Showing vs. Telling

A few weeks ago publishing agent Rachelle Gardner held a contest on her blog, asking writers to provide examples of paragraphs that “show” instead of “tell”. She provided a few different “telling” statements like ‘she was in love’, ‘the meal was delicious’, and ‘the outfit was hideous’. She asked writers to take one of those statements and write a few lines that ‘showed’ the emotion as opposed to telling it. Hesitantly, I took the bait.

In total she received 86 entries, and yesterday she announced the 6 finalists in the contest. Honestly, I wasn’t surprised to find my paragraph absent from the list of potential winners. I had only spent about 45 minutes on it, and I wasn’t sure it was any good at all. That’s why I was surprised today when she announced 6 honorable mentions and my entry was among them.

I had chosen the statement “he was in love” and this was what I wrote:

He hated washing the car. Why spend 15 minutes of time and elbow grease cleaning something that would be filthy again tomorrow? But something happened every time he rinsed off the last traces of soapy residue from the hood. As he wiped down the windshield with a towel, he thought of the smile she’d be wearing as she pulled out of the driveway in a pristine vehicle and contentment flooded his heart. What a mystery it was, how her joy could become his joy. On second thought, he loved washing the car.

Here were Rachelle’s thoughts on it:

This one charmed me because of the way it shows a guy in love without too many sappy “feeling” words. It illustrates a specific “male” way of thinking about love and showing love, and shows love in action. When we write about someone being in love, the temptation is to talk about hearts melting and shivery feelings and butterflies in stomachs. It’s refreshing to see is described in a different way.

There’s actually a lot of “telling” here, and I wonder if this paragraph could be workshopped into a primarily “showing” piece. When you use words like he hated, he loved, he thought…” you’re telling the reader things that could possibly be shown. But we’re inside this guy’s mind, and the paragraph does a great job of conveying the main point (he is in love), so I’m going to let it be and just say, I love it.

The funny thing is, if you know anything about me, you know I really do despise washing our cars. And when I was thinking about a way of “showing” that someone loved someone else, it was the first thing I thought of. Not so sure that Erica sees it the same way, but that’s okay. It’s not about earning points, it’s about finding little ways to make her happy. (although truth be told, i probably only wash the car a few times a year. shame on me.)

So yeah, getting positive feedback from a respected agent like Rachelle pretty much made my day.

I know, I know…it doesn’t take much.