I grew up with stories. Some came from books, most came from people. Storytelling is a part of my story. It is a part of who I am and it is a part of what I do. During the journey of acknowledging and accepting my role as a storyteller, I’ve come across the discussion about show versus tell and I have come to terms with where I fall within this so called truth. I am a story TELLER not a story SHOW-ER.
I understand that “showing” is a skill. It is something that can be expressed in many ways. But just like commas, I accept that the “rules” can be drilled into my head but in the end, I must be authentic. The challenge that comes with this is working with other writers. When being critiqued, the writers often say “show show show show show.” What I’ve learned though is that my readers like “tell tell tell tell tell.” And the editors (professionals that have been in the industry and have an established reputation with successful published clientele) have yet to comment on my telling versus showing. For me, showing is reserved for those places in the story where drama needs to be felt. It may not be at the beginning, it may not be at the end, but there is a strategy put into place to show where it counts.
One thing I have learned on this journey is that while there is a place for showing, there is also a purpose for telling. If the entire work is show show show, where do you find the drama. All of those necessary subtle details that keep the reader shroud in mystery become hidden in the flowery descriptions intended to paint this glorious picture that is the story. If everything is poetic and no prose is sprinkled in then all you have is a movie painted across the paper.
On some level, this may be the society we have grown into. Every detail must play a very specific role of making the reader feel what the writer scribes on the page. Between box office block busters and Youtube, Vines and selfies we see everything with only our eyes. No thought required, no imagination necessary just allow your mind to regurgitate visually the words plastered on the page. No one needs to think. Readers cannot decide for themselves what a character looks like. This is the feedback I’ve become accustomed to when working with other writers.
But there is a silver lining in all of this. My readers don’t subscribe to this mode of thinking. They are thankful that my character descriptions are often vague. They enjoy the fact that my characters are so universal that they can decide for themselves what he or she looks like. It is not necessary to spend the entire book attempting to paint a billboard when a hand-held sign would do. I have confidence in my reader’s imagination, something that many authors learn not to do.
My lesson in all of this: stay true to myself and listen to my audience. Writers are NOT my audience and while I know that I can learn from the suggestions of my colleagues, I will not let their experience cloud mine. I will accept their criticism gracefully, implement those things that I think will improve the experience of my readers and leave the rest to float away in the wind.