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Are you as confused as I am about the difference between showing and telling?

I’ve had feedback from a couple of short stories – where a professional critique is offered for a modest sum – and this dreaded criticism has reared its head.  It’s especially shaming as I’d thought I was showing. Not so, apparently. Must try harder.

I’ve lately discovered Ellen Brock on the internet. This American editor, who provides paid mentoring, also offers writing advice for free via a series of YouTube videos. As far as showing and telling is concerned, she swears by the use of body language.  Why not take a look?


So – I guess I’d better give it a try.

In my current novel, set in 1765 (rather different from the one I’ve just finished, a contemporary romantic comedy) I want to describe a servant girl who suspects an older woman of stealing. Presumably I’m absolutely not allowed to say:  ‘Peg looked guilty.’

Peg is in the kitchen, trying to avoid my eye. 

‘What’s that, in your hand,’ I demand. 

She squirms against the wall, one arm behind her back, and I wonder what she can have found to steal. There’s little enough. ‘Show me?’

She holds out the fragments of moldy bread I threw out earlier, for the sparrows. They’re dirty from the yard, but one of the pieces looks as if it’s been gnawed.

‘Are you hungry?’ I frown at the thinness of her shoulders. The wrists like bird bones. ‘Hungry enough to eat that?’

I still don’t know if I’ve done it, but at least I’ve tried – and nobody said this writing business was easy.

Yet is telling really SUCH a sin?  Some people have been known to get away with it, even with their opening sentence:

  • There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. (Charlotte Bronte)
  • It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. (Jane Austen)
  • The Boulevard du Cange was a broad, quiet street that marked the eastern flank of the city of Amiens. (Sebastian Faulks)

Maybe you’d like to share your own struggles with this difficult writing challenge?  If so, do add a comment…