Let me get this off my chest. I'm well-aware of the rule that states a writer should show, not tell.
Show the story! Don't tell the story! Yes yes yes, I've heard it over and over. Preach on, little parrot, preach on.
But let me tell you something about telling.
See, there's something you can only do with telling, and it is this: Bond the reader to the character.
For instance, let's take the security guard floating in my beer as I ponderize this post. It's dark beer, Delirium Nocturnum, whatever the hell that is, and it has 8.5% alcohol. That's nearly twice a Bud Water's content, or at least today it is, and there's a security guard in it.
Guard the Showing
She sits behind a half-round table stacked with split-screen monitors showing each of the cells in the city jailhouse. One bank of monitors reads Holding Tank. Another bank reads Shakedown. Another reads Visitation.
And so on. (I borrow this from Vonnegut, who I am reading at present, all hail V)
A cup of coffee with a lipstick ring sits half-empty next to her hand as she types. She types a name into the computer: Harold Banks.
She types Harold's weight and height and the date he arrived in the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office.
I'll stop there. I was showing, not telling. I told you nothing about her, not even her name. I guess I could have shown you her nametag, but I didn't want to ~tell~ you her name. That's telling, not showing.
And this is exactly -- EXACTLY -- what you get with movies and videos and those damned old moving picture thingies. You get SHOWING, not telling.
Now, sometimes you do get telling, even in the movies. We hear it as a narrator's voice, the author, a character, someone filling you in on the details, someone ~telling~ you the details.
Let me re-hash that security guard scene with a little snip of telling, not showing.
Guard the Telling
Henrietta Beecher Snowe scooped up the stack of papers from this afternoon's processing frenzy and laid out the first one face-up next to her keyboard. Jackie, the day clerk, had called in sick and since the officers didn't know how to use the new software system, and since Henrietta had all damned day to kill watching nothing but three-dozen holding cells and Google her name, the task fell on her to perform the day's data entry.
And today had been unusually busy.
It started when Jack Keller, the local busy-body and town drunk, was run over by a dump truck hauling a load of pea gravel. Henrietta had gone to school with the driver, Harold Banks, and had once offered him a sticky-finger behind the band hall after one of the football games. Henrietta played flute. Henry had been a percussionist. Now he drove trucks and ran over drunks who happened to be stumbling along the side of the shoulderless road just outside of Jefferson's Grocery and Deli.
Jack Keller, of course, had been killed. The truck's back tires had squeezed his head like a brown grape and left his brains skid-marked along the side of the road in a gray-matter snail trail.
Henry had tested positive for alcohol, not surprising given he was driving on the shoulder in the first place, and Larry Timbers, one of the day officers who worked nights over in Beaumont, found a bag of cocaine under the driver's seat. Henry rolled the truck, spilling the gravel up and down Poskie Street proper, and that's when things got interesting.
And so on.
Do you see the difference? I told you one story.
I showed you the other.
Yes, I agree showing is the best way to show a story, but telling is the best way to tell a story.
You need both. The showing moves the present-tense action along. The telling fills in the details and the background.
The ~telling~ is the critical point in writing. It's when you bond the reader to your characters.
The ~telling~ is what you do not get with a movie.
The ~telling~ is what people miss when they see a movie adaptation of a book, when they look at you and squint and say, The book was better.
Why? you ask.
I don't know, they say. It just was. I got inside their heads better.
This comes up because I'm editing, and my readers keep asking me to ~tell~ them about the characters. I was trying to show show show. I'm thinking now that I showed too much and told too little.
Don't be afraid to tell. It's how you bond to the characters! It's how you make the reader care about what happens to them!
How about you? Do you have that strange detestation of telling that afflicts so many writers?