Most of us probably remember Show and Tell in grade school. We brought an object in from home and had the opportunity to SHOW it to the class and TELL something about it. It was an effective technique to communicate information to the class so now that we’re all grown up and have become writers, when we’re told to Show don’t Tell, it’s natural we might become slightly confused. And that’s because the terms “showing” and “telling” are official writing terms. “Showing” is a powerful technique to make your writing stronger and to more fully engage your reader in your scenes and is much more effective than telling.
You don’t want your readers to just read your words without feeling the emotional impact of what is happening between the characters on the page.
Showing helps create that emotional impact.
When you “show,” you describe your character’s visceral reactions to a situation which in turn forces the reader to interpret the clues given and decide what the character is feeling. It is as if the reader is there in the scene—in real life—watching the scene unfold.
“Showing” also includes describing a character’s thinking and his actions in a scene which, again, forces the reader to draw conclusions as to what is happening in the story.
Some examples of telling and then showing from the lovely Virginia Kantra's Home Before Midnight:
Bailey hated the new pocketbook her mother bought her. (Tell)
“Hideous, Bailey thought, staring at her mother’s latest bargain, a huge shapeless bag with an adjustable strap, gleaming with gold hardware and bristling with zippers." (Show)
Steve sat in his living room and felt dissatisfied. (Tell)
"At least he could work. Once—six months or a week ago that would have satisfied him. It didn’t now. His fault, for letting personal feelings into an investigation." (Show)
Gabby felt sad because her mother died. (Tell)
"She pulled the bakery box toward her and opened it. 'It’s OK,' she said to the donuts. 'I just miss Mommy. I miss being a family.'" (Show)
When a knock sounded on her door, Bailey was scared. (Tell)
"The knock on her door echoed through the room like a gunshot. She bolted upright in her chair as paper cascaded to the carpet. Her heart thudded against her ribs. She felt giddy. Terrified or sleep deprived, at this point it didn’t matter. Should she answer?" (Show)
We want our readers to approach our stories the way they approach real life. They must be fully engaged, astute observers, and draw their own conclusions as they read like they would as they watch the people and events around them.
Next month – Down and Dirty – Step #12 - Editing techniques