Jessica's entire idea is to create a handbook for writers that shows how to show and not tell, and she succeeds by presenting sixteen scenes to read and learn from. In her introduction, she suggests that you read each scene four times and focus on different parts of it each time. After reading it through once, then the second time, writers should "identify the telling words/phrases." By the last time a scene is read, a writer will be brainstorming their own ways to "fix" the scene. (In the print version of the book, Jessica provides blank pages to take notes and try your own wording of the scenes.)
So, what does a scene entail? First, readers will encounter a list of attributes that a writer is trying to portray in a scene. For example, in the first scene, the list is: "amazing view, awe, feel hot, relief, feel tired." The next page has a paragraph, full of telling.
Sandy stood at the foot of the Egyptian Pyramids. Though she was hot, tired and sore, she was awestruck by the amazing view and felt a sense of relief. Finally, she’d made it.
Obviously, there's a lot of telling in that above example. Can you pick that out? The next page in the book, which I won't share with you here, provides Jessica's version of the same paragraph, but with showing details, instead of telling. Then there's a page for notes.
What I like about this book is that the author tells you what she wants to portray in each paragraph with a list, provides a simple telling example, and then she gives a good example of showing instead of telling. She is also encouraging you to do the same--in your own style. How could you rewrite the above paragraph to show Sandy was hot without telling the reader she's hot? Would you do it the same way as Jessica? Can you figure out more than one way to do it?
Each of the sixteen scenes is set up like this. There's no long explanations on why the author chose to do what she did. This is a short, concise book, but it gets the point across. In the end, the author provides three writing exercises and her e-mail address, where she invites readers to contact her if they have questions or need more writing prompts.
Jessica Bell is also the author of String Bridge (a women's fiction novel), Fabric (a poetry collection), and Twisted Velvet Chains ( a poetry collection). She is an Australian-native, living in Athens, Greece, and she hosts the Homeric Writers' Retreat & Workshop on the Greek island of Ithaca, home of Odysseus, with Chuck Sambuchino of Writer's Digest.
If you or anyone you know is struggling with showing vs telling in their writing, then purchase (for under $5.00 a copy) Show and Tell in a Nutshell by Jessica Bell!
We also have a copy to giveaway.
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