The Case For Telling

Send to Kindle

by Nike N. Chillemi

Show don’t tell has become somewhat of a mantra in serious writing circles. I’m not opposed to showing. I think authors should show as much as possible, but should not build an altar to it. Not every single movement the characters takes and thought they have needs to be detailed in the scene. That can bog down the action. Some things are not that important and can be quickly told if the author wants them in. Sometimes showing has been over used in scenes to avoid dreaded telling.

There are times when telling is perfectly fine. In short stories and novellas due to the constraints of the short number of words, telling is much more acceptable, possibly even necessary.

A character’s life, even a main character’s, contains a lot of information that we should know something about, but doesn’t move the story forward. Just tell it. The story might be set in a town where a commercial bakery employs most of the people and the employees have to work overtime before every holiday. That can be quickly mentioned (told) as something that is routine. Then in a later chapter when Easter approaches and employees are working late, we accept overtime as an alibi for a several characters in the mystery’s Good Friday murder. There doesn’t have to be a lot of cumbersome showing where characters were at the time of the murder, when the plot should be quickly moving.

A character might be so stoic that he/she doesn’t show emotion, perhaps a soldier with PTSD. Then you have to tell. Or the character has mental illness, or is shut-down and totally isolated for some other reason. Then telling might be all the author can do. However, that character can’t be allowed to be a drag on the action of the story. Today’s reader expects the author to get that character vibrantly into the story, especially main and secondary characters. We don’t want Amazon reviews saying they liked the main character but he/she was a bit boring.

A good place for brief telling is when the scene has changed. Two sisters have moved from one location to another. We don’t need to go along on the entire fifty-mile drive with dialog and scenery when it doesn’t move the older sister’s romance forward. The author can simply state that they drove the distance. Akin to this is time passing. Novels not only span continents, they span weeks, months, decades that have nothing to do with advancing the plot. A telling opening paragraph is in order to bring us to the next time period.

And finally, there’s backstory. Bits of telling dropped into the story here and there are totally acceptable and in fact are necessary to get glimpses of characters’ past lives. The hero is on his way to tell the heroine he loves her and something triggers a memory of his mother’s serial affairs and his father’s continual lectures for years-on-end on how women can’t be trusted. We don’t need a lengthy phone call from the dad that shows all this. Tell it, then we want the hero to shake off whatever triggered him and go profess his love to the girl.

*****

Courting DangerNike’s latest release is COURTING DANGER, a detective story with a national security twist. Dry humor. Sweet romance. Uplifting.

Newly installed Pelican Beach, FL detective Katerina “Kat” Andruko fears the prime suspect will get off in the murder of a teen with the help of the department’s forensics psychologist, a man she’s just started to trust.

The case has national security implications giving former US Army Ranger, Dr. Dimitri Garmonin a chance to work with the FBI. It could help him gain funds needed to expand his small Behavior Analysis Unit. He’s unmoved by the chic FBI agent but is intrigued by Kat with whom he shares a Slavic heritage.

Det. Katerina “Kat” Andruko and her partner detain two wrong suspects, giving the department negative press. The predator turns his anger on Kat, targeting her. Can Dimitri use his profiler skills to protect Kat before the feisty detective does something else to enrage this killer?

Bio:

Nike ChillemiNike N. Chillemi writes contemporary detective novels, It’s been said she writes literature that reads like pulp fiction. Plenty of action, a dash of grit, wry humor as well as an uplifting message. There’s often a national security/public safety twist to them. She likes her bad guys really bad, her good guys smarter and better. Her newest endeavor is COURTING DANGER.

Nike is the founding board member of the Grace Filled Fiction Spotlight (formerly the Grace Awards) and its Chair, a platform to promote excellence in Christian fiction. She has been a judge in the 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016, and 2017 Carol Awards in the suspense, mystery, and romantic suspense categories; the Genesis Awards in 2019; and an Inspy Awards 2010 judge in the Suspense/Thriller/Mystery category. Her four novel Sanctuary Point series (out of print), set in the mid-1940s has finaled, won an award, and garnered critical acclaim. The first novel in the Veronica “Ronnie” Ingels/Dawson Hughes series HARMRUL INTENT won in the Grace Awards 2014 Mystery/Romantic Suspense/Thriller/Historical Suspense category. She has written book reviews for The Christian Pulse online magazine. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and John 3:16 Marketing Network. https://nikechillemi.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/nike.chillemi

Twitter: http://twitter.com/NikeNchillemi

Share Button
Leave a comment

5 Comments

  1. Thank you for having me. I appreciate you allowing me to express myself about the value of telling in fiction…in certain circumstances. Thank you again.

    Reply
  2. Good points! Thank you, Nike!

    Reply
  3. Mary Ann, Glad the article was helpful.

    Reply
  4. Great post, Nike! Thanks!

    Reply
  5. Good points, Nike. I liked the examples you chose. Sometimes we need to save time (and the reader’s attention) with a few quick “tellings” and get back to the plot.

    I recently picked up a thriller by a Christian author who should have read your post. Her main character “stopped the car, removed the keys, checked her face in the mirror, opened the car door, stepped out, closed the door and locked it, then put the keys in her pocket.” But the character was just arriving at work. The author could have started the scene with a question from the boss and we wouldn’t have missed a thing.

    Keep writing, and keep helping us Christian authors improve our skills!

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *