Showing & Telling is an excellent addition to any writer’s library. She cuts through confusion, misunderstanding, and error, to provide practical understanding towards achieving balance between them, in both fiction and nonfiction.
As a freelance editor and writer, and sometimes a preliminary judge in a writing contest, I have been struck at the inconsistencies, and sometime actual reversals, between these two concepts. Alberts gives clear definitions, shows how to use each in either scene or summary, and how to blend the two together “to create vibrant and essential prose.”
She points out that scene and summary are to be in service to the characters and narrative, and as such need to be unnoticeable. What is the intention behind each choice? For example, should essential information be told as summary or in flashback in this particular instance? Flashbacks by nature slow the pace, so what is to be gained here? “The payoff for including them must outweigh the cost of losing forward momentum.”
Or, as background through summary can stop the narrative, it too must have good reasons. “It has to be doing heavy lifting for you;” says Alberts.
The common ground for showing and telling, whether in scene or summary, is to keep the reader grounded in the story and emotionally connected. Alberts shows that summary can keep that thread intact in exterior and interior ways outside of scene. “You won’t be specific in time and place in the same way as in a scene, but specific in detail and emotion.”
Too often we tend to stop the story’s flow by giving a little background, which we know is crucial. It might work in a telephone conversation when we insert the, oh and by the way details, but if we end up pulling our readers out of the narrative then we’ve created dull and boring exposition.
The specificity is the key for choice. The explanations and examples from Showing & Telling provide a solid road map that can be applied over and over. Each new project brings up a different set of questions, which apply whether you are writing a quiet, reflective memoir or a fast paced thriller. How to best tell this particular story?
Submitted by a Christian Editor Connection member.
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