Show and Tell

Show, don’t tell, is a truism in writing. It’s probably the biggest piece of advice for new writers right now, or at least it seems that way from the things I am reading.

Great advice, but it’s also bullshit.

My current novel is the story of a father trying to make it to his daughter. She is in a different province, and there is a great deal of travel between the two places. Also, the zombie apocalypse just happened, making travel just a touch more difficult. Now, I do a fair bit of showing his journey… but I don’t show the reader every step, every day. The journey starts in August, and ends in December. If I showed everything, first the book would be a million words or more (it’s around 60k), and second, it would be boring as all hell. I’m only showing the parts of the journey where something of note happens. If on October 19th my main character got up, peed, ate a meager breakfast, started walking, walked for 10 minutes through essentially fields, then joined up with a path, walked over a stream, etc. and I’m only half an hour into his day, well, nobody actually cares. If I just tell you “He walked all day” the story moves along, and you get to enjoy the interesting bits of the journey.

This may seem intuitive… of course everyone knows that, but it might not be. I see the question come up often on writing forums – do I have to show their entire day? Of course not, you show the cool bits. You tell, and for the most part encapsulate, the boring majority of the bits.

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