My Show-Don’t-Tell Obsession

7-30-09 Mt Bachelor and Museum 012

If the sharpest tool in the box is description, and hearing J.T. Bushnell explain it (previous post) was a breakthrough for me, does the rule “show don’t tell” deserve my obsessive compulsive devotion from now on?

I’m reading “The First 50 Pages,” by Jeff Gerke. He’s telling me that if I break the rule “show don’t tell” in my first fifty pages, my story will be instantly rejected by the professional slush pile browsers. He says he ought to know, he’s read the beginnings of thousands of submitted stories and has rejected almost all of them, and for what he thinks are good reasons. He tells exactly why he rejected stories and what the criteria were. He discusses these problems in detail. It’s compelling the way he’s put it all together. Yes, buy the book, by all means and read it, but Jeez…

It threw me into a slow-mo panic.

I went back to my first chapter and started deleting all kinds of important stuff about Johanna. I don’t want to “tell” the readers that she has a condition called “perfect autobiographical memory” or that she’s related to an ancient Samurai. I don’t want to “tell” about how she blames herself for the kidnapping of her brother. I’ve got to make up scenes that naturally cover all this important stuff. Boy is that going to be contrived and boring. At one point I have her looking at a picture of her family and “telling” about how her parents died. I cut most of that, too. And I’m feeling the sleeves of this “How To Write” straitjacket pulling my arms back again. I don’t like it.

It always seems to me that the people who are actually selling novels in copious quantities are breaking a lot of the rules. What about this one? I googled “show don’t tell, exceptions in popular fiction?” And guess what…

I found this:



“In his ThrillerFest session “Tell, Don’t Show: Why Writing Rules are Mostly Wrong,” Child battled a few of the biggest writing myths out there, and explained what really keeps a reader reading until The End.”

I like this guy already. I’m going to go buy one of his books now. Meanwhile, here’s a bit more of the article on Child’s heretical views…

Picture this: In a novel, a character wakes up and looks at himself in the mirror, noting his scars and other physical traits for the reader.

“It is completely and utterly divorced from real life,” Child said.

So why do writers do this? Child said it’s because they’ve been beaten down by the rule of Show, Don’t Tell. “They manufacture this entirely artificial thing.”

“We’re not story showers,” Child said. “We’re story tellers.”

Child said there’s nothing wrong with simply saying the character was 6 feet tall, with scars.

After all, he added—do your kids ever ask you to show them a story? They ask you to tell them a story. Do you show a joke? No, you tell it.

“There is nothing wrong with just telling the story,” Child said. “So liberate yourself from that rule.”

Child believes the average reader doesn’t care at all about telling, showing, etc. He or she just wants something to latch onto, something to carry them through the book. By following too many “rules,” you can lose your readers.

OK, I’m back. I bought “Killing Floor,” the first of a best-selling series about (a first person POV character) Jack Reacher. I just read the first chapter. Wow. Now I respect Child’s opinions. The guy can write. Especially for an average reader like me. Like I? No. Forget I asked.

Part of the reason why Child is able to disagree so easily with the show-don’t-tell dogma is that he’s writing in first person. When you do that, the telling sounds a lot less like telling, I’ve noticed. Here’s what I mean…

In third person it sounds like “telling” for sure:

“Johanna’s luck brought her perfect autobiographical memory, a gift that provided straight A’s, double grade skipping and, according to the scant literature, a tendency toward pathologic grudge holding and major depression.”

That was telling. Someone slap my wrists. But now I’ll write it in first person and it will sound a lot less like an info dump of “telling,” and more like a new friend of yours letting you in on an intimate secret:

“It turns out I’m mental. Something called perfect autobiographical memory. It’s so rare the shrinks don’t know much, other than I’m going to grow up to be an unforgiving ass who probably murders herself.”

Man, I wish I had the guts to write a female protagonist in first person! (Update edit: I finally got the nerve to do it, here.) There is so much I want to “tell” my readers. I’m an ideas guy. I want to chat with my readers about stuff that interests me as I write my stories. If I wrote in first person I could get away with a lot more of it. In third person, I’m thinking I’m going to get tossed into the trash somewhere in the first fifty pages.


Help me out, somebody, please. Seriously, tell me how you deal with this dilemma.


M. Talmage Moorehead

PS: I did some more searching on this topic and found an article that casts a realistic light on the subject:

If you’re interested in intelligent design, weird artifacts, genetics and psychology from the perspective of a nineteen-year-old “Hapa Girl,” my in-progress novel may be a fun read. The protagonist, Johanna, is a genius geneticist with a younger brother who struggles with depression, though you wouldn’t know it to meet him. Her evolving story starts here.

It’s an experiment called, Hapa Girl DNA, and is a hybrid itself – a tightrope crossing of fiction and non-fiction. “Hapa” is the Hawaiian term for “half.” Johanna is half Japanese and half Jewish. In writing her novel, she and I ignore some important fiction-writing rules, partly because we like to test dogmas and partly because it’s fun to try new things.

But the “rules” are essential knowledge to anyone crazy enough to either break them or follow them mindlessly.

So you could download my e-book on fiction writing, the second to last chapter of which gives my current opinions on many of the dogmatic rules of fiction writing. Downloading that 10,000 word file will place you on my short list of people who will be politely notified when my traditional novel is done – possibly before the next ice age. (No spam or sharing of your info. I haven’t sent an email to my list yet. It’s been over a year.)

Next time you’re writing emails, if you think of it, please tell your best and hopefully weirdest friend about my blog ( Thanks! I appreciate your thoughtfulness.


146 thoughts on “My Show-Don’t-Tell Obsession

  1. Pingback: M. Talmage Moorehead | THOUGHTS OF A POET IN THE RAIN

  2. Thank you for following and for writing about writing. I feel like I have learned so much from this post and all the replies to it. I find myself worrying a lot about what others will think of my writing, without adhering to any rules (mostly because I don’t know them), which often makes me take longer to “publish” posts. I frequently draft and redraft posts, just to ditch them all together, and publish a version that I’ve come up with in frustration to worrying about what others will think. The typos I miss become the obsession after that. I’m making myself so crazy with my blogging process, that I’ve become too anxious about submitting my books to be considered for publication. I must admit, reading some of these replies have made me even more intimidated to submit. Apparently I have so much more to worry about when it comes to writing than I thought. Great, now I’ve written a longer reply than I originally intended, making me anxious about the content and form of my response! Ay yay yay! Please forgive any typos I’ve missed. I should have just written that I liked your post, thanks for the follow, and thanks for the book and article suggestions. Any suggestions on how I can write shorter replies?

    • I want to hear everything you have to say. Every last idea that comes to mind. There’s no worry about how many words it takes for me to understand where you’re coming from and who you are inside. I just want to hear you.

