Everyone has their own reading pet peeve. Some readers get really bogged down by excessive head-hopping; others can’t bear linguistic anachronisms. My beef is possibly the most unfair one of all, because it’s the hardest one to execute: “Show, Don’t Tell.”
Readers – okay, I – gripe about this a lot. Telling isn’t bad – it just isn’t as effective or interesting as showing. Instead of being told that the heroine is smart, I’d like to be shown. Instead of being told that the romantic couple love each other, I’d like to see it. And so on and so forth. Obviously this doesn’t apply to every situation or every sentence, because then the book would be twice as long. And if the author simply needs to impart basic information, then telling is the way to go. But from a reader’s point of view, nothing beats character depth through showing rather than telling.
And there are heaps of authors out there who do it marvellously. Meredith Duran, Sherry Thomas, Elizabeth Hoyt, Joanna Bourne, Mary Balogh, Jo Goodman, Carla Kelly, Julia Quinn – if I named every author I consider masters at the art of showing, I’d run out of breath. Each of these authors has her own inimitable style, but they all tell damn good stories, tell them well, and show us who their characters are.
One of my favourite songs in My Fair Lady comes towards the end, when Eliza Doolittle is being romanced by the aristocratic Freddie Eynsford-Hill (a very yummy pre-Sherlock Jeremy Brett). He gives her a whole heap of romantic mumbo-jumbo and finally, exasperated, Eliza (played, and in this clip sung, by Audrey Hepburn) bursts out:
Don’t talk of stars burning above – if you’re in love, show me! Tell me no dreams filled with desire – if you’re on fire, show me….Don’t talk of love lasting through time; make me no undying vow – show me now!
I couldn’t put it any better.
What’s your reading pet peeve? Do you get bugged by telling and not showing?
– Jean AAR