I thought I’d start out the Wednesday Writing Prompt series with one of the phrases that has been heard time and again by everyone one of us. “Show, don’t tell.”
The advice is generally bullshit. It takes a lot of us time to realize that it is bullshit, and why, but agent Dongwon Song, on twitter, outlined recently the exact cop out that using that phrase really entails. The suggestion to me is that if you have to resort to saying that as advice to someone, you need to work on your critiquing skills. (I am very guilty of that myself, in fact. But I’ve noted it and will work to be better!)
Do yourself a favor, read the thread, here. Also, follow Mr. Song, he posts very educational and interesting things quite regularly.
In the discussion that follows, writer Brooke Bolander riffed a line, then wrote a piece of flash fiction based on it, the concept being a bathroom, a corpse, and an empty roll of toilet tissue.
The idea in question is that many writers, over enthusiastic to show and not tell, maybe show a little too much, especially when it comes to day to day minutia, like using the toilet.
On the other hand, the bathroom can be a source of potential amazement.
“He doesn’t know how to use the three seashells!”
Lloyd Kaufman (Troma films) said in his book “All I need to know about film-making I learned from the Toxic Avenger”, that there was a movie where the ending credits happen as the hero, beaten but victorious, walks into a men’s room, unzips, and takes a piss in the urinal. For him, it made the movie, by reminding us that he’s human.
So look at your WIP, remind us that your characters are human, if they are, and write a scene about using the bathroom, or some other mundane activity that corresponds. But SHOW, don’t tell. Just… show us effectively!
For more examples of showing effectively, I can’t help but suggesting you check out Friend of the Pen Christopher Wright. He writes a series he calls a “prose comic book” , in which he does quite a lot of telling in a way evocative of comic book panels. Check out the free online serial Curveball.