Faber Session 14 – Showing Vs Telling

I’m a bit behind with replying to comments and e mails because I’ve been up London today. Will catch up tomorrow I promise.

My first session back at Faber since before Christmas 🙂 So it was latte, cake and I treated myself to a new book!


Today’s session was about show and tell, that age old adage that puts the fear of God in most writers 😉 Well, ok, perhaps that’s just me lol

Literary critics admire ‘show’ but really, how important is it?

Telling is a form of showing and bleeds over into subtext and dialogue and if you think about the greatest story ever told, The Bible, well, that’s all tell isn’t it?

No one would argue that ‘showing’ your reader that your character is sad is far more interesting than actually telling them so, but you can pull off ‘telling’ if you are confident in what you’re saying and your words are written well. Many authors use tell as part of their style. Roth, Franzen, Eugenides and Munro are all good examples.

We did 2 exercises where we had to set a scene and then use dialogue to convey an emotion our character was feeling. Here’s what I wrote:

Sue entered the room, her head down, shoulders hunched. She sighed as she picked up the remote from her sleeping husbands leg. Looking at the clock she frowned, it was 11.45pm. Outside the street was alive with party goers, the sound of laughter could just be heard above the drone of the action film that was playing to no one.

She kicked Johns leg.
“Ow! Er, what’s going on?”
“You were asleep.”
“No I wasn’t, I was just resting me eyes.”
“Yeah, like you do every night John.”
“No I don’t!”
Sue tutted. “I’m not going to argue with you, It’s New Years Eve, 2013 in less than 10 minutes.”
“So where’s the bubbly?”
“I didn’t buy any!”
John sat forward in his chair and looked up at his wife.
“You ok love? You always buy us a bottle of bubbly for New Years Eve.”
“Yeah, well perhaps I’m just fed up with it always being me?”
Sue picked up her cigarettes and lighter and stepping over Johns legs made her way back towards the kitchen doorway.
“Where you going love?”
“For a fag!”
“But it’s nearly midnight?”
Sue ignored him and slammed the kitchen door. Lighting her cigarette she mumbled “Happy fucking New Year.”

So what did I show you about Sue? What emotion was she feeling? Lets see if I was successful with my show 🙂

I came away feeling a little less paranoid about the whole show vs tell thingy. As writers we have enough to worry about as it is! 😉

So tell me…Do you think “modern” writers get too hung up on show and tell? Do you think it’s less important than it used to be?