      You’re anxious. Me, too. You’re a little obsessive. Same here. We have some important things in common.

      Here’s something from your blog:

      “I felt an empty relief.”

      And this:

      “Getting pinched by my sister’s crazy, flexible and athletic toes wasn’t so great, either, but it did keep us from fighting and chasing each other in the apartment.”

      Here’s the link for those who want to read something special:

      That shows your talent and skill as a writer. That whole post shows a huge talent for writing. When I read that post I felt like I knew you and loved you. To write like that is a gift that few are given.

      Writing rules? You don’t need them. If anxiety makes you write like that, it’s your friend as a writer.

      OK, so is there anything a writer like you could gain from an infallible hack like me who’s read his weight in “How To” books on writing? Maybe. If we’re careful about this.

      Your writing is pure. Your voice is unique, innocent and pleasant. You have the natural gift of being able to pull a reader into your world. Nothing you’ll ever learn will be even close to those things in value. Value to you and to your readers.

      So be careful when you read my blog and other things about how to write. You’re already further along than most of us are capable of going. Preserve what you’ve got.

      By the way, take the breathing part of yoga very seriously. It helps with anxiety in a way that I think has to do with “the mammalian diving reflex” in physiology. But that’s a long story.

      Deep slow breathing with pressure against the inhaling and the exhaling. For me, it produces euphoria after 15 minutes or so.

      Keep writing and definitely submit your work. If you can afford a copy editor, I always tell everyone to hire one because the good ones have a unique gift and can teach so much with a few words and changes.

      Thanks for being brave. A person’s bravery is measured against their anxiety in the final analysis, I believe.

  3. Pingback: My Show-Don’t-Tell Obsession | joyfuljac

  4. Thank you for following my blog. I hope you continue to find it interesting, though in October I switch to cinema as it is the London Film Festival, so my focus changes for about two weeks.

  5. I am a copy editor, but find that I like to write. In fact, I started to write a comment and it got so long I made it into a blog post about show don’t tell instead…
    You can find it on my blog if you want to read it:
    Anyway, I don’t know why you shouldn’t write a female character in first person, lots of women write males in first person, so turn-around is only fair!
    I read another post you had written that said you used to be a pathologist – which I expect meant writing a lot of technical and analytical reports that needed to sound very professional and acceptable to the medical community, and maybe a few journal articles as well.
    One thing I noticed when I was trying to write fiction (after years of writing reports and research) was that I tended to write the way I was used to writing. Unfortunately, that meant passive voice instead of active – which equaled boring instead of engaging.
    Luckily I have found my niche. I have always preferred reading to writing, and being a copy editor is exactly where I needed to go.
    For someone who wants to write fiction and wants to write it well, but who used to write technical reports, the first step could be to break the old habits of passive writing – which would automatically put you on your way to showing instead of telling simply by increasing the action in your writing. I am stopping now, as this may otherwise end up as another blog entry instead of a response to your blog…

    • Thank you for the great advice and for that blog article you wrote. I liked this thought, especially:

      “Use more dialogue to get the material moving along if you want things to move quickly,”

      My first drafts tend to be mostly dialogue and I was worrying that it might be a terrible habit.

      Back in the 90’s when I first started reading “How-To” books on writing, I came across the idea of active versus passive verbs and quickly developed an OCD-ish tendency to avoid all passive verbs. After a while the total lack of passive verbs became distracting. Now I try to mix it up a little.

      I noticed a possible “typo” on your page that describes your editing services…

      “…as there is always something that needs watched for”

      Shouldn’t that be, “something that needs to be watched for” ? I have no problem with the dangling participle, I actually like them, but the “needs watched” sounds a little off to my ear. What do you think?

      Thank you for your helpful comment! I think that every writer who can possibly afford a copy editor should hire one as a top priority. I’ve seen an example or two of what a talented copy editor can do to transform a story. It’s truly an amazing thing to behold.

      • “Needs watched for” is dialect, possibly Pennsylvania. Yes, it’s not standard.

        My mentor, Edith Battles, used to say, “Every editor needs an editor.” We can never edit our own output as well as someone else can; our errors are transparent to us.

        • I am sure that every writer needs an editor – including, or especially, the ones that are editors! Although I don’t know if it as much that our errors are transparent to our own eye, as it is that they are simply glossed over through familiarity.
          I expect that the “needs watched for” is a Midwest thing – and one of the things that I do need to watch is falling into familiar slang. Luckily, when editing other peoples’ work I don’t have to worry about my terminology bleeding into the text so much. 🙂

      • Thank you for the return comment! And sorry about that hanging participle, see comment below to jeffguenther8 for discussion of that issue. Guess I should go and fix that…

        You said “My first drafts tend to be mostly dialogue and I was worrying that it might be a terrible habit.”

        I think that everyone should work to their strengths, and some people are better with dialogue than others – so obviously they should use that particular tool. Simultaneously, it is important to have more than one tool in your toolbox or there is a lack of balance. Starting with dialogue and then adding to it is a good plan, if dialogue is one of your strengths and you use it for a stage to get you started.
        Additionally, you will find that passive verbs have a place in dialogue that they don’t have elsewhere. 🙂

  6. Great post.

    I’ve read all of Lee Child’s novels and they are gripping reads (some are great, some are just good, but they are all readable and page-turners).

    One point of interest though is that it is only his first novel, Killing Floor, that is in first person. All his other novels follow Jack Reacher’s exploits from a third person POV. 🙂

    • That’s good to know. My first novel was written in the first person and I really struggled when starting the sequel. First person was too limiting. Maybe it’s my lack of skill as an author, or simply impatience, but it was too hard to tell the story using only information that the protagonist can know.

      I’ve soothed myself by deciding that because Book 1 is the character’s diary, it can act as the foundational work for readers to get to know her. From there on, I can tell the story for her, with no limit on POV.

  7. Wow, interesting discussion. Somehow or the other, when I sit down to write, I write. I don’t really think about the rules. Only after it’s down and the page and done, do I look to see how I can make it better. Afterwards, it goes out to my critique group, where I find the feedback invaluable. I find that doing so helps internalize how to do things better, including the show v.s. tell issue. As in most things, I don’t think it’s all one way or another. Perhaps it’s also in getting the right balance.

    Interestingly enough, I originally wrote only in third person, but when I began my present novel, I found the first person voice to be most suitable for the story. It turned out to be extremely liberating as well, and helped me get into the characters. The book is written in 6 sections, from the viewpoints of 4 different characters, which enabled me to get a lot across and didn’t limit me to one head. Two of the characters are male and quite different from me, especially the warrior, but they were loads of fun to write.

    My recommendations: enjoy the reading, but get yourself a good critique group, either locally or online or both. One of my online groups is on linked in, in writer’s hangout, another, is sky writers on Facebook, where we critique each others WIP and hold skype meetings every other week. I’ve learned a lot from them.

