I Want to Know What [Insert Emotion Here] Is. I Want You to Show AND Tell Me

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Anyone who has ever turned on a car radio has probably heard the song “I Want to Know What Love Is” at least once. Recorded by the British-American rock band, Foreigner, this 1984 power ballad hit #1 both in the U.S. and the United Kingdom and is the group’s biggest hit to date. According to Wikipedia.com, it “remains one of the bands best known songs and most enduring radio hits charting in the top 25 in 2000, 2001, and 2002 on the Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary Recurrents chart.

If you have not heard this song (bless your heart you poor suffering creature) then check out the video below:

Enough about the song. The reason I’m bringing it up today is because it ties into my topic: showing vs. telling. I know, I know, you’ve heard this lesson a million gazillion times already, but here me out. I have some fresh thoughts on the subject.

I know we’ve all been told “show, don’t tell” by other authors and experts in the blogosphere, but I actually don’t agree with this advice entirely.

I think there are times when it is best to describe how a character’s “heart pounded” and I think there are times when it is safe to say “she was startled.” For the sake of pace, it might be okay once in a while.

Some of my favorite authors, Karen Miller and Terry Pratchett, to name a few, tell quite a bit. Pratchett, for one, uses telling for humorous impact. Karen Miller, I believe, tells when showing would bog down a fast-paced scene.

I’m not saying you should ignore everyone else’s advice and tell all, but I am saying it’s okay once in a while (emphasis on once in a while) to just let the reader know how the character feels. But for the most part, you should show rather than tell.

I hope this was helpful to you, and of course, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject. Please leave a comment or cast your vote on the poll below:

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7 thoughts on “I Want to Know What [Insert Emotion Here] Is. I Want You to Show AND Tell Me

  1. II always loved that song, adding to it: “…I want you to show and tell me!”

    It seems these days that writers are turning the show versus tell rule on its ear and doing some of both, along with other unorthodox practices. I find it refreshing because too much of one or the other to me is boring.

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