By Joan Foley Baier
Since my recent presentation on Showing and Telling to our writing group, LCRW, I’ve become more aware of both modes of writing, not only as I work on my stories, but also in reading others’ novels.
I just finished an epic page-turner, Only Time Will Tell, by Jeffrey Archer. It ended with such a dynamic cliff-hanger/introduction to the sequel that I plan another trip to the library today to pick up The Sins of the Father. Archer writes best-sellers and I’m green with envy of his authorial finesse and expertise.
That being said, I noticed that, as I read parts of the novel, especially toward the end of the story, he was “telling.” (I think I noticed more of it at the end of the story, but I recall some throughout.) This was done as a summary of events and/or to give information that provided an explanation of impending actions. I re-read one such segment and have arrived at this realization:
Telling plays an important part in a story, a fact I supported in my presentation at LCRW’s meeting. As I read through a telling portion of Archer’s novel, I found it easily readable, not at all dull or boring, and actually a very credible explanation of how the protagonist arrived and performed at the next scene. The lesson reinforced here is that telling provides a necessary introduction to, or explanation of a character’s action that follows. The telling supports that action, makes it more believable or acceptable. It does not detract from the action by showing, by becoming action in and of itself.
The more you read, the more this concept will become clear to you. Telling is important to your story—to a degree. If you rely on telling most of the time, the reader will soon begin yawning and put the book down. Telling sets the stage; showing is the play.