    • The small amount of first person writing that I’ve done felt liberating, too! Things just seemed to flow better, especially at first. I remember getting bogged down after awhile, though. I think it was some plot issue that made me feel hedged in a bit. But the method of writing several characters in first person – in the same story – would take care of that.

      I joined group and felt it was quite helpful, although I came fairly close to giving up after my first chapter went for several weeks without getting reviewed. (It was too long.) My main concern with writers groups is that there is sometimes no clear distinction made between literary fiction and popular fiction. Sometimes people who are writing literary fiction are bombarded with rules that don’t apply to them. And in the other case, literary fiction writers and readers have a taste for beautiful prose with less concern for plot. It can be confusing, especially to new writers. Science Fiction is another area where I’ve personally taken a beating by allowing a literary writer/ poet review one of my short stories before I realized the great divide. He was so helpful I quit writing for several years. 😉

      Thanks for your interesting comment and advice! 🙂

      • Yup, I guess you’re right. The group has to be the right fit. Actually, all my groups are into popular fiction, and on sky writers we have writers with a nice mix of genres: fantasy, sci-fi, juvenile, YA, contemporary, etc. Also, we try to be constructive in our critiques, so I don’t think anyone has quit because of us.

        But I guess what I’m trying to say is that you should write more and worry about the rules less, especially if worrying about the rules is impeding your writing. Once you have the whole story down, it can always be edited and revised and made stronger. Read and learn, but don’t let it interfere with your writing 🙂

      • So much! Where to start? Amen to writers’ groups! I distinguish between classical literary fiction and airy litter fiction, i.e., the postmodern crapola much beloved by academia. It’s a brave or foolish critique group that will try to process the latter. It’s too much like poetry, too personal, too unruly.
        Our blog started as an unusual critique group called “Visions & Revisions.” No reading aloud allowed. We start with logline, then synopsis, character studies, outline, query, etc. Finished manuscripts are turned over to beta readers. The process is very fast and efficient. We soon created a parallel entity, 8 Great Storytellers, to provide a co-op platform for our works.

        • The distinction you draw is new to me, but makes perfect sense! Classical literary fiction and airy “litter” fiction of the postmodern academic variety. That is a distinction I can get my hands on and grasp completely. Thank you so much for the great thought!

          If I might ask a dumb but sincere question, how would you classify “The Crossing” by Cormac McCarthy? Or any of his books, for that matter.

          Your writer’s group sounds ingenious. Very professional.

          I’ve read a bit of your story, “Sail Away on my Silver Dream” and I’ve got to say it pulled me right in. It has the magic that I’m always talking about on this blog and always trying to capture – each time I re-write my novel after realizing I haven’t found it yet.

          Here’s a link to your story, in case anyone wants to find it from quickly from here:

          I’ve really got to learn how to make those links smaller. There’s a website that does it, but I don’t remember the URL.

          Thanks for all your great comments, Jeff! 🙂

          • Thank you for your kind comments and the link to “Silver Dream

            I confess I’ve only read two of Cormac McCarthy’s works: All the Pretty Horses and No Country for Old Men. I was well into the first, and beginning to wonder why am I reading this? when I reached the scene where they’re breaking the horses. Magic!

            But I found his careless use of untranslated Spanish, unattributed dialogue, etc., tiresome. I wouldn’t have read NCFOM, except I found a copy on sale for a dollar. It, too, was not my cup of tea, nor was I entranced by any particular parts of it. Still, it was worth a dollar, saved me from seeing the movie.

            Either of the above could be considered classical literary fiction.

            For condensed links, there are tinyurl and and others. See Twitter, where short links are used extensively.

            • Thank you for this. Somehow this comment never came to my attention through the usual route, so I’m late at replying. Sorry.

              It helps me a great deal to be able to categorize McCarthy properly. A gifted young writer I met recently loves McCarthy above all others. Since I’m interested in writing what I call “meaningful page-turners” and she loves McCarthy and favors writing that type of classical literary fiction (now I know), I needed to make sure I’m not mistaken when I tell her that her work should not be judged by the guidelines of popular fiction writing. Someone had done that to her, giving her grief. It doesn’t seem appropriate or informed to do that to a writer who knows what she’s doing and why.

              Thank you also for the short link info.

              Your comments and expertise are truly appreciated, Jeff! 🙂

              • storiesworthsharing

                Amazing how many people there are out there just waiting to shoot one down. Ignore them and go for your dream!

  8. You’ve given away Child’s little secret! In first person, the character is the narrator; showing is telling, telling is showing. In third person, I only tell as a shortcut; showing is far better, but sometimes takes too much space to convey a few facts.

    I recently read an indy book that sounded like a synopsis instead of a book–it was mostly tell, don’t show. I retaliated in kind: skim, don’t read.

    I wrote the first 6 chapters of “Sail Away on My Silver Dream” five times before switching to first person. I then finished that draft very quickly. Some books just need to be first person.

    Recently, the most popular POV style has been third-person close, always in the head of the protagonist. But I think there’s a lot to be said for the traditional storyteller, if you’re consistent througout the entire book. Third person close is the POV of choice for people who move their lips when they read.

    • My current re-write of my novel is in 3rd person “close” and I often move my lips when I read. Sounds like I’m on the right track. 😉 Thanks for this interesting comment. I try to write, even in 3rd person, as if I were channeling the POV and she were the true author. I got this idea from one of the fifty or so “How to” books I have on my writing shelves. Most of them are from the 90’s when I started. Sad thing about me as a wannabe fiction writer is that I enjoy reading books about fiction writing more than I enjoy reading fiction. That’s a recipe for learning everything but the actual magic of storytelling. But I got the writing bug in my DNA, so I force myself to read fiction because I can’t stand not writing it. 🙂

      You might be interested in a post I wrote a while back called, “The Meaning of ‘Your’ Writing Voice.”

      Thanks again for the great comment!!! 🙂

      • You’re welcome. Have you read Save the Cat? I’ve seen a lot of (unpublished) stories where the main character is obnoxious, but not in any especially interesting way.

        My first how-to-write book was Science Fiction Handbook, by L. Sprague de Camp. I still recommend it to other writers, though I doubt if you need any more books, yourself. Although it’s slanted towards S-F novel writing, the amusingly shown principles and anecdotes apply to most writing.

        Oh, BTW, the pcwrede link doesn’t work.

        • I haven’t read “Save the Cat” yet. I was reading an interesting thing last night written by Hulk the Film Critic in which he talks about empathy and how central it is to most fiction. He mentioned the recent spike of non-empathetic VP characters and thought they were OK as long as the writer was trying to make a point about something larger.

