Words are fickle. They can mean many things. Used in sentences they can mean even more. And when these sentences are made by people (and really, who else makes them?), the lid is off the jar and meanings fly left and right. This is where editors come in, and opinions become clear, and meanings do too. Usually.
Kai Wilson wrote a good piece on this on her blog “Authorinterrupted”:
Show versus tell – I don’t think it means what you think it means
Sometimes I see something that makes me stop in my tracks. And then, a couple of days/weeks later, it comes up in a different format and I get to finalize my thoughts on it, and explain what made me boggle.
About four weeks ago, one of my potential editing clients argued with me about what show versus tell meant. The story was full of inconsistencies, even in that first sample segment, and made me pretty nervous about editing it, so I explained, as gently as I could that I’d address as much as I could, but the biggest flag they’d get was ‘show versus tell’. An argument ensured that too much detail was ‘clumsy’ and that you couldn’t ‘show’ emotion – it had to be flatly stated.
The exchange that followed meant that I’ve recommend she find a different editor – it was clear from the conversation that she was looking for something other than an editor, but the point stayed with me for the last few weeks – mostly wondering if my next ‘big project’ is going to be ‘the indie guide to writing gud’.
And then Donna Brown posted this blog. And it made me realise that fundamentally, the problem isn’t as straight forward as it might look. The problem is, if you reject the term, wholesale, you’re probably missing out on some really good advice. But if you listen to it, you may lose confidence in your work. So, I’ve added some ‘probably and may’s below.
Follow this link if you want to know about the ‘probably and may’s.