Show, Tell and Writing Active Voice

Many writers struggle with the craft elements of scene/show, tell/exposition, and writing active or passive voice. Consider the following element descriptions, view the example and try to incorporate the same methods in your writing.

Exposition – This tells the reader information. Critique groups will say you’re telling too much or using too much exposition when they mean you’re not using enough scene.

Example: Olivia lived in a house with her brother and sister. Her brother’s name was William and her sister’s name was Elaine. Each day the three siblings attended classes at The Wild Apothecary. Mr. Everland who taught the identification of medicinal herbs, came each day to escort them to the school.  

Exposition isn’t bad, but when it’s large blocks it just starts reading like a giant information dump that is distant from the reader joining the story. Readers like to immerse themselves. Use exposition throughout the text to provide important information that isn’t interesting in scene.

Scene/Show – This shows the reader the story as if they’re joining the adventure and events in the story. This is where they get to travel through the experiences of your main character(s) (MCs).

Example: Wind rattled the windowpane and pulled Amelia Hanson from an awful, dreadful dream. She jerked awake and sat up. The images of hobgoblins stealing her baby sister faded from memory. She scanned the room and froze. Shadows danced in the moonlight and cast varying shades of light and dark around her. Scratching sounds scurried behind the walls. A floorboard creaked and she huddled down under her covers. Footfalls thudded down the hall towards her room and stopped outside her closed door. She shrank against the bedroom wall, glanced at the window, and gasped.

Under the light, a tiny creature suctioned to the glass tapped three times. It flicked its scraggly hair over its shoulders and itched the strands draped across its chin like a beard as if it were a little man. The tiny pig-bellied beast sniffed his bulbous nose and banged his head against the glass wailing.

The thuds in the hall stopped. All was silent and then the thuds retreated, swiftly down the hall, banging against the wall as it fled.  

^ This is scene or showing.  

Passive and active voice – are grammar choices in style.

Example: Active voice, the subject acts. Amelia shrank against the wall. Amelia is the subject. She shrank (acted) against is a preposition and the wall is the object.

Writers construct passive sentences when they utilize one of the “to be” verb forms and when the subject isn’t clear. Usually what completes the action isn’t well defined. The action happens to the subject instead or the subject is left out entirely.

Example: The book was read by the girl. The turkey was eaten by the dog.

Object action and then subject forms the passive form.

It can occur without the subject too. “The Book was read.” It’s not clear who read the book. It’s sort of disembodied and ambiguous.