Show, Don’t Tell

Every month*, I host a writers’ group at the flat. Somewhere between eight and fifteen writing folk descend, drink coffee, eat cake and talk about writing. We also write stuff.

The sessions are led by Fiona Veitch Smith, and, after the discussion of what we’ve been up to since the previous meeting, generally focus on some aspect of good creative writing practice.

I’m not going to tell you what the theme for this month’s session was, but the first exercise was to re-write a basically written paragraph to describe what’s going on rather than explicitly stating it.

“Blanche felt like she was going to lose control at any moment. She tried her hardest to hide it from the unwelcome guests who had dropped in for a cup of tea and a chat. Blanche wished they would just go away.”

(Which can be found here in the course notes).

Thus became:

“Blanche’s pulse raced and her vision started to blur. Why wouldn’t these damned guests take a hint and leave? She’d put salt in the sugar bowl, opened the windows, turned off the heating and had even considered going and changing into her pyjamas. It would make no difference – the kids were here for Christmas.”

Which admittedly changes more than just the tone of the story, but never mind.

Exercise two
was to write a paragraph or two demonstrating one of the “fruits of the spirit” (a bit like the seven virtues which are the opposite of the seven deadly sins), the name of which had been handed to us on a card, and hopefully the rest of the group would be able to work out what it it was we were talking about without us having to tell them in a many words. Thankfully I wasn’t stuck with something lame like gentleness, or I’d have been stuck writing about hulking great brutes being surprisingly good with babies or something.

“Finally, after many long years, driven before the Furies, George stood before his father’s killer and spat in his face. The killer knelt, as if in some strange, imploring supplication, and held out his palms, wrists together.

“‘Kill!’ screamed the Grey Ladies in George’s head, ‘Kill!’ But George had not been brought up that way – what would his father think! His stiff upper lip trembling, he dropped the knife, and cuffed his brother’s hands.”

Which was as good an example as I could think of on the spot of…

But that would be telling not showing.


*Unless I’m away, or ill, or busy somewhere else, or nobody else can make it, or the flat has been over-run by the ravening hordes we call “other people’s future in-laws”. Which is a bit of a mouthful of a qualifying statement for what I prefer to leave as a short and punchy opening sentence.