Writing Masterclass: Show Vs Tell

Last week we looked at character archetypes (If you missed it you can check it out here). This week I would like to look at exposition and description and how best to avoid lengthy paragraphs that drone on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on…

It’s a trap! As writers, we have a tendency to describe our characters through vision alone instead of using all five senses, we tell instead of show and in turn make our characters automatically uninteresting. For example:

Fran was a tall, dark-haired pixie who sported a leather jacket with 70s shoulder pads. Her eyes were lined with thick black eyeliner that made her eyes look catlike.

I am a part of the Ninja Writers group on Facebook and as a part of my membership I get regular emails with handy writing prompts and information that maybe I wouldn’t have thought of. It was in one of Shaunta’s emails that suggested developing my exposition into something a little more… exciting.

She suggested that instead of writing a description when introducing a new character we should use action instead, show instead of tell and incorporate any descriptions you do wish to write into the scene, making it a part of the story. By doing this the reader won’t break the immersion. For example, lets spin my short description into a very brief scene.

“Who are you trying to be Fran? Alice Cooper?” Adam laughed as he flicked one of Fran’s spiked shoulders.

She ran a hand through her pixie cut that she’d tried to style into some sort of mohawk.

“I fancied a change. I was hoping for more Joan Jett than Alice Cooper though.” 

So as you can see, in this very short snippet, I have suggested at looks rather than explain Fran’s appearance.

What I would like you to try is picking a character that you’ve explained in your manuscript and pick it apart, pull out the key aspects that you enjoyed describing and develop a scene around those aspects. It may feel like a waste of paper and resources but even if you don’t use the scene in your final story at least you have a solid understanding about how your character looks and why they’ve chosen to look that way.

Let me know what you thought of this writing tip in the comments below.

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3 thoughts on “Writing Masterclass: Show Vs Tell

  1. Pingback: Writing Masterclass: Dialect, Body Language & Character Representation – The Ramblings of a Madwoman

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