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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Thursday Tip...Common Fiction Mistake

Today's tip comes from Barbara Warren's writing newsletter Blue Mountain Backroads (to subscribe, email Barbara at barbarawarrennewsletter@yahoogroups.com)

TELLING INSTEAD OF SHOWING:

I first heard of this when I was at a writer's conference in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Fred Bean was the speaker. I thought he was crazy. I'm a writer, right? A storyteller? I tell a story? What did he think he was talking about? Well, now I know.

I can't tell you how many manuscripts I get to edit where the writer is telling what happened. No action, no dialogue, no internal monologue. No nothing. It usually takes several tries before the writer understands the difference, but this is one bad habit, that once understood is never made again. The following examples are not very good, but see if you can tell the difference.

Example #1: John loved the old house. It had been in his family for a hundred years. It had a wide front porch with broad steps leading down to the overgrown lawn, which needed mowing. He had moved in yesterday and claimed the master bedroom as his own. Tomorrow he would go to town to buy groceries. He wanted to get a dog too, so he wold be lonesome out here all by himself.

Example #2: John looked up at the sweeping lines of the old farmhouse. Why had he stayed away so long? This house had belonged to Whitakers for over a hundred years. He waded ankle deep wet grass, thinking that tomorrow he would buy a lawnmower. The broad steps leading to the wide front porch were just as he remembered. He turned the old brass doorknob and stepped inside, smelling the familiar fragrance of rose potpourri and beeswax polish. The silence was almost overwhelming. He'd forgotten how isolated it was. He'd get a dog.

1 comment:

Christine H said...

My college writing teacher never told us about internal monologue. For the longest time I thought "show don't tell" meant that only physical action and external dialogue were allowed to tell the story - but finally gave up that idea when I realized a) how really difficult it is to explain the characters' motivations that way and b) that other authors do relate the characters' thoughts at times.

It's good to see this example on what "show don't tell" really means.