Friday, January 29, 2010

It’s Okay to Tell—Sometimes (Part 2 of 5)

You use telling statements to sum up information so you can move a story or article forward. Telling speeds up the pace when you don’t want to add another ten paragraphs. For instance I’m throwing us into the middle of a conversation between Reba and her husband, Jerry. He insists she needs to buy a new winter coat.

"This one is good for another year," she said.

"Nobody wears those shapeless, beltless coats anymore. And the

"But I like oracle purple."

"Oceanside blue is the in-color this year."

"We can’t afford it. We owe—"

"You need a new coat, and I want you to look good when we attend all those holiday events."

They argue about the purchase of a coat. If done right, and without the writer telling us, readers become aware that the argument isn’t about buying a coat, but about the way each perceives money: Jerry’s a spendthrift; Reba’s frugal. After three pages of dialogue as well as show-don’t-tell writing, readers grasp that Jerry is the overpowering personality.

Do you need another three paragraphs to show that Reba buys a coat? Probably not. Let’s say that’s not crucial to the story. So how do you end the scene?

Here’s a simple remedy through a telling statement: Exhausted after the third argument that week, Reba went to Macy’s and bought herself a belted oceanside blue coat.

That’s called a summary statement.

Sometimes summary statements make good sense. Don't be afraid of them.

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