          I just found a 1 cent copy of “Science Fiction Handbook,” by de Camp, and bought it. Thanks for the recommendation. My novel is somewhere between SF, YA and a thriller, as best I can tell.

          My link didn’t work. Thanks for the heads-up on that.

  9. The thought of someone else deciding that my work is unpublishable just because I might tell, not show, is why I’ve self published the vast majority of my books. I know how I want to tell the story. If I want to show, I’ll show. If I want to tell, I’ll tell. I’m writing this stuff for me, and if someone else likes it, it’s a bonus. 😀

      • Thanks for the plug! Fear of Our Father was an amazing story and, quite probably, the only true crime book I’ll ever write. This was one of those “placed by God” situations, where I watched the story unfold during the years between the murder and the trial. Hopefully that’s a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence.

        I not heard of “Making a Killing on Kindle,” but now it’s next on my to-read list. I read the sample and he really speaks my language. Over the years, I’ve tried to figure out how to be seen, and all of the “experts” say to do exactly what he says he doesn’t do. I’ve never been able to force myself to use their expert advice, so I’m fascinated to see what he suggests doing, instead.

        • Awesome! I hope he’s right. I’m new at this, so I don’t even have an informed opinion yet on the subject of selling books. All I know is I’m excited to write them and thrilled at the notion that people might actually read them… theoretically, at least. 🙂

  10. Thanks for following my blog. As to writing in first, second, or third person..hmmm?! For me, it stifles my creativity if I concern myself with such things. I believe if you write from the heart, it shows. I mainly write personal nonfiction, which pretty much keeps me in first person. The Bible says perfect love casts out fear. If you love what you are doing and what you are writing about, there are readers who will gravitate toward you. I’ve read those who follow rules and some are good and some are not. One good resource my late beloved used and found so helpful was the Campbell’s “Heroes Journey”. Many of the top books written and movies have followed this theme and examples are included. Perhaps, you will find this helpful. Enjoy!

  11. And one more thing about “show, don’t tell:” If a character tells the reader something about themselves and the author, then, shows that it’s either untrue or only partly true, an alert reader now has a whole new insight.

    • That’s an interesting point. A viewpoint character, especially in first person, can tell the reader something about herself, such as, “I’m so totally over him,” and then call the guy and leave the sixth message of the day on his voicemail… And that says something about the character that probably can’t be conveyed in any other way. Excellent point! Thanks for that. 🙂

  12. writingsprint

    The two rules I follow are “know the rules so that you can break them,” from my first fiction teacher, and “forget the rules,” from Robert Rodriguez, filmmaker.

    The rules are good fundamental principles. If it makes your story better to break one, that’s when you do it.

    That said, for RR’s perspective, what rules would you invent? If there were no rules, what do you think would make a cool story? Your individual style is the single most distinctive thing about you as a writer.

  13. Anonymous

    Be encouraged! I’m impressed that you are approaching the blank page with an eye to the craft instead of an unbridled tongue. Thanks for sharing.

  14. Great questions. But I am the original rule breaker. Hell, I refuse to read the rules.imagine my surprise last week when someone said I was doing something people rarely do. Tell my story as the narrator but also from POV of each character as well. I guess I am just obsessed with getting inside other peoples’ heads, understanding how they feel, and telling a tale from all points of view. I didn’t know that was odd. Or difficult. She also gave me a good tip. There are lots of critics, experts, editors and advisors on writing. And sometimes what the “masses” seem to want, I am just not able to do. But I write because I have a story; and I want to express it so that it is as close to perfectly readable as it can be. Be true to your creativity.

    • Good for you. The next generation of slush pile readers may decide that your way is best because it’s similar to the way movies deal with point of view and about the opposite of how movies deal with the current show-don’t-tell dogma. If there were no rule breakers there would be no improvement or innovation. Nice comment! Thanks.

  15. I’ve come across the same issues about showing, telling in my own writing. It’s a dilemma and trying to show, as you said, makes many scenes feel contrived. I just go ahead and tell though I do make an effort to show where it makes sense. Good luck on your writing and many thanks for stopping by my blog. I appreciate the Follow.

    • Thank you for sharing your level-headed approach to this dilemma. I need that kind of influence around here!

      I’m impressed with your blog and your writing… also this from your About page:

      “I’m a retired Air Force Master Sergeant from Upstate New York with a husband (also a retired Master Sergeant), from Azusa, California, a daughter and her little chihuahua Phoebe.”

      Thank you for protecting me and my family. We love you for it. 🙂

  16. Pingback: Trying Too Hard | The Paper Butterfly

    • I came across a short story that blasted my eyebrows back, written by a 75 year-old who started writing at 70 and had already published 88 short stories and two or three novellas. I told her how her story had moved me and asked her not to review anything of mine (because I wasn’t on the same ballfield with her talent) and asked if she had any advice. She said, “Don’t try to hard.” I wrote that down on a piece of white paper and still have it on my desk. It has liberating power.

  17. Thanks so much for the follow. I love your first person female character…I say go for it. Her voice sounded pretty authentic to me. You never know unless you give it a go and with that little snippet I think you’ve got what it takes.

    • Thank you, Nancy. I’m 34,000 into this re-write in 3rd person. Otherwise, I would go for it based upon what you say, as well as a few other gracious comments telling me not to be afraid.

      I did a little experiment once, writing Johanna in first person as if she were a real person with a blog and a thing in her ear. She was telling everything as it happened to her. It was fun, but my wife didn’t seem impressed when she read a bit of it. And the format was so experimental, it got in the way of telling the story. She was always repeating something that someone else was saying, just to get it into the recorder, and the other person would give her shine for it. Too distracting, as it turned out.

      But I think you are right. I should just give it a try. Thank you so much for the encouragement and advice. 🙂

  18. Fascinating. I understand the dilemma of show vs tell, but I think it can work for you if you work it with a gentle hand. I love Lee Child–his writing is straightforward and unapologetic. I want to be the me that I am in my writing without trying to fit a mold that will sell. But I’m just starting, so truly, what do I know? I do know what I like. I do know what I’ll read. I’m eclectic in what I choose, but not a sheep. Anyway, thanks for the follow, my friend. I’ll return the favor–you’re insights intrigue me.

    • Thanks for the follow and your kind comments. I’m unpublished and have been trying to learn to write for decades. Those who actually have written professionally say that it’s always a learning experience.

      The first thing I would do if I were just starting is decide whether or not I wanted to reach a huge audience with my writing. If so, the guidelines for success seem to me to be quite different from the guidelines for those who want to write like the greats of literature, past or present.

      I think that the “rules” laid down by the gatekeepers are somewhat less relevant now that indie writers are finding huge success and bypassing them.

      Still, many of the “rules” reflect the reality of what average readers (like me) want to read.

