Taking the shortcut to telling

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Show, don’t tell. It’s a chestnut, a bromide, a mantra for writers. Those who want to sketch pictures of stories that readers want to live in, they make a habit of showing a world, not telling about it.

Telling can be a hard habit to break. A lot of the writing many of us began with was reporting: on books, our summer vacations, the literature we were force-fed in high school, current events or debate team ammunition. Facts, or our feelings, told instead of painted. It’s one of the greatest differences between fiction and non-fiction. The former needs to show to do its work. The latter tells as a matter of course.

But sometimes fiction can abide a bit of telling. To move things along, in brief stretches. To set up a scene briefly, which follows the telling immediately.

Telling is a shortcut in writing fiction, or creative non-fiction. Readers want the longer path so they can dally in the delights of a world created by words.

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