We’ve all heard the term “Show, don’t tell”. It’s in every book, magazine, show, movie, and article about writing. Every. Last. One. Unfortunately, not a lot of them are super good at explaining what that means. They just say “show, don’t tell”, and let us try to figure out the rest. Yeah, right! It’s hard enough to overcome writer’s block, but trying to obsessively-compulsively “show” and not “tell” while you’re doing it is SOOOOOOO frustrating!
Relax, my writer buddies! It’s really not all that complicated, and I’ll give examples. Never fear!
What is telling?
Simple as that. “Telling” is when you’re reading that book and all is going really well (and by “well” I mean it’s all going downhill so we can eventually get to the climax) and then, that dreaded sentence:
“(Insert character name here) was furious.”
Wait, what? How furious was s/he? How did they react?
Don’t lie to yourself, you’ve been there. We all have. Admit it. Come on, say it out loud: “I’ve been there.”
As writer’s we read that and instinctively know that something is off. We’re not sure what all the time, but we go back and do a double-take. We look for that reaction that we crave and we’re more than a little annoyed when it isn’t there. Then we go into the “what I would have done” phase of what I lovingly term “The Correction Bug”. (More on this next week. It’ll be a fun post.)
That’s when we get to the next step.
What is showing?
Showing is actually the most rewarding thing about writing. It’s when you write that perfect sentence, the one where you can see exactly what you saw in your head just by reading through it. A lovely sentence like:
“Black fingernails beat a consistent rhythm on the armrests of a gilded throne, a thin arm moving in motion with them. The porcelain skin trails up to a slender neck, which holds the imposter queen’s head atop its pedestal.”
That one’s mine, I’m really proud of it. Copyright 2014, Megan Fatheree, please do not use.
Anyway, can’t you just see the camera angle as it trails up from her feet to her face, to reveal an evil grin? I can, and I hope that’s what you saw to, or I shouldn’t be writing this post for lack of experience.
So, showing is just that. Make it DRAMATIC!!!
How do I “show” and not “tell”?
I have found that body language is prime in “showing, not telling”. Every time you go to write an emotion (e.g. “he was angry”; “she was sad”, etc.), stop yourself and ask “How would I know that if I can only see the person’s actions?”
Good question, right?
Sad is probably the easiest to show. Tears, quivering lip, frown, slumped posture. All are signs of someone whose very woebegone.
Anger is another easy one. You know how people look when they’re angry.
You can describe how anyone is feeling by their body language. Start people-watching when you’re out and about. Just wait, you’ll see what I mean.
But, “showing” doesn’t have to be relegated strictly to people and how they feel. Oh, no. It’s for settings too.
“The sunset was beautiful.”
Cop-out. Describe it, but don’t go into purple prose.
“The sun sent beams of orange and gold cascading through the sky. It reminded her of how she used to look at the world when she was young.”
Leave it at that. Don’t dish on backstory at this point. (We’ll discuss backstory proportions another time, or you can find my first backstory post here)
Describe things. Make your reader feel what the characters are feeling. One of my favorite statements is that “Sometimes, the scenes that make people cry the most are when characters are trying not to show emotion.”
(I probably didn’t quote it exact, but you get the drift.)
So, find your niche. Explore your best attempts at “show, don’t tell”. NEVER just say what they’re feeling. And stay creative!!!
Okay, here’s the deal! This week, I want to know what YOU think about “showing, not telling”. Are you obsessive about it? Do you have no clue what you’re doing? I’m answering questions and reading every comment, so I’d love to hear from you!
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