We are always told to show not tell, yet new writers often have a hard time understanding the difference. And apparently, so do professional writers.
I found this example of tell in a book by a bestselling author. She was enraged, and this was very visible. You and I certainly could never get away with such a ridiculous sentence. How was her rage visible? Did she turn red? Did flames shoot out of the top of her head? Describing how she looked when angry, though not ideal, is better than simply saying her anger was visible, but an accomplished writer shows the anger, shows what the character did.
Perhaps she was angry at her fiancé and so she slapped him. (As an aside, why is this still acceptable behavior for women? If men aren’t allowed to hit women, then women shouldn’t be allowed to hit men.) Or perhaps she tore off her engagement ring and tossed it in the river. Even better if she surreptitiously picked up a pebble, then palmed her engagement ring, and threw the pebble in the river. That way she could show many things besides her anger: she can show that she is smart, controlled, even manipulative. Maybe she isn’t even angry; could be she just wants the guy to think she was angry.
Any way you look at it, the sentence as it stands is weak. So is this one by the same author: He remained perfectly still, not moving a muscle. At least she showed him doing something, but remaining perfectly still and not moving a muscle mean the same thing. Redunancy, anyone?
While I’m on my rant here, I have something else I’ve been meaning to say. The preferred usage now is to use a instead of his or her when referring to a limb. For example: He put a hand in his pocket. The reasoning is that if you say he put his hand in his pocket, it presupposes that he has a single hand. But I always wonder: if he puts a hand in his pocket, whose hand is it? His? A disembodied hand he just happened to have lying around? Okay, I’m getting ridiculous here, but it shows the ambiguity of words.
Sometimes ambiguity is acceptable, but more often it’s the lazy way of writing. Makes me wonder why readers shell out hard-earned money when authors are so willing to repay them with sentences such as She was enraged, and this was very visible.
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