Monday, May 23, 2011

Show and Tell

Writers are always told to quit telling and to start showing. I wonder what a group of writers trying to build a house would look or sound like. "Don't tell me how to hold the hammer. Just show me!" It's easy when you're five and Show and Tell is coming up. You take in your newest toy, show it to the class, and tell them all about how you got it, where it came from and why it's so cool and special. You don't have to describe what the toy looks like, but you jump right into the emotion of it all.

Cocoa ran off again. I had to get the leash and chase her down the street. We called her name and yelled a bunch. After we got to the 5th house, we finally found her behind the neighbor's garden.

Cocoa ran off again. Having only three legs didn't slow her down any, either. I grabbed the leash and sprinted toward the street. "Cocoa!" I yelled. "Cocoa! Come here, girl!" I slowed down at the 5th house. There she was. Right beside the neighbors squash and tomato plants. I squatted down and patted my legs. She ran toward me. "Good girl!"

You have "planners" and you have "pansters." The planners like to outline and map out a plot. (That would be me.) The pansters like to just write and go with the flow and see where they end up. I like to think of planners as telling first, then going back and filling in the details, including dialogue. The pansters don't want to tell what happened, ever. Not even to themselves. They have a natural knack for showing the first time around. The thing is, sometimes the story ends up getting completely rewritten because they didn't know where they were going first. (Of course that happens to planners, too.)

Might I suggest telling yourself a brief summary of what happens, then what, then this, then that, and finally this. On paper. Then go back and show to your heart's content. For a novel, the telling might only be two pages. Or twenty. It's just a simple map. A guideline. A sketch. The route can always be changed. The scenery can always be added. It's a lot easier to tell twenty pages and show 50,000 words than it is to show 50,000 words without it ever telling much of a story.

So the next time you hear "show, don't tell," think about "tell, then show." It will certainly make writing a query a whole lot easier. And that's a lot shorter than twenty pages, too!

So, are you a "show-er" or a "tell-er"? Panster or planner?

Keep on keepin' on...


  1. I am a total panster. I've tried planning out stories and it just doesn't work. After a certain point the characters just take over and the story often changes so significantly that my month of planning goes to waste.
    I set off with a vague idea of where I'm going and see what happens. I find it more exciting that way.

  2. I think I've always scribbled some notes down before a first draft but they are increasing, so I'm turning into a plotter, which is good because like you say you don't have to go back and re-write quite so much. Still learning on the show don't tell front though.

  3. I am definitely a planner. Another great post Christie!

  4. I'm a pantser. I just can't get the story out if I try to plan it. :)

  5. Well, I write in rhyme, and a lot of people (including my agent) would say "write in prose first." But that just doesn't work for me. I know rhyme isn't supposed to "drive" the story, but sometimes it does take me places that i couldnt' have planned.

  6. Angeline, I agree that it is exciting to see where the story ends up (even when I do spend a day or two to plan it ahead of time).

    Catherine, My planning is always in the form of random scribbles.

    Maeve, Thanks!

    Alison, You go, girl. I'm jealous; I just have to plan a little, even if it's vague.

    Corey, I agree that writing in rhyme is a different kind of challenge. I can't plan by doing prose first either, but I still do a bit of scribble planning. The rhyme always takes me to unplanned places. That's the joy of writing, to have the flexibility to stray from the plan.

  7. I'm a real pantser - I always decided which animal I am going to have as my MC and do a bit of research about them.

    Next the story comes out as I write it, no planning at all! Usually ends up somewhere I wouldn't expect and often needs tweaking but I have found I can never stick to a plan :)

    Thanks for the post!


I love hearing from you! Share your thoughts below.


Link Within

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...