Monday, 5 March 2012

How I Write - Showing vs Telling

Hello! I'm going to begin this little segmenty-thing with a story. Or rather, a look into my life/mind.

Ok, so for the last few weeks (though mainly this week) I have been obsessed with Sherlock Holmes. I've been reading the books and I've been watching the films and I've been staring at the tele, waiting for the new BBC TV series to come on. I am obsessed with him. I've even started acting like him. But I digress. I'm telling you about this because a) I think everyone should know how freakin amazing Sherlock Holmes is and b) because the books do a very interesting thing in how they keep up the suspense and create the mystery that is the master of deduction.

The main talent of Sherlock Holmes is that he always seems to know everything, while everyone else knows nothing.This is done in the books very cleverly, but before I explain how, you need to know some writing vocab.

Showing and Telling
To show or to Tell, that is the question... This is something that many writers get confused with but it's simple really. Showing is exactly what it sounds like. It means that when you are writing, you show the reader something. Telling is when you tell them something outright. It doesn't make much sense written like that but let me give you an example. If I wanted to say that John is angry, I could do it in two ways -

John balled his hands into fists and felt a flush of red rise to his cheeks.
John felt angry.

The first example is showing, and the second is telling. Another example -

Lucy doubled over, her hands wrapped over her swollen stomach and her face scrunched up in pain. -Showing
Lucy could feel the first contraction rippling down her body - Telling

These are obviously about someone in labour. Now in the one about John, the first one sounds better, doesn't it? It flows better and gives the reader a picture of how the person is feeling. In the example about Lucy, however, the second one is better (I think.) It's harder to tell what's happening when Showing Lucy's contractions. So, we have a dilemma. Which is better? Showing or Telling?

Neither.

Both have their pros and cons and many authors argue that their is a time and a place for both of them. You just have to use them well and not to get one confused with the other.  However, many authors tend to lean towards showing, thinking it gives more depth to the story and to the reader. Telling can be quite childish.
The original Watson and Holmes

Anyway, back to Sherlock *swoon* In the books, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle uses Showing and Telling to the best of their ability. First, he shows us a scene and points out things - the slight dot on a corpse eyebrow, the tilt of a breadknife, or a fleck of mud on the carpet. He sprinkles these through the story here and there, not in great quantities. They merge into description and we forget about them. It's only through Holmes Telling us about them (in his utterly brilliant manner - sorry) that we remember them, and we understand their significance. BAM! Showing and Telling at it's best.

Right, so in conclusion - Remember that Showing is good and Telling is good, but in different situations. Use them in varying quantities and you'll have a winner! Also, read the Sherlock Holmes books/get me medical help. Enjoy!

3 comments:

Joseph Ramirez said...

Brilliant insight. I'd never considered that before - but yes. It wouldn't be near as powerful if we were only shown or only told.

And Holmes' way of telling just makes it all the better. :)

Jenni said...

Thank you :) I realised halfway through the first book what Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was doing and I thought it was interesting how he did it. I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks so!

buddy2blogger said...

Lovely post about Sherlock Holmes!

I am an avid Sherlockian and love blogging and read blogs about the world's premier consulting detective :)

Cheers!