Saturday, October 17, 2009

A Showing of Some “Show vs. Tell”

I know I am highly delinquent in keeping up with this blog, but I’m not going to apologize. I’ve been working very hard to make forward progress on the long, drawn-out revision of my novel. Rather than give you a tale of what that has involved, I here give you an example of what I’ve been doing.

I’ve said that a big feature of today’s style of fiction writing is to show the reader an action as it happens rather than simply narrating, or telling about, that action. Here’s what I’m talking about. The next paragraph is the original of a passage in my Tangled Strands story.

<< When word finally came that a bona fide marriage had indeed taken place in New York between Sharon Champlin and Anthony Casanetti, Agnes and Sharon laughed and cried and hugged each other like schoolgirls. But they sobered quickly because the message from Alec also requested a meeting in his office with Agnes and Sharon, Mollie and Chris. Unable to imagine why he needed to see all four of them, they arrived at the appointed time promptly—and soberly. >>

Following is how I rewrote it to show the actions as they happened:

Sharon was in the backyard filling the bird feeders when she heard Mrs. Baldwin hollering her name. Hollering? Mrs. Baldwin never hollered. Sharon dropped the container of seed on the bench and dashed into the house.

“What’s the matter?”

“Chris’s father called. Are you ready for this?”

Sharon’s knees went weak and she reached for the nearest chair.

“They found it! They found the marriage certificate.”

“You mean—mine and Tony’s?”

“A genuine marriage between Sharon Marie Champlin and Michael Anthony Casanetti III.”

“Are you sure?”

Sharon began jumping around, laughing and crying at the same time. The next moment she did a double take when Mrs. Baldwin grabbed her and began jumping with her.

Suddenly the older woman stopped, and the joy on her face shriveled.


“There’s more. Mr. Thorne wants you, me, Chris and Mollie to meet him in his office at two o’clock this afternoon.”

Sharon’s mouth fell open. “Really?”


“But why? Why would he want to see all four of us?”

“I have no idea, Sharon. Let’s just make sure we arrive promptly.”

Fact is, the second version took more than twice the words the single paragraph did. That isn’t a problem unless a novel already comes in at 120,000 words (the author undoubtedly has two stories there). In my case, the original was about 87,500 words. It is now 91,300. Less than 4000 added? Not so fast. A year ago I moved the beginning of the novel forward six months, and that cut off 13,500 words. If I’ve crunched the numbers correctly, that means I’ve written some 17,000 new words in that last year.

And here everyone thought I was “just editing.” I hope it means I now have a better understanding of “Show, don’t tell.”