A Pearl of Wisdom for Fiction Writers

Allow me to share with you a nugget for my readers who are fiction writers. This is from an essay on the great Victorian novelist George Eliot by Joseph Epstein, from his recently published essay collection Essays in Biography:

One of the modern fiction workshop laws is that a writer should always show and never tell; George Eliot did both and with sufficient success to wipe the law off the books. Tell all you want, the new law should read, so long as you remember to it brilliantly.

With far less brilliance than the prose of Eliot or Epstein, last year I wrote a satirical post arguing writes should neither show nor tell.

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About Patrick Ross

I'm the author of Committed: A Memoir of the Artist's Road.

6 Responses to “A Pearl of Wisdom for Fiction Writers”

  1. Showing instead of telling was difficult to learn. I dont always show. I dont think you have to always show to engage the reader.

    • Well, if you write like George Eliot, you’re in good shape! In creative nonfiction, we’re given more license to tell, but I do work do fit in more show.

  2. Shshshsh… don’t let anyone hear this, Patrick, but if I was starting out as a young writer today with all this free advice and podcasts and blogblasts and webinars and ebooks and practice sites and zenhabits and writers roads and MeaningsofLife… I wouldn’t get a damn thing written. Look, here it is 2:52 in the afternoon and I’m reading your funny thingy. Actually, I’m glad I did. It made me laugh… again!

    • Hey PJ! If you do my funny writing prompt every day, you’re guaranteed to get nothing done, because that’s kind of the point. Yes, the rabbit hole of the Internet can really consume one, no question. I appreciate your continued choice to spend some time here.

  3. i enjoy showing and telling when I write, and was always disappointed when I was told to edit out the “telling.” It’s nice to read (and realize) that its fine to do both, that you can write however you like.

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