There’s a three-page section of the issue in which each of the Endless (save for Destruction) gets a few paragraphs of prose description. Some bits of these descriptions are suitably show-don’t-tell, revealing details of characters through nice, proper objective correlatives. Of Despair, Gaiman writes: “Many years ago, a sect in what is now Afghanistan declared her a goddess, and proclaimed all empty rooms her sacred places. The sect, whose members called themselves The Unforgiven, persisted for two years, until its last adherent finally killed himself, having survived the other members by almost seven months.” This would raise no eyebrows with a creative writing teacher save perhaps concern about melodrama. Much is revealed about Despair, but obliquely.
Compare to Desire: “Desire is of medium height. It is unlikely that any portrait will ever do Desire justice, since to see her (or him) is to love him (or her), - passionately, painfully, to the exclusion of all else… Never a possession, always the possessor, with skin as pale as smoke, and eyes tawny and sharp as yellow wine: Desire is everything you have ever wanted. Whoever you are. Whatever you are. Everything.” You’ll not be getting away with that one in a creative writing seminar.
And yet these passages are among the most quoted bits of Sandman. Clearly they work. Why? The first thing to note is that even though he’s just expositing, Gaiman is working with a poetic lilt. Up until the word “passionately” the line parses in almost perfect iambs, with an extra beat at the ends of sentences (which is common in poetry). The use of alliteration and assonance together for “passionately, painfully” is similarly deft, as is the switch to a dactylic/trochaic rhythm for those words, creating a point of emphasis at that turn. Note also that “never a possession, always the possessor” splits into two phrases with identical cadence. Then we’re back to iambs for “with skin as pale as smoke, and eyes,” before a quick insertion of a trochee for “tawny,” creating a point of emphasis again right around the word sharp, so that the content and rhythm feed off of each other. This is very sharp, controlled writing, with a rhetorical structure that’s elevating itself so that the declarative content carries extra weight.
And, of course, there’s the mildly archaic tone - the slight overqualification of “it is unlikely that any portrait,” or the use of “tawny.” You can get away with telling if you break out a more poetic register to do it with. (And this is something both Moffat and Davies are meticulous in when they use this trick.) The result is an added power to the narrative - the ability to have its themes and implications hit har and directly, instead of being oblique."