      Following guidelines that reflect average people’s reality has never interfered with my tendency to write from a personal and honest place. And I don’t have the talent to write literary fiction, so there’s that, too.

      True, I’m not personally interested in writing Romance, for instance, despite its popularity, but that’s because I’m not interested, not because someone has convinced me that I would be a lesser “artist” if I went that route. The elitist “rule” that I mustn’t do anything that makes money or is popular doesn’t even register on me. It’s hogwash. Writers deserve to be paid and paid well. They shape culture.

      I like your Christian blog:

      It’s beautiful. I’ve backslidden out of Christian fundamentalism, but I still appreciate it.

      • Thanks for your insight and honesty. You’re definitely a wordsmith, literarily speaking or not. And as to the backslidden thing? He never lets go. Ever. That’s where the hope is.

        • Thank you for the compliment! I think of a “wordsmith” as someone who writes lyrical prose and beautiful poetry. If I’m doing that, it’s accidental. 🙂

          I know what you mean about God never letting go of us. I haven’t let go of God, either. Far from. It’s just that I’m a backslider in the sense that I don’t believe the Bible is infallible anymore. Once a person takes that position, it’s a slippery slope towards not believing much of anything about God. I’m trying not to travel too far down that path. Trying not to give into the sentiment that “if ancient writings aren’t infallible, they’re worthless.”

          • I see a wordsmith as someone who can craft a compelling picture with words. Someone who can create story that moves me to read on. I believe you do that.

            Why don’t you believe any longer in the inerrancy of the Bible? Just a question of perspective. I find that, in looking at the world and what’s happening, the darkness we find ourselves in daily, the mix of good and light that pervades even in the inkiness of pain, that there have never been truer words spoken. The consistency of Scripture is where hope is. It’s the light of the gospel.

            Thanks for your honesty. People aren’t often willing to talk openly about questions or doubts of a spiritual nature. I appreciate your genuineness.

            • Thank you. I like to avoid trying to convince anyone to doubt the Bible or any other ancient scripture they hold as infallible or inerrant. The reason I feel this way is that, from what I’ve seen, having this kind of solid foundation beneath your moral feet does a person a lot of good. It’s much easier to tear things down than to come up with a viable replacement. For instance, Darwinism doesn’t do such a great job of replacing Christianity where empathy is concerned. In general terms I’ll just say that 9/11/01 threw me for a loop. But even though my fundamentalism was destroyed, I still realize that one of the fundamentalist belief structures could be correct. I’m not necessarily right in doubting the infallibility of all books and people.

              I was reading yesterday that some physicists believe they’ve discovered evidence that the future of a subatomic particle can affect its present course. Some of them think that this has implications on the very nature of reality (backward cause and effect). And yet scientists want to talk dogmatically against religion? Forget that. I try not to add my tongue to the secular dogma that tears down traditional religion.

              In a few thousand years, our descendants will look back at us and shake their heads at the narrow belief system we call science. They probably won’t shake their heads about our religions. At least not the ones that foster empathy, forgiveness, trust and love.

              • I really appreciate your thoughtfulness in this. It’s obviously something that you’ve considered quite a bit. As to this world as we know it being around for another 1,000 years, I’m one of those who sees the end times sooner rather than later. What’s going on in Israel and the Middle East is following Biblical prophecy, as is the resurgence of Russia in the world theater. Gog and Magog. 9-11 was indeed a blow to our perceptions of America and where we stand and how we will fare. But any time we put confidence in fallible people we will find problems eventually come to light.

                I think one of the problems of many people reading the Bible is they do it for analytical purposes, for what they can find out, seeing things as fodder for arguments rather than seeing it as relational. It is, in fact, a love letter written to us by God. So we can get to know Him. So we can have an opportunity to better understand the One who put this earth together and us on it. His purposes. His grace. He began it all with love. Knowing we’d blow it. Knowing we’d choose rebellion. But knowing, too, that forcing someone to love takes all the love out of the relationship.

                Try reading the book of John as a letter to you. As you are reading from a perspective of wanting to get to know the writer better.

                Thanks for being willing to interact on this. I appreciate your honesty and genuineness. You are a thoughtful man.

                • Thank you. I will take a look at the gospel of John again. I’ve read the gospels quite a number of times over the years. They’ve had a permanent effect on my personality, I’m pretty sure.

                  I know what you mean about things not lasting a few thousand more years. I felt a little optimistic with those numbers, myself.

                  Thanks for being kind to a backslider. 🙂 I still love God and want to do what’s right.

                  • It’s not just kindness, my friend. You are a man truly valued and valuable. Loved by God because of grace, and nothing you could ever do or not do changes that. Your writing shows openness and genuine emotion. Not put-on attitudes. Seek God with the same genuineness. We’re all backsliders, all who know Him. That won’t change till heaven.

  19. This was an interesting and educational post insomuch as I’ve never paid much attention to commercial writing trends.

    My professional writing was always rooted in supporting my design business. Even my technical articles served to build my brand as a designer.

    So I don’t pretend to know about writing fiction but I believe the heart of all writing is storytelling and always will be.

    I don’t believe in wasting a reader’s time. Otherwise I am certain there is no one recipe for good writing — anyone who says otherwise hasn’t read enough.

    Thanks for the follow.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I need to read more, that’s for sure.

      Someone quoted Stephen King the other night as saying, “If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. It’s that simple.”

  20. Reading “Techniques of the Selling Writer” was very helpful for me, along with reading FILM CRIT HULK’s Screenwriting articles/ebook.

    Though “Techniques” is old, it gave me this idea: Cut info/description over emotions.

    That said, it’s totes OK to give a reader a quick rundown of how a new character looks–you do it mentally in real life. Just don’t get too poetical.

  21. scumlikeuschurch

    as someone that has written only text books and is considering writing my first novel, wow. great advice, thanks for following

    • Thanks. I tend to like highly successful writers because they reach millions of people and I’d like to do that someday.

      To me, plotting is the most difficult part of writing, description is the most work (at least in sf), and characterization is the most rewarding.

  22. I think it really depends on the depth of the moment you’re writing about. er… I guess another way to put that would be, “Why are you telling or showing at that particular moment?” Contriving a reason to “show” something can be just as jarring to a savvy reader as “telling” them that detail. I would usually decide to use the method that communicates the idea at the greatest depth necessary.

    If a character detail is going to be explored in the narrative, then I think it should be introduced with the same attention that its development will receive in the long-run. Eg. Show them playing a sport if that’s going to be an integral part of their development. However, if a character detail exists simply to paint a quick picture of the person, then why weave it into the flow of the story? I think the adjective “moustachioed” works equally as well as “…as he twirled his evil-guy moustache with a sinister precision…”

    Which method paints a more vibrant picture in the reader’s mind? Yes, you can spend two pages describing a character or a scene with exquisite detail, but, once the reader has read the whole thing, what picture will be in their mind? The scene or the last detail? Which one do you want to have in their mind at that moment?

