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More than “showing”, part 2

So, I don’t refute the point that Bransford and Jertz make per se. My primarily goal is to illuminate the limitations of what they say and emphasize how it sometimes misses the point.

Joshua Hendkin had an excellent discussion on this in the Elegant Variation. He points out other examples of showing versus telling that illustrate how this comes out on paper sometimes:

She was nervous” is, I suppose, telling, while “She bit her fingernail” is, I suppose, showing. But is there any meaningful distinction between the two? Neither of them is a particularly good sentence, though if I had to choose, I’d probably go with “She was nervous,” since “She bit her fingernail” is such a generic gesture of anxiety it seems lazy on the writer’s part–insufficiently well imagined.

He also argues that ‘show versus tell’ is a cop out.

If you ask me, the real reason people choose to show rather than tell is that it’s so much easier to write “The big brown torn vinyl couch” than it is to describe internal emotional states without resorting to canned and sentimental language. In other words, “show, don’t tell” provides cover for writers who don’t want to do what’s hardest (but most crucial) in fiction.


About 20smtg

Early 20s--Working for a few years after college, including part-time freelance writing. Hope to go back to school at some point, and become a scholar.


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