Don't tell me… SHOW me!
“Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” — Anton Chekhov
Let’s all agree that the subject of "show vs. tell" deserves its own blog post, its own book, its own billboard. Plenty of people have done just that (well, probably not in billboard form), so I’ll keep it simple.
The root of all telling comes from an excess of emotional adjectives that fail to transport the reader into the intended experience. Instead, the writer should provoke emotion through character reactions and vivid prose. Don’t simply tell the reader how to feel.
C.S. Lewis says it better than I ever could.
“It’s no use telling us that something was ‘mysterious’ or ‘loathsome’ or ‘awe-inspiring’ or ‘voluptuous.’ By direct description, by metaphor or simile, by secretly evoking powerful associations, by offering the right stimuli to our nerves (in the right degree and the right order), and by the very beat and vowel-melody and length and brevity of your sentences, you must bring it about that we, we readers, not you, exclaim ‘how mysterious!’ or “loathsome’ or whatever it is. Let me taste for myself, and you’ll have no need to tell me how I should react.”
Telling forces a reader to watch the slideshow of your vacation while you narrate. Showing invites the reader along as you travel.
- Use well placed details to bring scenes to life.
o “The dressing room was dark and dirty” becomes “A tube of lipstick rolled from the sticky dresser, disappearing into the shadows where dust bunnies congregated in hordes.”
o “The house looked old” becomes “Paint peeled from the doorframe, wood splintered near the rusty door knob, and the hinges shrieked when awakened as if the house were yawing from a century of sleep.”
- Evoke powerful associations
o “My hair was so dry, I couldn’t stand it” becomes “As I ran hair gel through my hair, the brittle strands broke like a dehydrated leaves in autumn.”
- Use expressive dialogue rather than telling the reader how something is said.
o “Why did you do that?” she asked, defeated becomes “Why would you do such a thing?” she asked, hanging her head.
When you are starting out as a writer, you will find that having a Critique Partner is vital in the assistance of finding and fixing these. Sometimes we don’t see the spinach stuck in our own tooth until someone points it out. It is also vital that you give your writing space and time between revisions. Looking at your work with fresh eyes will help these suckers jump out so you can fix them.
Take each sentence below and show what is happening:
“This was a historic vote”
“It was the most romantic moment of her life”
“The smell was terrible”
“The smell was terrible”
Now, go! Tackle that telling. You can do it!
This has been another "'No Post on Sundays' Post"