“Show, don’t tell” is becoming the editorial mantra of the MTV generation with Lit Fic aspirations
and a whole set of creative writing courses behind them.
Of course there are times when show is a lot better than tell but the aversion to tell is a fad that
I think comes from a limited fiction diet.
Show rather than tell is the natural preference of a generation who see the film before they read
They want their fiction to preserve the myth that they are free agents who draw their own
conclusion from the scenes presented to them. Fine when it works but surely that is not the only
way to read?
It seems that the post-baby-boom generation is afraid of the authorial voice because it might
suggest that someone actually wrote the story.
So here you are, the author, with something important to say and a succinct, pithy, direct and
original way of saying it and the editor is going:
"No, don't tell me, I'll get it in a minute. I know you're trying to express that
lost-sock-in-the-laundromat-of-life existential panic thing the French are always on about".
It's like trying to talk about a book to someone who would rather play charades.
It doesn't matter that you tell rather then show as long as you tell well. That's why they call
So here's a little exercise for you. Go to the link below.
It is a list of great opening lines to novels and much fun even if you completely disagree
with this grumpy-old-man rant of mine.
I think this list is very telling, (sorry, I couldn't resist it).
The first quote on the list counts as telling rather than showing I think:
"Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person."
-Anne Tyler, Back When We Were Grownups
Imagine Ms Tyler's editor putting "show don't tell" in the margin next to that.