Today’s topic combines the two hardest questions I’ve encountered as a writer:
- How do you convey emotion?
- How much do you Tell vs. Show?
It’s easy to say, “Show, Don’t Tell.” However, I’m trying to take a more nuanced approach to my study of the craft of writing. Frankly, I can find a million posts that tell me to Show; it’s much more difficult to find discussion of when Showing may not be your best strategy.
Let’s examine the situation logically. Telling has two big advantages:
- It’s concise.
- It’s clear.
It also has major downsides:
- It does not engage the reader.
- It doesn’t fully convince the reader.
Thus, the obvious conclusions are that the author should use Telling when:
- The longer story space required to Show an emotion isn’t warranted.
- Clarity is more important that immersion.
- The passage isn’t needed to persuade the reader, such as when the author is reinforcing a character trait rather than establishing it.
Let’s examine an example I crafted just for this post:
Kirl hesitated at the door. He was sad about Zamin’s loss, but what could he do about it? Whistling, he turned the knob.
Presumably, the reader would know what loss Zamin suffered and be able to draw a conclusion about Kirl from the fact that his friend’s tragedy produced so little reflection. The passage above efficiently conveys this trait of Kirl’s to the reader by using the telling phrase, “he was sad.” It wasn’t necessary, in this instance, for the author to get the reader to experience Kirl’s sadness, and thus Telling, in my opinion, worked.
I’d love some further thoughts on this topic from my readers. Are there other instances where you believe that Telling works to convey emotion?