Wednesday, September 21, 2011

This one is about writing!

We often hear the old adage "actions speak louder than words," yet as writers we must rely on words and it is our task to select those words that will make the actions come alive and not just describe them.  Is this a difficult task?  Certainly!  But is it worth the effort?  Absolutely!
Showing versus telling was my staunch enemy when I first gave creative writing a try; I am not even sure I really understood the difference (and I still have trouble at times).  For decades I devoured books but I was usually so engrossed in the story and the words that I never thought to look at a novel as a whole or to consider its particular components. 
Both showing and telling have their rightful place.  Telling, by way of a description of a scene or by providing information, is essential to almost any story - imagine War and Peace without telling...
Yet, as the saying goes, actions generally speak volumes and can, often in one single motion, show us a trait or a consequence that may otherwise require a page full of exotic adjectives (which, if diligently employed page after page, could result in the loss of your readers). 
Thus, a meaningful balance of showing and telling is what we should aspire to - a task I hope to perfect one day. 

I was brushing my teeth last night when I looked at the almost empty tube of toothpaste I had just used.  The new tube had already been opened too, by my significant other.  I thought that a single and absolutely routine action like brushing one's teeth could perfectly demonstrated the difference in personalities and, with a healthy dose of fiction mixed in, would allow me to practice some showing versus telling and experiment with balancing the two.

Consider this:

Caroline liked to use up every last bit of toothpaste; leaving even half a brushtip's worth was a waste.  And to Caroline, waste, and especially waste of money, was quite simply the eight deadly sin.  She mended her clothes, vacuumed the rugs, and never odered take-out.  She often wondered how she and Larry, the epitome of wastefulness, lasted thirty years as a couple.  Larry left the lights on in every room of the house and had his undershirts laundered.  To Larry, doing something that he could pay someone else to do for him was nothing but a waste of his time.  
versus this:
Caroline rolled up the tube and replaced the cap before she squeezed every bit of paste towards the tip.  A smile of satisfaction spread across her face as she opened the cabinet and put the snail-shaped container on the shelf.  She wiped the drop of water that fell from her finger onto the glass shelf and closed it.  She hung the towel on the rack and anger replaced the peace in her brown eyes when she saw the open tube laying on top of the toilet tank, leaving behind a trail of red and blue paste. 
"Larry!" she yelled.  "How many times do I have to ask you to please close the paste when you are done with it!  Besides, there is still some paste left in the other tube," she said and her head shook with dissatisfaction as she fought to control her breathing.
"Whatever!" Larry mumbled under his moustache and washed his words down with a cold sip of Amstel. "Can't you just leave me alone?" he said and threw his sandwich in the garbage before he walked out.

Writing is fun, isn't it??


  1. I'm glad I'm not the only one who struggles with this. I only learn about this recently, and it's made such a difference to my work.
    I find it easier to see it in other people's work, than when I read my own.
    Thanks for such a great post :o)

  2. I have trouble with show vs. tell, too. I only learned about it relatively recently, and have trouble distinguishing them. Though I know I love to tell; my drafts are often heavy with description and statements.

  3. Thank you both for taking the time to visit and comment! I think we all just need to find the balance that works best for each of us and the piece we work on. But it sure is not easy :-)