    At a macro show-don’t-tell level, I think readers like discovering the characters by coming to understand them through their actions. However, some thing are just going to be too esoteric to outline realistically. I was reading a book where a character could move between the third and fourth dimensions. I don’t think I would have understood that on any intuitive level without a healthy mixture of both showing and telling.

    I don’t know if any of this helps or if I’m even properly addressing your concerns. But, that’s what I’ve got. Keep writing!

    • This is wonderfully helpful and insightful. Thank you.
      “Show the important things. Tell about the less important things.” – I’m hearing you say. I like that.

      Also to paraphrase you for my tiny mind… Showing who a character is through her actions rather than through phrases like, “She was shy until she got mad,” is what readers prefer. Very helpful.

      And some things are so unfamiliar they require a mix of showing and telling, like moving from the third to the fourth dimension. Gotcha. I get it. This makes great sense to me.

      What do you think of my current situation…

      I’ve got a sf type scene that my POV character is seeing for the first time. She doesn’t know what anything is designed to do. She has to be told everything about everything in dialogue. It’s bugging me, but I can’t for the life of me see how I’m going to do it any other way, unless I switch POV’s which I wasn’t going to do for other reasons.

      Now if switched POV’s to the person familiar with the sf equipment, I could tell about each piece of equipment in a semi-inner-dialogue way like this:

      Hili touched the surface of the bright screen, a millimeter of living cornea modified form the eye of a Tuatara.

      Any thoughts? Thank you!

      • Yup, as long as I know why it’s important to bring across an idea, I’m usually able to figure out what depth to use to describe it.

        You don’t have to introduce the idea all at once. It’s probably more interesting to explore how Hili would perceive these strange devices at first. If you can manage it, see if you can use things she’d understand from her life to interpret the items on the ship. Also, you don’t have to do it all at once.

        This will be terrible because I don’t know all the info…

        You could have the description be something like, “She touched the screen’s (I don’t know what a Tuatara eye looks like) smooth, spongy surface. Its illumination shone with the depth of a vacant cornea.

        She stared into it… “This almost looks like an eye…”

        “It is,” interrupted a voice behind her, “It’s a modified Tuatara cornea.”

        She spun on the voice that echoed through the alien architecture…

        It’s contrived and corny, but you don’t have to provide all of the information at once. When I want to do something like this, I walk into a quiet, semi-vacant space, like a restaurant after rush-hour or a library, and try to imagine what aliens would glean about our culture from the spaces we’ve contrived. A big part of describing alien spaces is understanding how to describe our common spaces in an alien way. Hope this helps!

        • Everything you write blows me away. This is extremely helpful and not corny at all.

          I’ll try to imagine what an alien would say about the inside of my house tonight. That’s a great idea also for developing the sense of wonder that these scenes need.

          Thank you again.

          Hey, when you’re famous, don’t forget us back here in the trenches.

          • I’ve spent a long time struggling for relevancy and survival in the blogosphere. It’s not an experience I’ll soon forget, even if I do make a life out of writing.

            Have fun creating Eldritch landscapes!

  23. Just a quick thought, but most editors say “Show, Don’t Tell” because it makes the story more immediate and pulls the reader into it more. Too much telling creates a distance. With showing, the reader feels as if he experiences the story right alongside the protagonist. But if the scene is just a transition or background information, then telling gets us from one point to another quickly. Still, even saying that, my agent nails me every time I do too much telling.

    • Anonymous

      I agree. With too much telling, the reader may feel left out. “Hey, FYI, since you missed it…” So the exclusion can work against you.

      But how often do the excluded ones in life clamor to get in? I think if done well, telling piques interest in just the right way and can make the showing even better.


      • Interesting idea. “Telling” as a form of reverse psychology.

        And I love your example of how telling can make a reader feel left out, as if the VP character or the author were saying to the reader, “Hey, FYI, since you weren’t around when it happened, I’ll tell you about it…” Well, you said it better than that, but anyway, excellent point for my learning. Thank you, E

        • That’s what I suspected, but since I haven’t read much literary fiction and am basically afraid to do so (for fear I’ll start loving it instead of loving genre stories) I wasn’t prepared to say anything.

          Now that I know it’s definitely true, this whole thing makes a lot more sense! Thank you. 🙂

    • Thank you a million for your input, Judith! This is valuable info to me because I’ve never dealt with an agent… other than reading rejection slips.

      Showing brings immediacy, pull and intimacy. Very logical.

      And even though you limit your telling to transitions, you still get red ink for it. That gives me perspective! Thank you !!! 🙂

      I think I’ll do a post with examples of telling and showing (to the best of my understanding) and make sure I’m on target at the nuts-and-bolts level.


      Thank you again, Judith.

  24. Eve

    I came here to say thanks for the follow, and was instantly absorbed by both your writing and the discourse.

    “When the traditional gatekeepers are so overwhelmed they have to follow arbitrary rules of triage to get through the day, art and magic take a back seat to convenience and practicality.”

    Love this.

    On a separate note, let’s talk about the first person thing. Ignore what’s supposedly easier. You clearly and intensely desire to write as your female character, not about her. 34,000 words? So the f*ck what. You want to do it. You’re scared to do it.

    And you know what they say about fear.

    Be like Nike, man. Seriously. And if you want a sanity check, send me a few pages. Your lack of vagina should not be getting in the way.

  25. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about rules. Instead, I try and let my past reading experience guide how I write. What follows is the product of what authors before for me have found works for them. Since the fiction I read is mostly by famous authors of the past rather than best sellers of the present, I guess its hard to say what guides me isn’t thought of as “good writing,” slush pile readers be damned.

    When I’m writing fiction, this seems to naturally lead sometimes to “telling,” but very often to using dialogue to get facts out there that occurred in the past. When things are happening in real time, seeing them through the characters eyes (even though writing in the third person) seems to be an obvious and natural way to go, at least for me. Between these two devices, it’s pretty easy to avoid unnatural “seeing” situations or consistent “telling” exercises.

    Of course, there’s an exception for every rule (even rules that say “violate the rules!”). Such as having your character look in the mirror the morning after a bender and not liking what they see.

    Great post – and I look forward to reading more. Thanks for following at my blog, and leading me back to yours.

    • Thank you, Andrew, for sharing your wisdom and for the encouraging words.

      My bias is a dedication to the average fiction reader. I want to write a “meaningful page-turner” that reaches as many people as possible and makes them think. I suspect that’s what many of the famous authors of the past were doing in their time. Honestly, if I had more poetic wordsmith talent and less desire to reach a huge average audience, I’d let myself develop a taste for the classic “great writers,” and I’m certain I’d subconsciously strive to write the way they did. But I’m equally certain I wouldn’t let myself imagine that today’s popular writers who reach millions and shape culture will not someday be considered the great writers of old.

