I was surfing around the web, looking for discussions on trends in fantasy novels, and lists of ‘best of 2012’ (to see if I missed any!) when I ran across the Fantasy Faction blog. While I was searching their site (as I was also trying to find out how to get books reviewed/listed 🙂 ) I ran across some genre specific articles on writing. In particular, their article on ‘Show, Don’t Tell’ for fantasy authors, I thought was insightful. One of their points:
Fantasy stories will often include some very odd and unfamiliar things – from people, creatures and places, to magic and strange technology – more so than most other genres. A fantasy story will naturally be quite heavy on description. The reader may need more help picturing certain things than they would in another book. Remembering the ‘Show, Don’t Tell’ rule will help to keep descriptions interesting and dynamic.
A fantasy writer may also feel the need to tell the reader what everything does and how everything works, but in most cases this is better shown than told.
Given that, in a fantasy story, you will have times you do need to ‘tell’ and not show, I think it’s even more important to be very circumspect and avoid ‘telling’ at all other times. And the one of the easiest ways to clean up your telling (and not showing) is how you inform the readers about emotions. This is also the ‘tell’ most often made by newer (and not just novice) writers.
They have a really good example on Fantasy Faction about showing anger. Here’s a quick example of ‘showing’ another emotion:
A lone, ignored tear traced a slow path down her tawny cheek, crisscrossing the salt tracks of those she’d already shed.
Her shuddering breath hitched and a small sob escaped.
Despite his slow, measured pace, he still stumbled over some of the names of the dead. When he came to the names of the children, he paused after each one, drew in a deep breath and swallowed before going on to the next.
Those are off the cuff and I apologize for grammar (not my strongest suit), but they all should convey an emotion without ever saying what that emotion is.
Of course there are exceptions. When you are writing in the first person you will run across times when your main character will think ‘I’m mad”. Or in dialog, “Last I saw him, he was madder than a bee stung rhinoceros that his niece beat him at table tennis.” However, generally, you never want to state emotions, you want to show them.
And yes, I’m still trying to figure out how to get books reviewed by the site.
(be sure to check out Fantasy Faction’s articles on writing, there’s more good stuff there)