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Show, Don't Tell
(And Other Do & Do-Nots)

(Okay, so there aren’t really any other Do or Do Nots because I’ve covered a lot of them already and there will be more to come in the other tutorials.)

I’m sure you’ve heard/read this before and now you’re reading it again: Show, don’t tell.

What this means, of course, is that when writing your story, you need to give detailed description on what is happening.

For instance, let’s say Milan has graduated and been given control of her very first team of archaeologists. They’ve been researching where to find a lost civilization that’s as famous as Atlantis and is as wealthy in knowledge to them as Atlantis purportedly is to us.  

The site had been completely destroyed by the thoughtless actions of the Technicist, a solar system-sized group of people who believed all areas should be brought up to current levels of technology supposedly just so everyone could have ‘better lives’. They didn’t care about the priceless artifacts they were destroying when they got permission to build on planets. They didn’t care that they were annihilating evidence of an entire forgotten civilization.

No, they really only cared about their own desires to have everything look technologically advanced to impress other alien races, both those that were known and those that would soon become known.

Milan was angry.

Okay, yeah. So Milan’s angry. That’s kind of boring. It doesn’t show WHAT she does when she’s angry. It just states a simple fact. Not to mention it makes the nice flow of the paragraphs come to an abrupt, rude and very annoying halt that shakes the reader from being a part of the story. Obviously Milan’s going to be angry. She’s an archaeologist so of course she’s going to be angry. In fact, she’d be furious. But how do we show how furious she is?

Instead of writing “Milan was angry”, I should write something that looks like this:

Milan clenched her fists, her knuckles turning white and her arms shaking with the rage she channeled into the action. Her eyes narrowed and she whirled her back to the ruined site. “Get the teams ready! I want everything that can be found, no matter how tiny of pieces it may be in, to be recorded and taken!” Her voice was shrill. Her team stared at her, half recoiled away from the aggressiveness of her stance, though they were more than enough of a distance away from her to be safe from the physical consequences of her wrath. “Get going now!” Milan bellowed when no one, at first, moved. The entire campsite burst into action and Milan kicked a canteen, which sailed into the air over the heads of one of the scrambling students and landed with a bang on a rock then bounced to the debris-laden ground.

Obviously Milan is royally pissed off. She’s throwing an adult-sized temper tantrum and, to her colleagues, it’s understandable.

This scene showed, rather than told, that Milan is angry. She’s about to kick some Technicist booty. But that scene’s for another time, if ever. ;)
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Submitted on
November 13, 2008
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