Too much showing

I received two rejection letters this weekend. One from an agent and one from an editor from a small publisher. The agent provided a one line rejection sentence which is fine. The small publisher is the one that confuses me. The contact was up front with the rejection. Complimented me on my story idea but commented that the writing was a bit weaker than what they wanted to see. OK, that’s their interpretation. Their next comment was odd because the editor stated “there seemed to be a fair amount of showing and not telling.”

WHAT???

This is what confuses me. What makes a book, a book is the showing! If my writing consisted of me telling the reader the main character is mad — isn’t that pretty boring? I thought the art of writing was based on the premise of showing not telling. Maybe I took the editor’s comments too literally but in all the classes I’ve taken and books I’ve read on writing, show don’t tell seems to be a hard and fast rule to understand.

I would love someone to explain the message I received from this editor. Is there a balance between showing and telling? Is the difference between an aspiring author and an established one?

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5 Comments

  1. Could just be their personal opinion. Could be that with emotional states sometimes the reader needs to be told in conjunction with being shown. Could be just another rejection letter.
    Two options – one, you read your submission again and decide you agree with the idea that there is too much showing and you do some revision (or you get a friend/critique group to read it looking for this specifically). Two, you decide you like your story the way it is and you find someone else to submit to.
    Wishing you luck in the future.

  2. Could be the agent got it backwards in a rush to answer (yes, they had it a long time, but the answer only took a few minutes). Or could be that in the showing, you’ve left out a critical detail that fails to tell us what you’re showing. Would be happy to look at a chapter if you want another opinion, or as Cassandra pointed out, I know a critique group that might help (but they don’t pussyfoot around, they are tough!). And again, agreeing with Cassandra, keep submitting. At the end of the day, it’s all subjective.

    • Both are great comments. I’m going to look over the chapter I sent. I think I have a better idea of what the editor might’ve meant. I guess there must be some kind of balance of showing and telling. At the same time, it’s just one persons opinion, but I’ll give it some credence and see where it takes me.

      Thank you!!!

  3. Hey Chris,

    I wouldn’t be too put off by this kind of comment from a publisher. As the agent’s response makes a little more sense (outside of his or her personal preferences as to what is representable), the publisher’s response is likely not anything but the opinion of an editorial intern. Assuming your submission was unsolicited, this seems the most likely.

    As a recent English graduate, if I’ve learned anything about writing in any sense, it’s that “showing” is what needs to happen. “Telling” in the form of flat-out exposition is (as you put it nicely and correctly) boring and tedious, and will turn almost any reader off immediately.

    So I would chalk this kind of response up to a quick read through, quick response, and quick toss aside by an intern. I’ve interned at two small publishing houses in the Atlanta area, and for both I forged through unsolicited manuscripts with distinct instruction to “not spend too much time” on any of them. Sad? Absolutely.

    Don’t be discouraged by this publisher. I haven’t read your submission, obviously, but if you’re doing too much “showing,” I’d say you’re likely on a good track. I never knew there was too much of such a thing.

    • Hi Kristina. Thanks for your comments. I’ve done a little research for myself and got a better idea of showing versus telling. You already mentioned the difference, but telling could also be used for summaries. Rather than detailing everything a character does, just provide highlights as needed to move the story along. Where showing comes in (or at least how I understand it) is dramatize or bring emotion into a scene. For example, the passing of a loved one would be something that would be shown. A character asking for change for a dollar maybe that can be told. There are exceptions to everything. And while the editor (or intern) might be off base, it might worth another look at my manuscript.

      Thanks again,
      Chris


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