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  • Writer's picture Brian E Pearson

Showing & Telling

The Golden Rule of writing is: "Show, don't tell." Don't tell me your character is angry, not when you can say he smashed his fist on the table. We'll get the idea.

Some cultures know this instinctively. I don't think I've met a Newfoundlander who isn't a natural born storyteller. Many First Nations people will give you a story before they'll give you a straight answer. This is what Jesus did, as well. He didn't score talking points. He told stories. And we're still telling them two thousand years later.

This is why it's so frustrating for a writer, when asked, "So, what's your book about?" If you could tell them in a sentence, why spend a year of your life writing your latest thriller, let alone your life's story? You can identify the genre, or even name some of the issues you're raising. But what is it about? Read the damn book!

I started Last Rites, my memoir about life in the church, to answer a question: Why, in the end, did I feel "done"? Why, as a lifelong church member, and a minister for almost four decades, did I feel I was finished with the church, when I left?

I wasn't expecting an answer, something I could sum up in a sentence. That would have been disappointing, both to me and to the reader. Instead, I wanted to explore the question through the use of stories. The "answer," in a sense, is encoded in the stories I tell.

Now that I've completed my first full draft, I can see the power in this approach. It invites the reader to share with me a journey of discovery through the stories I tell. If it works, we should be able to sit around over a beer at the end of the day and discuss all the possibilities, including those encoded in their own stories.

Showing is more engaging than telling. Imagining is more compelling than explaining. It's about the power of stories to reveal their own truths, and about our ability to hear them.

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