Submission Autopsy – Part 1 – Show vs. Tell

Editorial Intern: Dr. Editor, I’ve wheeled in the patient for further examination. I’ve looked and looked, but I can’t find any cause of death.

Dr. Editor: Ah, the deceased; Submission 101 – yes, yes, I’m familiar with the patient. Well, not this one, particularly, but I’ve seen the signs many times, and in many of those cases, the death was senseless.

Editorial Intern: You mean you know the cause of death? But you haven’t even begun the autopsy.

Dr. Editor: I don’t know the exact cause of death, my dear intern, and that’s why we must perform an autopsy. But I can see in the chart that this was an acute case where the covers of the manuscript were too far apart.

Editorial Intern: You mean —

Dr. Editor: Yes. Death by Dullitis. Let’s pick up the scalpel and investigate, shall we? (sounds of buzzsaw and grunting fill the small operating room) Ah ha, see this, Intern? (Dr. Editor yanks on a misplaced verb and dangling participle) Here’s our first clue; massive hemorrhaging between Show vs. Tell.

Editorial Intern: This is just so sad.

Dr. Editor: Indeed. What happened here is that there was too much telling and little showing. What happened is that a barrier was created between the reader and the story and the characters. When you tell, you lack passion.

Editorial Intern: What do you mean?

Dr. Editor: I’ll give you an example. “Blutto Bovine was fat.” The end result is that I have to draw up my own opinion as to what fat means. I’m forced into my own head rather than being in the story. It’s lazy writing and uninteresting. Let’s spice up that same sentence with some show. “The cracks in the sidewalks widened an extra millimeter every time Blutto Bovine made his midday trek to 31 Flavors to order a double scoop of Double Fudge Maraschino Cherry. He always made a point of eating it quickly to avoid staining the only shirt that could cover a fleshy belly that hung over his belt like a root beer float. “

Editorial Intern: Isn’t that longer?

Dr. Editor: Of course it is. But in those two sentences, we’ve gleaned the enormity of Blutto’s girth, his favorite ice cream, his schedule, and his lack of wardrobe. And, we’ve done this with a very visual picture.

Editorial Intern: Do you think this patient simply didn’t know how to show?

Dr. Editor: It’s possible. But ignorance isn’t an excuse for causality in death, my dear intern. Just as in real life, our writing should utilize all our senses – smell, sound, sight, taste, touch – they bring a story to life. After all a muddy pond can be just a muddy pond, or it can smell like a dusty attic on a winter day. Take your pick. This poor patient suffered the consequences.

Editorial Intern: So is the hemorrhaging between Show vs. Tell the cause of death, Dr, Editor?

Dr. Editor: It doesn’t appear so. (Dr. Editor cuts out an intransitive verb and gasps) Oh my holy liver, it looks like there’s a lot more going on. It’s so sad, so tragic.

Editorial Intern: What, Dr. Editor? What??

Dr. Editor: (sniffling loudly) The patient is filled with Fluffitis and Backstoryosis.

Stay tuned…

4 Responses to Submission Autopsy – Part 1 – Show vs. Tell

  1. Gay Degani says:

    LOL! Well that is funny. What about failure to conflict?

  2. Lynn Price says:

    What about failure to conflict?

    That would equal failure to launch. A story without conflict is like a Twinkie without cream. Who cares?

  3. Good post. Hope to read even more great posts in the future.

  4. abroadabroad says:

    Oh my, a tragic death indeed! Now the patient will have to be cremated, as burying his body would be tantamount to saying he was a good case study (writer), and we can’t pollute the the earth. We must burn all his danglings, his useless adverbs and snore-producing prose. R.I.P sad writer!

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