of the time I find them useful. I mean, how do I say that a girl is beautiful without referring to her as a 'beautiful girl'? (Or heading straight to the thesaurus and coming up with 'gorgeous', 'ravishing' or 'dazzling'?)

That's where the other writing rule (or a guideline, I prefer) comes in. Show, not tell. One of the most beautiful and most difficult (and at times the most exhausting) guidelines in literature. Beautiful - because if it is implemented right, you get a feeling of being elevated from the plane you are in. Difficult - because it takes a lot of time and effort to get it right.

So what does it mean?
"Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass." - Anton Chekhov

When we use adjectives, we are trying to say, the girl is beautiful. Straightforward and to the face of the reader. But if we describe what makes her beautiful - her hair, her sensuous lips, her eyes, her words, her actions, her kindness - the simple, meaningless adjective, 'beautiful', is replaced by a clearer picture, a feeling, a vision. The reader deciphers it in a way he knows, a way that his experience and learning has to taught him to. When he does that, he begins to connect with the character, he feels that he knows the girl.

Show, not tell is not easy to implement. We cannot (and should not) use it everywhere. We cannot describe every single adjective we have used and expand it into a detailed paragraph. It is not only a waste of time, your novel will also never reach the end, the reader would be bored to death and give up before he has reached ten pages.

It is important to identify the places where we should show instead of telling. If we overdo it, it becomes exhausting to read. Whatever anyone says, the knowledge can come only from writing and writing and writing and writing.

There's more to Show, not tell than I have described above. I will share them as we go along, as I try to master it.


Like this post on Facebook!

No comments :

Post a Comment