Monday, May 28, 2012

Once Is Enough


  It’s been called by different names: Show, don’t tell or avoid excess exposition. What does this mean and how do I do that? I like James Scott Bell’s explanation in The Art of War For Writers. He calls it RUE or Resisting the Urge to Explain. All it means is that the writer shouldn’t say what the reader already feels or knows. Let’s take an example:
  My heart thudded in my ears but didn’t drown out the sound of pounding boots closing in behind me. Where was that blasted fence? I had to make it to the fence before the soldiers reached me. The same thick foliage that shielded me from them kept me from finding the neutral zone on the other side of the fence. I needed to cross that fence to save my life. My legs burned but I couldn’t slow down, couldn’t stop to gulp air. A glint of metal flashed in the sunlight. The fence beckoned and I mentally readied to hurdle it as a bullet whizzed past my ear.
  We have some exciting action going on that gets bogged down by extra telling of things you already know. Too much is given about the fence.
  Where was that blasted fence? gives the same information as I had to make it to the fence before the soldiers reached me, except with the additional detail about who is chasing the runner. Since soldiers (them) are mentioned in the next sentence, we don’t need it twice. Choose one of these two sentences to cut. I needed to cross that fence to save my life is repeated information and on the other side of the fence is implied. Cut these. Let’s read the revised version and see if it gives enough information, reads smoother, and keeps a better pace:
  My heart thudded in my ears but didn’t drown out the sound of pounding boots closing in behind me. Where was that blasted fence? The same thick foliage that shielded me from the soldiers kept me from finding the neutral zone. My legs burned but I couldn’t slow down, couldn’t stop to gulp air. A glint of metal flashed in the sunlight. The fence beckoned and I mentally readied to hurdle it as a bullet whizzed past my ear.
  Your readers are smart enough to get what is going on and what emotions are present the first time. 

4 comments:

Donna K. Weaver said...

Great example here. Clint Johnson talked about about resisting to urge to write exposition.

But sometimes that hard! lol

Leslie Pugh said...

I like your examples. It's something I'm trying to learn how to do and it's a challenge for a new writer like me to know the fine line between too much and too little.

Liesel K Hill said...

Great post, Renae! I think you do a great job getting your point across. As writers, one of the hardest things for us to do is to trust our readers. Our writing will definitely be stronger for it, though, as your example shows. Thanks! :D

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Rebecca H. Jamison said...

That is a great explanation, Renae, and one I needed today. I'm in a tricky spot where I need to show more and tell less. In short, I need to delete. uggh.