On Showing & Telling

In beginning creative writing classes, they tell you to “show, not tell.” My stories are mostly about feelings, and it’s hard for me to show everything in action and dialogue. So, whenever I haven’t written in a while, I really worry, because I feel like I’m telling too much and not showing enough.

I’m taking a workshop at The Writing Pad right now, and the instructor gave us an Isabel Allende story to read over the week. I found it heartening. Here are some quotes from the turning point in the story, which is about a reporter who is waiting with a trapped earthquake victim for a hydraulic pump.

“That night, imperceptibly, the unyielding floodgates that had contained Rolf Carlé’s past for so many years began to open, and the torrent of all that had lain hidden in the deepest and most secret layers of memory poured out, leveling before it the obstacles that had blocked his consciousness for so long.”

“He understood that all his exploits as a reporter, the feats that had won him such recognition and fame, were merely an attempt to keep his most ancient fears at bay, a stratagem for taking refuge behind a lens to test whether reality was more tolerable from that perspective. He took excessive risks as an exercise of courage, training by day to conquer the monsters that tormented him by night.”

There’s way more–Allende goes into sharing specific memories of Rolf Carlé’s past traumas. But even if she hadn’t, in these two chunky quotes, Allende has committed, like, first-degree telling.

So, I suppose the rule is, “Show, don’t tell, unless you’re good at telling and can really rock that out.”

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