Showing, not telling

Friday, noon. Four of us were on our way to lunch. Someone asked me if I liked the book he had recommended. Friday lunch is to decompress and we are normally frank with each other. I said, “It wasn’t written well”.

I am no judge of English literature. But it was Friday lunch and I was asked for a judgement. There it was.

A good novelist once invited me to find awareness of the difference between showing and telling. I am a slow reader; my mind frequently wanders around the prose while I gaze between the folds of the pages. Years passed since that invitation and years of reading while aimlessly wandering seems to have helped me spot novels that show versus those that tell.

Below are the beginning lines from two novels. See if you can tell.



The first excerpt paints a beautiful picture that slowly comes into focus. I can’t wait to read further. The second sort of spoils the ending. This chapter continues telling what’s going on with Nicholas’ life. I didn’t read past the first chapter so I don’t know if this was really a spoiler but I don’t feel like finding out.

The first is like sipping a beautiful wine. The second is like chugging lager.

It is not only a matter of taste; it is a question of appetite.