I read through all the comments that everybody made on showing versus telling. The one I liked best was the one by . . .
Mary DeMuth (relevantgirl). Mary wrote her comment in verse. As poetry, it was simply awful (it was clearly intended to be bad). It became worse and verse the further I read. And yet it told a story. Here’s what Mary wrote:
When I started writing, I hadn’t a clue
About that venerable and pesky MRU
I wrote a scene; it dragged, it bit
I didn’t like it. My characters had fits
So then I bought Randy’s Holiest Grail
By Dwight B. Swain; it came in the mail
My prose did soareth on MRU wings
Motivation and reaction, my scenes they did sing
The book before Swain lies dormant and whiny
But my second was published; it’s really quite shiny
Sometimes I do tell, as the story dictates
With MRU DNA, I know when to deviate
There’s power in that as I write novels galore
For publishing houses who’ve opened the door
for books three, four, five and six
I thank you, Mr. Swain, for your bag of tricks.
Mary’s right. When you’ve got MRUs in your DNA, you know when to use them and when not to.
The key thing is that the scene has to work. What I mean by that is it has to give the reader a Powerful Emotional Experience. “Showing” is a proven way to do that, but sometimes a bit of “telling” works better.
Showing is wordy, whereas telling is efficient. So there’s a tradeoff. The art of fiction is knowing how and when to make that trade.
The problem for writers is that “showing” is pretty unnatural. If you look at the classics, you’ll find a LOT of “telling,” because that’s the natural way for humans to tell a story. But as storytelling evolved, we writers learned that we could capture the story more vividly by “showing” it rather than “telling” it. Because “telling” is natural and “showing” is unnatural, it’s imperative that writers master “showing,” because otherwise their natural instincts would push them into “telling” most of the story.
Mary wins a prize: a critique by me of a page of her writing. (Like she needs a critique by me. She’s more literary now than I’ll ever be.)
I can’t critique a page from everybody, but here’s what I can do for the rest of you: Let’s have a little MRU clinic.
Post a comment with 2 paragraphs of your current work in progress. I’ll pick a few of them to critique over the next few days. If your sample needs MRUs, I’ll show you how I’d do it. If it doesn’t need MRUs, I’ll explain why I don’t think you need them.
Sound fair? Post your samples! But don’t get carried away. Two paragraphs, max.