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We are lonesome animals. We spend all our life trying to be less lonesome. One of our ancient methods is to tell a story begging the listener to say - and to feel - 'Yes, that's the way it is, or at least that's the way I feel it. You're not as alone as you thought.'
-- John Steinbeck


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Show, Don't Tell


When I was an English major at Iowa State, a professor told me this nugget:

Show, don't tell. Let the reader live the story through your characters' actions and words, not through exposed inner thoughts and only-God-could-know-that description.
Which of these makes for a stronger story?
  • Jen pulled her face into a pinch and jerked backward, her arm recoiling from Brendan's outstretched hand.
  • Jen saw Brendan reach for her, and could think only of how he repulsed her. She leaned back away from him immediately.
The former engages you to decipher Jen's body language and facial expression and come to your own conclusions. Jen is a puzzle to be solved, and you are drawn in, watching her as though in front of you.

In the latter, you magically read her thoughts. The scene loses intensity. It's a lazier way to write.

This lesson is stuck in my head tonight, and I'm not sure why, so I'm bookmarking it in the blog here to come back to it later.


by Brett Rogers, 11/5/2008 2:31:40 AM


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