The temptation to tell too much

So this week I thought I'd touch on a writing technique that I see in many books, and don't see in many more.  The art of telling a story without actually telling is one of the most accomplished artist.  By this I mean there are so many books out there where the author tells you what the character is doing, thinking, feeling, eating, driving, how much their handicap at golf is, and so many more things that don't have to be told.  In fact, telling can sometimes be a major deterrent in a great story.  When you tell absolutely everything about a character, there's less for the reader to imagine, and really, that's what authors are after.  I get lost in a story where much of the details are left open to the imagination. 

So you say, "Yeah, ok Joe, then how does one tell a story without telling about the characters therein?"  It's simple my friends, you show them.  When an author shows the reader who a character is the character gains depth.  He or she becomes more than words on a page.  They become a friend, a mother, a father, the worst enemy you've ever had.  By showing, the author has opened the door to a reader's imagination and set them free to interpret their characters however they see fit.  Instead of telling a reader, "Jones was a stand up kind of guy with no time for foolishness on the job."  he could say, "Jones walked stiffly through the crime scene, his eyes taking in each and every detail that he passed along the way.  He nearly growled as he passed the young policemen who were sharing in a joke and laughing out loud.  Their snickers died quickly in their throats when Jones stopped and turned back toward them."  In the first example the author tells the audience how to interpret Jones and leaves no room for imagination- this is stifling and nothing will stop me from reading a book faster.  In the second example the author lets the reader know sublimely that Jones doesn't mess around but then leaves the door open as to what kind of guy he really is deep down.

I am by no means a master at showing a story rather than telling it, and I catch myself still doing it from time to time.  That's really because writing is a marathon and not a sprint, you learn as you go and perfect your stride on the journey.  Sol Stein actually touches on this topic in much greater depth within his book Stein on Writing.  I highly recommend it to any writer that struggles to show, rather than tell.

Have a great week and I'll see you back here soon!