Tag Archives | writing tips

In defense of telling.

Yup. I’m sticking up for the poor unwanted fellows this week.

Three aspects of writing get absolutely ridiculed, shamed, and drilled into a writer’s head not to do. Telling. Backstory. And description. (Poor guys.)

But without these three – your novel will flop. You just have to do it well.

Yes, beginner writers tell too much when they think they are showing. They have not learned to dig deeper and flesh out a scene with dialogue, body language, internal thoughts, and the five senses. But eventually they learn. Except there’s a problem.

They get so prejudiced against “telling” that they never learn to do it correctly and when it is useful. And they might not even recognize stellar telling in novels they read.

Common mistakes:

  • Telling in dialogue when the info is something the characters both know.
  • Telling in internal thoughts to make sure the reader “got” it.
  • Telling the weather or any kind of world building instead of weaving it into the story.
  • Telling how characters feel – “He was/felt sad.”
  • Author intrusion or inserting facts about people or places outside of the pov. (Unless the pov is omniscient.)

Useful telling:

  • Telling to show the passage of time.
  • Telling to transition between scenes.
  • Telling to keep scenes or aspects of scenes in proportion to how important they are to a plot. (If you full out show a scene – it better be important to the plot.)
  • Telling when you’ve got a unique premise and a great voice.
  • Telling as a topic sentence of a paragraph.

Telling does not equal bad writing.

Three authors that use stellar telling and in the opening too:

Holes by Louis Sachar

There is no lake at Camp Green Lake. There once was a very large lake here, the largest lake in Texas. That was over a hundred years ago. Now it is just a dry, flat wasteland.

I’d Tell You I Love You But Then I’d Have To Kill You by Ally Carter

I suppose a lot of teenagers feel invisible sometimes, like they just disappear. Well, that’s me – Cammie the Chameleon. But I’m luckier than most because, at my school, that’s considered cool.

I go to a school for spies.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense.

So there you have it, readers. Three fantastic books that opened with great telling. One presented a mystery. One had a fun, terrific premise. One was dripping with voice.

Any other examples? Other instances when telling is useful? Or common mistakes?

Wednesday, I’ll defend backstory.

Comments { 37 }