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Club Night – Wednesday 10th January 2024


Last night, our Competition Secretary, Maggie Morton, gave members an excellent presentation on the frequently heard piece of writing advice, ‘Show don’t tell.’ We may well have heard the advice before but putting it into practice is another matter. I’m sure we are all guilty, on occasion, of telling what we could, more effectively, show.

Maggie told us that Anton Chekhov is credited with first mooting the idea in a letter to his brother:

‘Don’t tell me the moon is shining,’ he wrote (in Russian, of course), ‘show me the glint of light on glass.’

This is a wonderful example of ‘showing,’ using a simple detail to help the reader visualise the scene. However, telling is necessary too, in order to give context – where are we? What broken glass? It is the balance between showing and telling that makes for good writing.

Maggie began by showing two video clips. TV, video, and film are the ultimate in showing. No description of Del Boy falling through the bar hatch instead of striking his intended nonchalant pose, could ever match the visual image. You could try, but the humour depends on us actually seeing it.

Telling is, of course, necessary for relating news, facts, back-story, internal thoughts, and transitions between scenes. It is less effective in indicating mood, emotion, ambience or in developing a character. These aspects are best ‘shown.’ Detail, rather than generalisation is the key in description, and the use of all the senses. Strong verbs are better than the over-use of adjectives. Showing also engages the reader by leaving room to develop a personal interpretation of the scene, based on our own experiences.

Exercises, based on some suggested scenarios, gave us an opportunity to come up with words or phrases which might effectively convey a scene and then write a short piece based on these. We seemed to be a rather food obsessed group, as most pieces centred around a scene in a coffee shop or in a steamy kitchen, cooking for the family!

Maggie’s final tip referred to the visual media – the useful ‘Camera Test.’ Does your writing create a visual image? Can you see it played out, like a film? A good test, I think.

Thank you, Maggie for throwing ‘a glint of light’ into the murk of this often mentioned, but sometimes disregarded topic!

Maggie Bolton

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