Correctly placed details can reveal more about a character, setting, or situation than paragraphs of exposition — showing versus telling. In revision, it’s important for us to scour every scene, every paragraph for ways to show instead of tell. Sometimes I find that, in the frenetic rush to get the story out, my first drafts tend to be lots of telling and need to be cleaned up pretty dramatically to show more instead.
In Lois Lowry‘s The Giver, Lowry builds a fantatstic new world in barely a chapter, and she’s able to accomplish this feat with her solid use of revealing detail, as in this passage in the first chapter:
Lily considered, and shook her head. “I don’t know. They acted like… like…”
“Animals?” Jonas suggested. He laughed.
“That’s right,” Lily said, laughing too. “Like animals.”
Neither child knew what the word meant, exactly, but it was often used to describe someone uneducated or clumsy, someone who didn’t fit in.
Without telling us directly how different this society is, Lowry accomplishes this in just a few lines by showing an example of daily life without giving it to us in straight exposition. The conversation and comment come across casually, almost as an aside, which also shows us something about the world of The Giver and the attitudes of those within it.
Whenever I revise, I try, though not always successfully, to cut as much exposition as I can without losing the thread of the story. Which revision tricks do you use to clean up your fiction?
P.S. Check out what the NY Times has to say about Lois Lowry’s new book Son here and how “in many ways, Lowry invented the contemporary young adult dystopian novel.”