Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Teaching vs. Telling

“Show don’t tell” is the first commandment you will hear when taking any writing class. It’s good advice.

It’s just that telling is easy and fast and showing requires an endless and judicious use of measures, weights, and scales: too much color, not enough noise, pointless detail, overly obvious contrasts, silly use of clichés.

When it comes to teaching the art of writing, I’m beginning to suspect the same dilemma exists—that showing is harder than telling.

We plow through short stories discussing theme and plot and character and decide that we do or do not “like” the story, but we rarely seize on the why and the how of a story. Why did it work or not. How did the author make it work? Is there evidence in the text itself to explain why a story is magic? How do they do it?

I wish that more writing teachers were able to show me why a writer is great rather than tell me that a writer is great.   

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