Editing Tip: Showing and telling By Editing intern Sylvia Stein

As an editing intern with Stitched Smile Publications, I am so happy to be working with an amazing group of editors and authors.   As both an author and editor, I know how important it is to be able to work on the best possible manuscript.   This is why I am sharing a short editing lesson on today’s blog.

This is all taken from Chapter 1 Show and Tell, and this is taken from the book by Self-Editing for Fiction Writers:  How to edit yourself into print by Renni Browne and Dave King.

I will begin by showing a sample of this paragraph:

The conversation was barely begun before I discovered that our host was more than simply a stranger to most of his guests.  He was an enigma, a mystery.  And this was a crowd that doted on mysteries.  In the space of no more than five minutes, I heard several different people put forth their theories — all equally probable or preposterous –as to who and what he was. Each theory was argued with the conviction that can only come from a lack of evidence, and it seemed that, for many of the guests, these arguments were the main reason to attend his parties.

In a sense, of course, there’s nothing wrong.  The paragraph is grammatically impeccable, and it describes the mystery surrounding the party’s host clearly, efficiently, and with a sense of style.

Both the authors continue by stating, “Now look at the same passage as it actually appeared in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby:

“I like to come,” Lucille said.   “I never care what I do, so I always have a good one.  When I

was here last, I tore my gown on a chair, and he asked me my name and address — within a week I got a package from Croireir’s with a new evening gown in it.”

“Did you keep it?”  asked Jordan.

“Sure I did, I was going to wear it tonight, but it was too big in the bust, and I had to be altered. It was gas blue with lavender beads. Two hundred and sixty-five dollars.”

“There’s something funny about a fellow that’ll do a thing lie that,” said the other girl eagerly. “He doesn’t want any trouble with anybody.”

“Who doesn’t? I inquired.

“Gatsby.  Somebody told me—“

The two girls and Jordan leaned together confidentially.

“Somebody told me they thought he killed a man.”

A thrill passed over all of it.  The three Mr. Mumbles bent forward and listened eagerly.

“I don’t think it’s so much that,” argued Lucille skeptically: “it’s more that he was a German spy during the war.”

One of the men nodded in confirmation.

“I heard that from a man who knew all about him, grew up with him in Germany,” he assured us positively.

“Oh no,” said the first girl, “It couldn’t be that because he was in the American army during the war.”

As our credulity switched back to her, she leaned forward with enthusiasm.  “You look at him sometimes when he thinks nobody’s looking at him.  I’ll bet he killed a man.”

So now the question Browne and King post here is “What’s the difference between these two examples? To put it simply, it’s a matter of showing and telling.  The first version is a narrative summary, with no specific settings or characters.   We are simply told about the guests’ love of mystery, the weakness of their arguments, the conviction of the arguers.

In the second version, we get to see the breathless partygoers putting forth their theories and can almost taste the eagerness of their audience. The first version is a secondhand report.  The second is an immediate scene.

This was just a short sample lesson on Showing and telling.

So now that you have taken a look at this, I hope you will take a look at this book.  As an editing intern, this has been such a great reference book to have.

If you have time check it out:










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