The Paradox of Writing

The first rule of writing is show, don’t tell. Right?

Yeah, of course it is. Everyone knows that.

But, if the rule is show, don’t tell, then why is it called storytelling, not story-showing?

I know, it’s a weird question but hear me out.

Words are just that, words. Letter complied together on a page, black ink and white paper, used as symbols of communication predicated on the concept of language.

Still with me? Good.

Anyway, the thing I’m going to suggest here is counter-intuitive and really simple.

Instead of focusing on showing more than telling, how about you focus on telling instead of showing. In other words: tell, don’t show.

if you don’t like that then how about this: tell so much you show.

Alright, for all you sticklers out there that take the “show, don’t tell” rule as religion, the whole thing is still called “storytelling” not “story-showing” and you’re going to have to do some telling no matter what so chill.

What I’m saying is is that, for the first draft, try to focus on telling the story. Literally, just tell the story. If you have a scene where someone gets kicked in the head, just say someone gets kicked in the head. Don’t try to make it ultra-descriptive or make it this cinematic, god-level anime sequence. Just say someone gets kicked in the head.

In other words, tell it how it is. Be straight about it.

I’m suggesting this as a way to take the pressure off yourself as the writer because although writing is a process honed b discipline and consistency, it’s also supposed to be a free and chaotic process as well, because writing is by nature chaotic.

The point of this suggestion is this:

Telling: Sarah comes into the room, sees her sister and kicks her in the head.

Showing: Sarah walks into the dark and damp room, the posters of her favorite boy band hang torn on the wall, revealing the bland white underneath. Sarah looks around and is horrified when she finds her sister, Cherry, tearing through her wallpaper with a screwdriver and vandalizing her property. Infuriated by this, Sarah sneaks up behind her and gives her a good roundhouse kick to the head.

Although the second example is clearly the better one, the first one allows you to get to the core and move on. The point of the first draft is to build the skeleton and each draft after that serve as the appropriate layers that give the story meaning and purpose. Although even the second one could use some work, that work wouldn’t happen until a later draft.

Translation: When writing your first draft, throw all rules out the window including “Show, don’t tell” it adds more stress than it alleviates and if you’re gonna edit the story anyway, why not leave all that stuff until then? Write with patience and you’ll find your stories getting done much sooner.

Till next week . . .

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