Thursday, March 17, 2011

Showing vs. Telling

Tell Me a Story...

What the requester really wants is to be shown a story. No one likes to be told anything. People, particularly readers, don’t like being preached to, and they don’t like being told what to think...So, we, as writers, have to SHOW them what we want them to think. The amazing thing is that, when we show our stories, we are also tighten the writing and eliminate most passive writing. Besides, we establish and stay in the much preferred deep POV.

Today I’m going to give five easy pointers on how to tighten your writing with SHOWING vs TELLING.

1. Always get into the head of you character. “Act” out his/her actions in your mind as you write the scene. This does two things.

A. Gives you stage directions that lets the reader know the characters movements.

B. Allows you to think about facial expressions that go along with feelings. Describe (show) these expressions. Don’t tell the feelings.

2. Which brings me to the next point. Avoid naming emotions. Instead, describe the character's actions and expression. Use your acting skills to show the reader strong emotions like anger, passion and fear. Even love can be more believable if you show the reader evidence of the character’s love rather than long passages of introspection or long declarations. Have your hero pour coffee in the heroin’s cup after a long, grueling day at the office. Think about the simple things others do for you to show their love. Remember actions always speak louder than words. Hence, the next point...

3. Avoid using words like:

A. Seemed

B. Believed, knew, realized

C. Became

D. Felt

E. Saw, watched

F. And anything else that tells the reader what you want them to think. However, sometimes we do need to establish a character is watching or felt something strongly. This is okay. Not all telling is bad, sometimes it’s unavoidable, but once the scene is set, stop telling the reader what you want them to think and show them.

4. Which leads me to the next pointer. Avoid passive voice. Most sentences that have any form of the verb “to be” linked with a verb (ex: The game was worked into the schedule by John.) can be rewritten using stronger verbs or by better sentence structure. (John worked the game into the schedule.) Look for passive voice and get rid of it. You will begin to notice two things:

A. Your sentences will be stronger and say more with less words.

B. You show the action rather than tell what an action is. When you do this, the reader sees exactly what your character sees or does, which helps you...

5. Stay in deep POV. If you follow the four steps above, you’ll actually find that you are in a deeper POV. Let your characters do the talking, let them show your reader the story they want them to see.

Because, after all, isn’t it really the story of your characters’ lives unfolding before the readers' eyes?


Lisa Kumar said...

Very helpful post that serves as a good reminder of showing vs telling!

Brenda said...

Oh, nice, helpful post, Sara.

Sheri Fredricks said...

I never get tired of show vs. tell posts. Good post. Oh, and if there were a #6, it'd be: Have great crit partners! LOL

Janine said...

Great points. The AutoCrit Editing Wizard is really helpful at finding areas where you've told instead of shown. It finds nests of 'was/were', feel/saw, etc.

It really helps me improve my manuscript because sometimes these things are really hard to see if your own work.

Lila Barton said...

Sometimes I "act" out my characters reactions, like facial expressions, etc., to describe them just right. Always when no one else is watching, of course.