Narritive Summary vs. Active Scenes

  "Show don't tell."  As writers this is a phrase that we've heard countless times over the years, but never have I heard it explained in such straight-forward language as in Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.  The entire first chapter was devoted to a discussion about the differences. 

I always thought that I knew the difference and was actually quite good at showing. . .  Now I'm not so sure.

The authors say that a writer shouldn't give the reader information, they should give them an experience.  I find this to be such simple advice, but so brilliantly stated.  I want my readers to experience everything that my character does.

The example that they use is from The Great Gatsby.  First they show a narrative summary of the scene, which provides all the same information and is grammatically perfect but lacks interest.  Then the show the scene how it was written by Fitzgerald.  Huge difference.  The same information got across but in a much more interesting way through dialogue.  They took the same scene and removed the unnecessary emotion tags that Fitzgerald used.  It worked even better.  The character's emotions got across without the needless emotional tags.  The tags were unnecessary telling because Fitzgerald had done a good job of showing the character's emotions.

The authors say:  This tendency to describe a character's emotion may reflect a lack of confidence on the part of the writer.  And more often than not, writers tell their readers things already shown by dialogue and action. 

Eeep, does my writing lack confidence?!

I have to admit that I'm guilty of emotional tags, especially in dialogue.  After reading this chapter I took a look at Smolder.  I was able to cut out nearly 400 words from chapter 22 of "telling".  Now my chapter is much tighter and stronger. 

The chapter does go on to say that narrative summary does have its uses.  If you only jump from action scene to action scene without giving your reader time to take a breath it can be overwhelming. 

One of the things they make reference to several times is R.U.E.  Resist the Urge to Explain.  Needless explanations slow the story and bring an abrupt halt to the momentum of your story.

I feel so much more confident about my abilities to show now :)  I'm not a huge fan of books on writing, but this is really one of the best one's I've read.


  1. Yay, go you! It's an awesome book isn't it! I think I've read that Show Not Tell chapter 10 times already, off to read it again ;)



  2. It sounds like an awesome book, and you've done a great job at explaining the chapter! Glad you shared! I wonder how much I've done that in my writing... LOL!


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Back from my Hiatus with fabulous news!

5 Fav Friday: Things to get the creative juices flowing!

JOHN CARTER is awesome (+ABNA news!!)