      • I’m not sure I’d want to write like many classic writers, actually. I’m reading some novellas and book by Joseph Conrad right now, and I can’t imagine that a “new” Conrad would stand a chance of finding a reader base today. He’s too wordy, too long winded to capture a modern audience that hadn’t already been told that he was worth paying attention to, and willing to read deeply enough into one of his works to start to become involved.

        But I am learning a lot by paying attention to the details of his writing technique, and there are many tricks and turns that can be just as effectively deployed in a sentence or two as he did in a half a page, such as the attributes of a character he chooses ot include in a description, or how he handles dialogue.

        • Interesting points. Thanks for making me think! 🙂

          The Conrads of today, if there are any, might not be considered wordy, even by current standards. The “greats” were intelligent people. Smart people tend to adapt, I’m guessing. I suspect that Conrad, who was born a century before my wife, was not considered long winded by his contemporaries.

          And I’ll bet you’re right that his tricks of character description and dialogue have much value to writers today. I’ll probably never discover that for myself because I’m too busy trying to understand the magic of today’s popular writers whom I consider to be truly great.

      • Eve

        Oh, I so agree with you here. It’s the reason I say f*ck and sh*t more than the classics. (Ya think?)

        It’s to reach a wider audience. If you don’t speak the way your neighbors speak, you are different. So you speak their language to blend in, and therefore to make a difference. From within will come change. So we find within.

        A good writer is a chameleon. We are also fantastic actors.

        And it’s so deliciously fun.

  26. I couldn’t agree with this more. I find that in idea-rich novels, my favorite parts are the straight up explanations about the unusual elements of the setting or premise. I’m reading Perdido Street Station right now, and it’s a prime example. And the TV show Lost gave me a healthy appreciation for exposition. Part of the major frustration on that show is that it was so obsessed with showing rather than telling that no one with answers ever sat down and explained things to all of the characters who were full of burning questions. And the questioners never asked. That felt very contrived, and frustrating.

    I never thought about the first person connection, though. Perhaps this is partially why I prefer writing in first person. Telling feels more like a conversation than exposition when it’s done by an actual narrator.

    • Interesting point about Lost! Brilliant point, actually. That must be what frustrated me about it, too. No overarching logic and purpose was brought out. In the last episode it was like, hmmmm… all that to get here? Nah.

      I’ll have to put Perdido Street Station on my reading list. Thanks for that.

      I’m in love with my female protagonist and wish like anything I could try writing her in first person. But I don’t have the nerve, plus I’m 34,000 words into this rewrite in third person.

      Thanks for your insight! 🙂

  27. oyinbraithwaite

    Really enjoyed reading this. You brought up some valid points. Will have to mull over this for a minute…

  28. I tend to mix showing and telling, though I find the opportunities for showing important details in the story are more frequent as I go along than I may realize when I first start a project. I’ll tell freely in my first draft but in my final, I tend to only tell a detail when it’s the best way to move the story along organically.

    • Thank you for giving me your thoughts! I like the flexibility you’re giving yourself to let things happen naturally. I get frustrated and scared by some of the How-To books, but eventually the common sense you have comes and talks me down off the roof.

      I noticed you’re a finisher! Kudos on finishing another novel. You’ve got the right stuff. I’d like to borrow it. 😉

      • Admittedly, I had something to prove by upping my game… I made a claim before I understood what it would mean, and realized I had to try to live up to it or stop making that claim. I don’t recommend going about it that way. 😛

  29. Great post – having come here to say thanks for the follow – and immediately you echo one of my bugbears about rules. Writing can’t be formulaic which is what rules make it. I agree they help to have in mind but calling them guidelines would be more accurate. If some publishing shifter uses that as his criteria it is just a way of reducing volume, nothing to do with quality – a bit like those on line tests employers use to sift out loads of applicants. They take out good as well as bad but they reduce the list to a manageable one. It sucks but it may well be his reality. I’m going the indie route myself, for good or bad.

    • I’m pretty much sure I’m going indie, too, and I’m 100% sure the indie phenomenon is good, not bad. When the traditional gatekeepers are so overwhelmed they have to follow arbitrary rules of triage to get through the day, art and magic take a back seat to convenience and practicality.

      I like your idea of calling the rules, “guidelines.” It’s realistic and appropriate in a field where everything is subjective.

  30. This was an awesome post 😀 Most of what I learned about writing I did by reading books and just writing, so I don’t stop to think about these things until someone mentions it.. I think one of the few books I actually read with all “show” and not “tell” was Faulkner’s, The Sound and the Fury. It’s confusing as hell. I actually love Faulkner, but I couldn’t get through it, with Cliff Notes XD If you don’t “tell” anything the reader will be really confused, and there’s an art to telling as well. If you “tell” something that’s already implied, you probably don’t need it. I help some of my friends with writing, and one of them would tell the reader a lot of info. But the info was already implied and/or it did nothing to flesh out the characters or move the story along. That needs to be cut. But a lot of time, there’s not really another good way to relate the information.

    I wrote a suicide story, and of the people that read it like 10 maybe, one person told me it was all “tell” and no “show.” I had to really think about it, because I don’t want to be the cocky writer who assumes their writing is perfect. Actually they told me it was beautiful, but all “tell”. I thanked him and asked him for examples (or I thought I did) but he didn’t give me any. I think there were some parts I could cut, and other parts I could show more emotion, but if I cut out all the “telling” and replaced it with “showing,” the story would not make sense. So I’m going to edit that story with that in mind, but I’m not going to insert emotion if I have to force it because that’s going to make the story worse.

    You have an awesome blog by the way :3 Thanks for following me!

    • Thank you so much. I left a long post on your blog trying to explain myself when it comes to literature. I’m blue color, you might say. Proud to be aiming to write for the average reader.

      The difference between telling and showing is subjective and sometimes subtle. Always confusing to me, but…

      Telling, to me, is like this.

      Dan felt like a weeny in the shark suit, but it was what his sister wanted so he showed up to the party in a quarter inch of neoprene with teeth – on a mission of self-sacrifice and humiliation, soon to turn ugly if Brad showed up, which he probably would. He was stupid enough. When the door opened it felt humiliating. It was a 1920’s theme and Dan stuck out like a pig in a French restaurant. Sure enough, Brad was there and was clearly waiting for him. A fight was about to break out. Dan knew he could take Brad down. No problem. Everybody left the room in a hurry.

