Avoiding Show vs Tell

Can you ‘see’ what the text is suggesting?

When we start to write we often hear warnings about ‘Show vs Tell’ but what does it mean? Well, I’m not going to try and write something better than this great article from Writer’s Digest, but I want to do is focus on being brief and avoiding an ‘info dump’ as it’s referred to; I always link these together and call it ‘overwriting’.

As we read we form pictures in our minds, as if watching a movie, and if the writer tries to force too much information on us it can spoil that image creation which is part of the pleasure of a good book.

The idea of ‘less is more’ certainly applies here and with too many words you can leave the reader frustrated. They want you to ‘get to the point’ and not give them excessive words that are irrelevant and not a necessary part of the story.

The two extracts below, and their suggested amendments, are designed to help you see where you might tighten your descriptions to still give the reader all they need to ‘see the picture’, but not too much.

ORIGINAL – 153 words

He pulled into the large drive of the hillside home with his black 1993 Volvo station wagon and noted two pickup trucks already in the double drive. One of them was a clean white Ford 150. It had a logo on the door followed by lettering that read: “Fred’s A/C and Heating, Buffalo NY.” A phone number was also presented. He looked upward and saw two men on the roof working on the air conditioning units. Presumably the units belonged to the upper and the lower portions of the home. Music blared from a small portable radio near where they stood. The second truck was a beat-up old Toyota with some dents in at least one side. The rear bumper was displaced. On the door that faced him, the words “Ken’s Restorations” were painted in red. “We serve all of Oklahoma,” was noted in smaller letters beneath it along with his phone number.

SUGGESTED – 53 words

He pulled into the drive of the hillside home and parked his Volvo alongside two pickup trucks. A Ford advertised “Fred’s A/C and Heating” and a beat-up old Toyota had “Ken’s Restorations” painted on the door. Music blared from a radio beside two men working on the air conditioning units on the roof.

ORIGINAL – 196 words

McPherson had two offices. One was at the university and the other, his present location, was private, located only two miles to the north of the campus in a stand-alone building that had once been a small failed restaurant. He had purchased it at a very good price on a “must sell” basis. There was ample parking, although he didn’t normally entertain clients there, as his business calls were by phone.

The main portion of the red brick building was of moderate size and included a comfortable sofa, long enough to seat three people and for one nearly six footer to sleep on, two arm chairs, a computer, a coffee table in front of each of the chairs and the sofa. The wall artwork included color photographs of pollen and mold spores along with plaques and awards that had been presented to McPherson.

When McPherson came out of one of the inner offices, basically a restroom-shower facility, he saw one of the men reading over his various award plaques that hung on the walls and the other man was looking at a color eight-by-ten photomicrograph of Penicillium notatum, a picture the mycologist had taken years earlier.

SUGGESTED – 96 words

McPherson had two offices, one at the university and a private facility two miles further north. The latter was a red brick building of moderate size, with ample parking for the few clients he saw there. The main office had a desk and computer, together with a couple of sofas and chairs and a coffee table. The wall’s artwork included color photographs of pollen and mold spores, alongside memorabilia of the scientist’s achievements. When he walked in one of the men was reading his various award plaques and the other studied a photomicrograph of Penicillium notatum.

So what do you do now? Well you can try this out on a piece of your own writing and post your before and after in a comment below, but before that why not practice and copy the originals into a Word file and then have a go at editing them yourself? I’m not saying mine are perfect, they are just my ideas, and you might come up with something even better; it was a pure coincidence that I reduced each sample by 100 words!