Show, not Tell

There are 3 rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.

The Science of Description

with 2 comments

Just as there’s a science to word choice, there’s also a science to description. It has to do with schema and schematic knowledge. We usually learn about schemas in relation to our associations of labels and stereotypes, but what about events in your memory?

Schemata (pl. of schema) can be described as what you think is common, typical, or frequent in any given situation. For example, when you’re driving in a car, you’re expecting a road with lanes and perhaps some stop lights or stop signs, probably other cars. If there’s a tree growing in the middle of your lane–that’s a little weird. That wouldn’t be part of your schematic knowledge of ‘driving.’

From My Trip to the Zoo

From My Trip to the Zoo

Schemata can help us when remembering an event. It’s a sort of ‘general knowledge‘ we tap into when we think back to our day at a zoo. Maybe we don’t remember the monkeys and the gorillas, but there are always monkeys and gorillas at a zoo and so we therefore know they were there when we were.

So, how can this help you when describing a certain scene while you’re writing? Tap into your reader’s schematic knowledge.

When you’re describing a house, do you need to describe the entire structure? Probably not. People know what a house is and they have schematic knowledge of a house–the general idea of it. But what they don’t know is what makes this house different or special compared to other houses they’ve seen. So, when you go to describe the house, write down only the unique and unusual parts of the house.

The house was two stories high, sitting on a weedy patch of majestic green grass. There was moss growing between the singles of the roof and ivy crawling up the left side of the house. A rocking chair sat unattended on the porch beside a closed door.

Let people’s imaginations fill in the gaps about the window sizes, the shutter shapes, what the columns look like (if someone even imagines them). Those parts hardly matter to the general appeal of the house–half rotting, half whimsical.

Everyone is going to imagine a different house. But is this a problem? Not at all!

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Written by Jessica Lei

November 11, 2010 at 3:43 pm

Posted in Writing

2 Responses

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  1. I disagree! Everyone MUST imagine the house exactly as it is in my head!!! If they don’t, they’re wrong wrong wrong and won’t understand my book at all. 😉

    madameduck

    November 11, 2010 at 4:34 pm

    • Then I’m going to be expecting some absolutely, astoundingly accurate description for your MS, missy!

      Jessica Lei

      November 11, 2010 at 4:50 pm


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