Showing and not telling

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I wrote this little piece this morning. I am trying to show and not tell. What do you think?

“Let’s get started,” the pastor says, gently placing a roll of soft material into Tom’s mouth. “It won’t take long and Tom will feel no pain.”

Ruth attaches several probes to Tom’s temples. The probes are linked to a black box with a dial control on the front of it.

“Prepare to hold his shoulders down, Ruth,” he says. “This is electroconvulsive therapy and he will react.” He twists the dial.

The lights explode with a series of popping sounds and the temperature drops.

Michelle exhales sharply and her breath makes a puffy cloud in the sudden chill.

The box creaks as its sides bow outwards. Crack! It split into two parts. A crackle of blue electricity runs along the cords and the patient on the gurney jerks. Ruth, who was still holding his shoulders, is thrown backwards and crashes into the wall.

Tom’s legs and arms shoot out stiffly, relax, and then shoot out stiffly again.

“Oh my God, Pastor John shouts. “Oh my dear God, what is happening.”

The man on the bed is dancing an electric jig, his eyes are open, but there are no eyes, only a bulging whiteness. His teeth bite down hard on the rolled-up cloth.

“Gaaaaah.” A series of choking sounds escape his mouth and spittle rolls down his jaw.

Snap! Snap! Snap! The electrodes pop off his straining face and fly across the room, hitting the walls and making small craters in the plaster.

Michelle sees smoking black rings where the electrodes had been attached.

“I WIN! YOU CAN’T UNDO MY WORK. CAN’T MAKE HIM WALK AGAIN!” The words echo around the room, bouncing off the stark white walls.

An indistinct shape races around the room and vanishes through the closed window. The room temperature returns to normal and the figure on the bed opens his eyes. Normal blue eyes.

“What happened?” Tom says. “My feet are tingling, ooooooh, it’s driving me mad.” He wriggles in his brace. “I can’t move. Someone rub them for me. Please!”

 

35 thoughts on “Showing and not telling

  1. I think a demon or angry spirit injured Tom so he couldn’t walk. After a neurological diagnosis of some kind, Tom undergoes ECT to heal the injury. The ECT fails to heal Tom, but it does cast out the evil entity that injured him. And Pastor John along with Michelle now have reason to believe in dark spirits if they hadn’t before.

    If that’s what you were trying to show, you succeeded without telling.:-)

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  2. This is an opinion, and you can ignore at will (everybody else does!), but learning the show, don’t tell practicality is hard, and I’m still learning, too, but here goes:

    Which character is the POV?
    “Let’s get started,” the pastor says, gently placing a roll of soft material into Tom’s mouth. “It won’t take long and Tom will feel no pain.” = a bit of tell, easily fixed.
    “Let’s get started,” the pastor places a roll of soft [specific item] into Tom’s mouth. “It won’t take long. Tom won’t feel any pain.” [more by less, using a dialogue tag instead of a speech tag and a dialogue tag]

    The probes are linked to a black box with a dial control on the front of it. = exposition; tell. If the two sentences are merged: Several probes linked to the black box with control dials hang loose until Ruth attaches them all to the marked locations on Tom’s body.

    “Prepare to hold his shoulders down, Ruth,” he says. “This is electroconvulsive therapy and he will react.” He twists the dial. = confusion; who is ‘he’? The last male mentioned is Tom, so is Tom speaking through the gag? The second part of the dialogue is exposition in dialogue, still exposition.
    “Hold his shoulders down, Ruth,” the pastor spreads his hands over the dial. “The body will jump around with live ECT therapy.” He twists the dial. = more direct, less tell and more in line with reality.

    The lights explode with a series of popping sounds and the temperature drops. = tell. Filter word: sound.
    Light globes explode, glass crashes against the floor and walls. The temperature drops. = this is what happens, unfiltered by an unknown narrator. Write what happens, not what is perceived.

    Michelle exhales sharply and her breath makes a puffy cloud in the sudden chill. = as it starts with a name/pronoun, it’s an indication that a tell will follow. Not all tells are bad.
    The sudden chill makes rapid, puffy clouds of Michelle’s breath as she gasps.

    That’s just a few ideas about how to sense the difference between show and tell. Sometimes, a tell is a good thing, but there are several different ways to tell: summarising (useful for getting from one place to another without all the travel between, or just giving the details without going through all the events that led to here – if they weren’t important); exposition (useful in small doses to give the reasons for something [the man who stole my childhood]); static (usually done with descriptions that stop the forward momentum of the story to ‘look’ at something; also any place that stops forward movement: The miles he walked in the rain didn’t clear his mind.).

    Sorry, don’t mean to be harsh, and I know how hard it is (I still have to check all my work in one of the editing programs at least two or three times to find the tells I don’t easily recognise).

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  3. Certainly a vivid scenes, Robbie. I definitely saw and felt what was happening. I just wondered why a pastor would be administering electroconvulsive therapy, which I associate with treatment of mental illnesses such as depression. If that term was absent, the reader would not need to wonder about that.

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  4. ouch sorry Robbie … I’ve seen first hand in my work the impact of ECT and it’s wickedly cruel! There is massive memory loss plus other side effects even under medically controlled situations.

    Sadly fanatics have abused it to ‘treat’ homosexuality etc so it only has harsh negative connotations for me …

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  5. Interesting piece, Robbie, and just the fact that you are fully on board with showing not telling is such a good thing. I’ve read a few books which had all the makings of becoming a great book, but with too much telling and thus leaving me drained, not getting in touch with the characters, whether to love or to hate them. If an author doesn’t show the reader by means of good and natural dialogue backed by solid scene setting, the story will drag. I don’t read much paranormal or horror but it seems to me that you’re on your way to scaring your readers stiff! :-0

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