TELLING vs SHOWING Part 1 of 3

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Excerpt from A Strategic Path to Writing Mastery

TELLING: I call this the art of “Tellography.” An author “tells” the story rather than allow the reader to live it vicariously. In my workshop sessions with my Reno Writing Clinic, I use this example to best illustrate “showing” versus “telling.”

TELLING THROUGH DESCRIPTION

In walking around the Union army encampment, I had to be very careful to act in every way like a man. Dressed in his baggy uniform, my curves hid well. It helped to bind my breasts, too. I had to be careful not to display any female mannerisms. Smoking a cigar and shaving with a dull blade helped project a male persona. In observing my brothers before purchasing my commission, I studied every nuance of their movement. For instance, when they sat with crossed legs, I noticed they were incapable of doing it by placing one knee directly on top of the other. They preferred to lay one calf across the knee. In uncrossed fashion, they never sat with their knees or feet together; and if someone should throw an object in their lap, they would clamp their knees together and dart their hands in front of their groins to catch it.

(This sample created for illustration purposes)

TELLING THROUGH DIALOGUE (“TALKING HEADS”)

Sally and I walked past a line of encamped Union Soldiers.

“Sam, how do you keep the men from discovering your real sex?”

“I bind my chest, but I really owe a lot to the baggy uniform. It hides my curves well.”

Sally stopped and watched two men playing cards on a makeshift table in front of their tent. “That cigar you smoke sure helps dissuade the men from guessing you’re really a woman.”

I pulled it from my mouth and blew a smoke ring. “It took some getting used to. My shaving with a dull razor really helped, too.”

“I’ve never noticed, but men must move different, sit different … how did you master all that?”

We started walking again. “Well, Sally, I studied my brothers carefully before buying my commission. When they sat with crossed legs, I noticed they were incapable of doing it by placing one knee directly on top of the other. They preferred to lay one calf across the knee.”

“Wow, Sam, I never knew that.”

“In uncrossed fashion, they never sat with their knees or feet together.”

“I’m glad I’m just the Daughter of the Regiment and don’t have to think of all that. They accept me as female.”

“Oh, and if someone should throw an object in their lap, men clamp their knees together and fly their hands in front of their groins to catch it.”

“You were smart to figure all that out before coming. I don’t know that I would have done half as well.”

“You do what you must to get what you want. I really wanted to fight in this man’s army.”

(This sample created for illustration purposes)

SHOWING THROUGH ACTION

I turned and glared at the two privates. Striding forward, I yanked a chair from my map table and smacked it down in front of them. I plunked myself down and crossed my legs by laying one ankle across my other knee and lit a cigar. Uncrossing my legs, I planted each boot firmly on the ground a foot apart while leaning my knees outward so they spread at least eighteen inches from one another.

I spoke as Samantha. “Every move you saw me make was distinctly male. Those moves came about because I studied my brothers for years with what I thought at the time was a fool notion of joining the army pretending to be a man.”

They froze, their eyes nearly bulging beyond their noses.

I puffed on my cigar, blew a smoke ring, and smacked my right hand on my right knee. “By God … just look at you.” I pointed to the crossed legs of the private on my right. “Few men are built in such a way as to cross their legs placing one knee upon the other.” I pointed to the other sitting with her feet and knees drawn together. “And you. The only way a man can sit with knees together is through concentrated effort, for they cry out to fly apart.”

I snatched a capped inkbottle off the table and tossed it at the tight-kneed private. She flew her knees apart and the bottle hit one inner thigh and fell to the ground.

“Now, Private, pick that up and toss it in my lap.” She did. When it arrived, I clamped my knees together and held my hands out palms up over my groin. “With men, it’s all about protecting the jewels of the crown.” I sat back and crossed my legs like a man again. “You forgot you weren’t wearing a skirt.”

I rose, walked behind the table, and sat down. “I have the remedy for you … ladies. If you want to stay as male soldiers in this army, I’ll have to transfer you to Company ‘C’. Report to the regimental Daughter of the Regiment, Sally McAllister. She knows about me and will teach you the moves of a man. I’ll also see to it that you share a tent.”

NOTE: It takes more words to “show,” but it is far more alive and interesting.

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4 Responses to TELLING vs SHOWING Part 1 of 3

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      Yes, I am interested in having guest bloggers. You would have to let me know what you want to contribute. If I accept that, then you can submit through my email.

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    • Eugene Orlando says:

      Yes, I am interested in having guest bloggers. You would have to let me know what you want to contribute. If I accept that, then you can submit through my email.

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