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Pam Bustin, Writer in Residence November 21, 2022, 12:26 PM

Show versus tell - a new take on an old rule

Greetings from the Writer in Residence office!

Earlier this week, I spoke to a writer struggling with a rule many of us hear over and over again from writing teachers, coaches, and our critique groups: 

You must SHOW not TELL.

UGH. Truth is, rules make me itch a bit. I’m all for TOOLS NOT RULES.

Here’s the thing. To craft a good story, we need to show and tell. As authors, we're taking our readers on an emotional journey. We need to feel the rhythm of the story and know when to move things quickly (just the facts, Jack!), and when to pull the reader close and get them inside our characters so they can feel what the character feels. 

Like if I write, Minna woke sad. 

As opposed to, Minna often woke sad, these days. It wasn’t a sorrow connected to anything that was happening in her life, not really. It was more of a free-floating sadness or anxiety, a feeling of why bother?  It pressed down on her and made it hard to get out of bed—which was the thing she needed to do. The waking sadness was born more of the body than the mind, and as such, it was eased by movement. 

The first is TELLING and the second is SHOWING. I need to decide which is best to use in the moment. If I’m moving fast in a scene, I choose option A. If I want to pull you into that state of waking sadness — make you feel the weight of it — then I choose option B.

Take a look at one of your favourite novels and notice how the author uses these modes of storytelling to set up scene dynamics and pacing in the story. Is there anything you can take away from their style to improve your own work?

We’re all just learning from each other.  

Speaking of learning from each other, if you are working on a project right now, come and write with us! Writers gather for our Writing Circle each Tuesday from 6:30-8:00pm in the Community Commons at the Central Branch and on Zoom. And in November, you can also join myself and the fabulous Regina Wrimos at live write-ins each Saturday from 12:00pm to 2:00pm in the Community Commons.

Happy scribbling!

About Author

Pam Bustin, Writer in Residence

Pam Bustin was born in Regina and raised in a host of small towns across the prairies. She usually lives mostly in Chapleau Ontario with a lovely man and 10,001 books – but is thrilled to be back in Regina serving as the 2022-2023 Writer in Residence at the Regina Public Library. HUZZAH! Pam writes plays, fiction and non-fiction, and works as a story tender for other writers. Her novel Mostly Happy won some groovy awards once upon a time.

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