      Showing, to me, is like this:

      Dan stood at a the wide double doors beside his sister, Angie, and knocked three reluctant ones.
      “You look silly in that thing, but thanks,” she said, kind of sparkling.
      “This should be fun,” he said but felt his mouth smiling without his eyes.
      The door opened and a 1920’s theme noticed a seventies’ shark suit. Nobody was expecting this. Forty eyeballs in a huge living room with formal chandlers, French Proventil chairs and decked out sophisticates looking away politely. Some of them grinned and smirked.
      Brad stood up fast from an ornate couch, did an up-and-down take of the shark suit and stepped over the coffee table towards Dan, knocking over a drink and not looking back.
      Dan eased his sister into the clear with his left hand, squared his shoulders, brought his chin up and look down his nose at Brad. “You’re sure about this, Brad?” he said, “Cuz I can put you in the hospital. You know that.” Brad kept coming. Dan raised his arms, flicking his hands towards himself. “Bring it, princess,” he said through his teeth.
      The room cleared out in a hush.

      So often in How-To books and discussions of fiction writing, terms are vaguely defined. Examples get people on the same page, I think.

      If you don’t mind, I may take this and turn it into a post later. I better get some sleep now, it’s getting late.

      Thanks for the interesting conversation!

  31. “I’m reading “The First 50 Pages,” by Jeff Gerke. He’s telling me that if I break the rule “show don’t tell” in my first fifty pages, my story will be instantly rejected by the professional slush pile browsers. He says he ought to know, he’s read the beginnings of thousands of submitted stories and has rejected almost all of them, and for good reason.”

    What? If this is true then that’s just sad. There are a number of great stories and books that break that “tell, not show” but according to this criteria they would be rejected. There are times where telling is preferable than showing, especially if the writer wants to pass through information quickly onto the reader. The book “Siddhartha” is nothing but telling yet it’s one of the beautiful novels ever written (it’s not in first person, but still works.) Hermann Hesse also employs this technique of “telling” in some of his other works to inform the readers of a character’s psychological state. But “Siddhartha” would be dumped into the garbage because publishers are obsessed with some dumb rule for which there is no exception.

    Great writers not only know the “rules” but when to break them as well. If only publishers understood.

    • I’ve heard it said that publishers have no more idea than anyone else which books will do well. I like the idea of breaking all the rules in search of the magic that reaches out and means something to readers. I also find it interesting to listen to the traditional gatekeepers, the speed-reading triagers who reject almost everything they read, according to the author of “The First 50 Pages,” Jeff Gerke who says he was one of them. I agree, it’s sad. I think Gerke is telling the truth about the industry from his perspective. But I’m less worried about it now than I was when I posted this, because of the growing potential to find readers as an indie writer. It’s looking more and more like the independent route will be better for me when my novel’s done.

        • Honestly, I may turn out to be too lazy, too, or, perhaps not tech savvy enough. Dealing with website technical issues is so boring, time-consuming and demanding on the short-term memory. But I’ve got time, at least, now that I quit the job that was killing me.

        • I’ve self-published four and had one published by Berkley. While it was a wonderful thrill to grab that brass ring, which gave me some street cred, I intend to self-publish everything else from here on in, unless made an offer I can’t refuse. I think I’m too much of a control freak to do otherwise. Plus, I have all the computer skills necessary to do it myself, so why not?

            • May I suggest starting a separate thread on self-pubishing? This one is already maxxing out. Check out Goodreads, if you haven’t already. They have a lot (A LOT) of material on self-publishing and jillions of subjects.

              • Thank you, Jeff. I’ll go check out Goodreads soon. I’ve heard of them, but haven’t joined or read their info yet.

                Maybe I’ll post my ignorance on self-publishing and use it as a place to start threads on the topic. Thanks for the idea. 🙂

        • No, I haven’t. It never occurred to me to do so. 😉

          I learned “on the job” along the way, with each job that I ever had teaching me one aspect or another. Eventually I met the owner of a small publishing company and we worked together for a while. I don’t know much about the business aspects. My talents lie on the technical side of creating the book files. I know how to use the publishing websites and get print-on-demand files made and listed on Amazon.

          Ask me about copyright law, ISBNs, marketing, etc., and you’ll hear crickets.

          I’d be happy to answer any questions you have about what I do know.

          • Thank you. I appreciate all the help. I think I need to follow your example and do one thing at a time. Right now I need to finish a book – either my novel, or one of the non-fiction things I’ve started recently.

            Thank you for sharing your insights. 🙂

  32. Let’s see…how about…

    The luck of the draw in gene-pool poker had dealt Johanna a perfect autobiographical memory: a gift that had given her not only straight As and double grade skipping, but also, according to “authorities,” would bequeath her a tendency towards acting out grudges against others – and against herself.


    “It turns out I’m mental. Something called perfect autobiographical memory. It’s so rare that shrinks only know that I’m going to grow up to be an unforgiving bitch who fills up the back yard with bodies before snuffing herself.”

    I think there’s a perfectly good place for telling. We just have to experiment to see what feels best. I did it when it seemed to make more sense to cut to the chase by way of a bit of summary.

    BTW, I prefer writing in the 3rd person. I think it’s more flexible. I also think that many inexperienced writers default to the 1st person because they think it’s easier, but they’re wrong. I’ve read very few who could do it without succumbing to a wandering POV, or indulging in telling that was blatant data-dumping. It also takes a particular kind of voice to pull off a 1st-person narrative. Siegfried Sassoon did it, although even he improved with experience. Maybe it has something to do with having a good enough ear for language to write poetry, too?

    • I was at a writing conference recently and one of the teachers gave us an assignment and said something like, “You can even write it in 3rd person if you want. I’m not good enough to ever try 3rd person, but maybe you…”.
      It seems there may be an assumption that writing in 1st person is easier than 3rd. After hearing your perspective, it must be a false assumption. I’ve done very little of it, but I remember feeling confined and limited in first person, except when it came to data dumping. Then it felt as if I could “tell” the reader anything and get away with it. Guess not. At least not with sophisticated readers… among whom I’m not included, just to be honest. 🙂 Hey, nice to hear your voice again!

  33. Pingback: My Show-Don’t-Tell Obsession | Josh Pervan

  34. Interesting post! I think most writers should begin within the ‘rules’- it’s an easy way to dip your toes in and decide whether its for them, or not. But yeh, I definitely believe the second you’re certain you’re motivation isn’t some fleeting, existential reaction go for it! As to your dilemma. I’d say if your nervous about something- for me, if I hear ‘How the f*** am I going to do that?’ in my head, I just- go for it. It’s liberating. Thanks for the words!

    • Thank you for your great advice! I think it would be helpful to me if a successful fiction author with huge readership would give extensive examples of what she means by “telling.” I probably confuse the viewpoint character’s “internal thoughts” with “telling.” But even if I had an authoritative clear definition, along with examples, I couldn’t be sure that the professional slush pile readers would understand it and agree. I think you’re right. We just have to go for it sometimes.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.