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Saturday, 18 June 2011

That's Just Telling!

Okay, so you know how we are always being told Show not Tell ?

Well I'm reading two examples of successful novels that both seem to rely heavily on telling.

TELLING involves narrative summary. Being told what is happening rather than the reader feeling it for themselves. The author spells everything out, populating the narrative with statements, rather than letting the reader experience it. While it is possible to include some description in the telling, it is fairly stark and factual.

A friend recently leant me her copy (that she'd owned since she was 13yrs old) of Du Maurier's 'Frenchman's Creek'  She adored it. I was surprised to find how much it read like a teen romance. I was also surprised how my initial impression of the book (apart from the first chapter) suggests that it is more heavy on the telling and that it appeared  to rely a great deal on exposition through dialogue, which can make the piece punchy and action packed and consequently, me, the reader more of an onlooker than a participant.

'Their backs are not yet broken that's one blessing" he called softly; "perhaps they are worth all the guineas Sir Harry paid for them after all" The driver shrugged his shoulders. He was too tired and too stiff to argue.The roads were damnation and if the wheels were broken and the horses destroyed he would be to blame, not his companion. If they could have travelled quietly, taking a week over the journey, but this devilish break neck speed, sparing neither man nor beast, all because of my lady's damned ill-humour.'



Cormac McCarthy's 'The Road' was also recommened by the same friend. The novel has been made into a film with Viggo Mortensen. Again my initial, overall impressions have been surprise at how much like a YA it seems, populated mostly with with telling sentences.  Nevertheless on reading the opening page again, I am astonished how much more showing there is than I remembered. While the telling style makes the piece move faster, I feel like someone looking in on the action rather than being part of it. Of course this could be a plot devise to reflect how the MC is distancing himself from emotion after the harrowing experiences he has suffered.

'With the first gray light he rose and left the boy sleeping and walked out to the road and squatted and studied the country to the south. Barren, silent, godless. He thought the month was October but he wasn't sure. He hadn't kept a calendar for years. They were moving south. There'd be no surviving another winter here'.


SHOWING involves the use of details and descriptions in order to create a sensory experience for the reader, with metaphor that construct an analogy between two things or ideas and simile, which indirectly compares two different things by employing the words "like", "as", "than", "as though.

While these are written in a style to which I'm not usually drawn, as I much prefer descriptive styles of writing, I am keen to read to the end and have been known to enjoy similar action packed writing, like Patrick Ness' Chaos Walking Trilogy.


Have you read either of these books?   What do you think of their styles?