By means of a slew of craft books, blogs, and workshops, I've been taught to 'show' not 'tell'. I've posted about my experiences in descriptive movies where telling is what has to take place in order for blind, or visually impaired individuals to watch movies. It's definitely better than staring at a blank or flashing screen while you try to follow along with only the dialogue. I still believe the actual scenes themselves could do a better job. However, I failed to note how important telling actually turns out to be.
To have the ability and the vocabulary to describe what something looks like, feels like, smells like and sounds like is a gift. Equally important is the talent of knowing when its time to tell.
Here are a few quick hints that can help.
-1. If something is happening repeatedly to show a pattern, time and pages will be wasted. Instead, telling in a few words or paragraphs will accomplish a tighter, better read. If your story is about how a woman in the 1800's survives abandonment by her husband. The reader needs to know it happened, but doesn't need to see it happening. A brief telling of multiple trips to town for notice from her husband concerning his whereabouts can be accomplished with out seeing every instance.
-2If an action or information was provided earlier in the story, don't repeat it to fill in another character. It's redundant, boring and slows the stories pace down. Instead, fill in the new character with the important information by telling your reader that's what's going on. The reader doesn't need to hear it all again. "While he stopped his hair from being torn out by the shrieking baby, she told him all about her exciting day in the city."
-3When the backstory is critical to understanding the motivation of your characters or technical information is needed to explain why or how a plot point occurred, tell it. Don't write an extra novel, give it to your reader in pieces. The concept of "chunk and chew" is useful hear. Only give as much as is necessary during the time line of the plot. If baby will eventually learn not to smack a tiger on the nose, explained why this action might irritate a tiger when you first introduce the tiger is unnecessary. Introduce the character traits of the Tiger and the reasoning behind them, but don't even hint about the baby.
-4 Moving from an important scene into the next important scene will happen faster and more naturally if you tell the information in between. A good rule is; if you need it for the development of character or plot, keep it. Showing your leading man correctly dealing with a gun shot wound is necessary. Showing him under attack leaving the victim's hospital room, also important. Showing the arrival of an ambulance, the hours of surgery, and him waking up in his room, less vital. These scenes can be used to develop character...but do they? Its the secret to knowing when to tell.
-5 Ask yourself before you change a telling scene to a showing scene; is it going to be on the test? If you broke your plot and characters down to the most important scenes, does the scene your changing end up on the list? If it won't be 'on the test' be careful not to get descriptive and slow down the story. If the pacing is building toward the climatic scene, don't stop to describe the flutter of butterfly wings, noting the slight movement is probably enough.
Don't be afraid to Tell' your story too. The greatest story tellers are those who can balance their scenes between the two concepts. For more information on 'showing vs. telling' go to www.marcykennedy.com and get her Busy Writers Guide For Showing and Telling.
In the meantime keep reading and writing!