Thursday, February 10, 2011

SHOW don't TELL and POV

I break plenty of rules. I read lots of authors with sixty-plus titles who break the rules. (First, they already have a following and can get away with it. Second, most of us are still trying to catch an agent's eye—breaking the rules doesn't portray a good impression.)

Here is one rule I adamantly support. Don't jump heads. So you know of an example where a successful author employed the technique. I challenge that the scene would have been better by intensifying a single character's emotions and observations. Changing perspective is a weak form of telling. It shouts out that you don't understand your plot or protagonist enough to show what he is experiencing.

STORY: an event explained.

BETTER STORY: characters' actions described.

BEST STORY: reader swept along with the ongoing action observed, and the emotions felt by a single character.

If you believe you need to show from multiple points of view, I propose the story you are portraying isn't worth telling. A good story shouldn't be encyclopedic. Nuance is good. Baseball bats aren't so much.

Write Every Day!



  1. Not head-hopping is so modern America, though. It leaves out other cultures and hundreds of years of literature. I remember when the shift occurred and became a rule rather than a recommendation because I had been going to conferences and classes in the lat 90s, and then I started a creative writing program in the new century. All of sudden, it was a rule not to head hop, whereas previously, there were rules regulating how to head hop properly.

  2. You've got a point there, Mac. A character that moves the reader whether to hate or love her/him is a well-developed character. A story that stays with you for a long time is a great story (at least in my book!). ;)

  3. I must confess that I don’t get all the hub-bub about POV. I live by a simple writing rule: If you’re following and enjoying my story, no matter who’s showing/telling what, when, or where, then none of the rest of it matters. Period. POV sharing, as I choose to call it, is stylistic tool for me, not a fault. [I wanted to post a short example of this but we’re limited to 4000 characters.]

    What I love about my critique friends is that they jump me hard for POV sharing then demand to see the next chapter early.

    My story characters are my fun friends. They don’t give a shit whether I jump from shoulder to shoulder as long as they get their say and I buy the next round. I want to know what they’re thinking because they think the weirdest stuff at the most common times in a story. It’s too delicious not to see what everyone is up to. Hearing it from Bobby Joe or Betty Sue ALL the freakin’ time gets tiresome. I know how he or she thinks after the first chapter. And you’ve got twenty more chapters to go?

    POV shifts, like many other technical flaws,[there I said it, everyone happy?] are easy to spot, easy to point out as “wrong”. Developing a unique style that’s consistently true, remarkably honest head to head, one sentence to the next… is not so easy to spot or address for the better in any meaningful way. It’s delicious. I don’t read enough delicious writing.

    The greatest sin of writing is boring the reader. It is the only sin; the rest are simply indiscretions. Few would-be writers appreciate this fact.

  4. Janet Evanovich: ". . . instead of stating a situation flat out, you want to let the reader discover what you're trying to say by watching a character in action and by listening to his dialogue. Showing brings your characters to life." [1]
    Orson Scott Card: ...objective is to get the right balance of telling versus showing, action versus summarization. Either could be right; either could be wrong. Factors like rhythm, pace, and tone come into play. [4]

    Borrowed from: (