Monday, July 18, 2011

Showing -- It's All in the Details

I've written a few blog entries on the Showing vs. Telling concept, and I spend quite a bit of time on it with my Creative Writing students. Mostly because it's so challenging to pinpoint. What IS "telling?" How can you avoid it? How do you correct it? I mean, it's not like a simple grammar error you can quickly recognize and correct--a misspelled word, a misplaced modifier, a run-on. Showing vs. Telling is much more complicated.

Well, last night while reading Elin Hilderbrand's wonderful novel, Silver Girl, I came across the perfect example of showing, rather than telling.

In a nutshell, the protagonist has experienced a traumatic event--her husband has been imprisoned for fraud, and everything she ever owned/bought has been stripped away. She's gone from being the wife of a billionaire to a poverty-stricken shell of a woman.

Instead of telling the reader that, instead of glossing over the details and giving the reader information "about" the situation, Ms. Hilderbrand takes a simple scene in which the protagonist has gone shopping with a friend, and turns it into "showing." We walk with the protagonist, through shop after shop, as she picks up something she likes (vivid descriptions of the items are given), then reminds herself she can't afford it. She puts it back.

In one fancy store, her friend looks at some crystal candlesticks and scoffs at the $400-apiece price tag. In a (sort-of) flashback, the protagonist remembers how, not even a few weeks ago, she could've bought those same candlesticks (by the dozen!) without even a second thought--how the purchase would've given her the 'rush' she needed whenever she bought something new, then how the candlesticks would have eventually sat on the shelf, unnoticed, having lost their initial appeal. Wasted.

Now, that is showing. It's all in the details, the descriptions. And the flashbacks. Instead of telling us ABOUT the protagonist's state, or making a general, vague commentary on her previous life versus this one, the author has walked us through a quick scene in which we're given detailed examples of what money used to mean to her, and what it means to her now. Ms. Hilderbrand lets her readers jump to the proper conclusion themselves, instead of forcing it on them by "telling." Brilliant.

No comments:

Post a Comment