I don’t even have a novel published yet, but I’m gonna say it – sometimes it’s okay to tell. Don’t freak out on me – I heard James Scott Bell say this at last year’s ACFW conference, so I figure I can repeat it. Let me repeat it: sometimes it’s okay to tell.
T is The Right Time to Tell
Referring back to a2z – P is for Pacing, consider this scenario. The main character has an important meet at 7:00 a.m. Which scenario works better?
“She looked at the clock and gasped. Even though she’d set the alarm last night for 6 a.m, she must have forgotten to turn it on. The numbers showed 7:30.”
“She looked at the clock and gasped. She was late!”
The reader needs to know that the main character is late, but no one needs to know every minute detail leading up to the lateness. What is important is finding out what the leading lady is going to do, now that she’s already 30 minutes late for her appointment. And if you consider the pacing of the scene, is she more likely to think about all of the reasons why she’s late, or jump out of bed and try to fix the situation?
I’ve read plenty of novels that have gone into such great detail to show me such insignificant details. If the reason for her lateness is key to the plot (maybe she’s losing her memory because someone has been drugging her over time?), then it’s definitely worth it to explain. There are cases, however, when a quick tell keeps the plot moving without sacrificing pacing or style.
I’m not saying this should be the rule when writing, but sometimes it’s okay to tell … if it’s the right time.
CHALLENGE: Pick up a novel. Find a telling passage. Does it work? Why/Why not?