Thursday, November 28, 2013
Show, Don't Tell (Really? Show Me!)
Please note that my comments in brackets are my reader reactions.
In most cases, "was" statements tend to show.
Telling: He was delighted. [He was, was he? Ho-hum. Yawn.]
Showing: His pulse ramped, and his heart thumped a jig in his chest. Yeeesssss! [Now I can get excited for and with this guy.]
Eliminating author intrusion filtering (experience filtered by author) by not using words such as felt, thought, and the like (sensed, experienced, figured, considered, realized) goes a long way in allowing the reader to connect with the character.
Telling: She felt sad and lonely. [Thanks for telling me, but...]
Showing: Everything around her grayed. None of the vibrant colors of fall stirred her. How could she go on? Tears clung to her cheeks as if refusing to abandon her to the empty ache in her chest. If only her father still lived. [Having lost love ones, I can relate to this experience.]
Telling: I thought about my childhood. What glorious memories. [What childhood? What memories? I don't know, so how can they be glorious to me?]
Showing: When I was aged five or six, in a cardboard box from an estate sale, six musty lady's hats hid beneath a tarnished washboard and a rusted cheese grater. Fake flowers, thick blocked lace, and felt, in faded reds and blues and greens, were smashed flat like fallen cakes. First, I straightened the rough lace and bent flowers, then reshaped the head part of the hats with rolls of my fists. Each hat took me to a different time, to a different place. I traveled, in my imaginings, and found a aspects of myself I had not before known. [Although this is backstory, I am intrigued to find out more about this person.]
Using Began and Started
When the words began and started are used, we are taken out of real-time in the story.
Telling: It began with a scream. [What scream? What about a scream?]
Showing: A high-pitched scream ripped her from sleep. [Ah, a scream! Who's? Why is someone screaming? I'll read on to find out.]
Telling: She started to scream. [A person either does or doesn't do something. If they perform an action, they may stop or be interrupted.]
Showing: A scream erupted from her throat. She clamped her mouth closed, and the yell bounced off the back of her lips. She swallowed it whole. [Why is she holding back a scream? Is there worse to come? I have to know!]
Lack of using visceral reactions tends toward telling. (Breaking into a sweat, increased heart rate, ache in the tummy, or the physical, non-thought based responses to what is happening.)
Telling: An explosion boomed. Marco ducked and ran for cover. [An explosion might nudge my interest, but I'm not being pulled into the story.]
Showing: An explosion boomed. Marco's heart stopped for one long shocked beat, then ramped like a machine gun in his chest as he ducked and ran for cover. From where he lay in the brush, sweat coated his face and neck thick and clammy. His grip on the detonator eased and trembled. A shrill tone of nothingness stuffed his ears. Could they smell his fear? [Visceral responses or reactions include: Heart Rate, Sweating, Trembling, Tone in ear from concussion of explosion.]
Telling: An explosion boomed. Marco ducked and ran for cover. [Same example as above for Visceral Reactions. An explosion might peak my interest, but I'm not being pulled into the story.]
Showing: Barroom. The ground shook. A bright white flash burst outward and knocked Marco's head back like a hard right slam to the jaw. A stab, icepick thin, jabbed his eardrums. Lungs locked. He pounded his chest, gulped a sour, scorched breath of air. [Senses include: Hearing, Seeing, Pain, Breathing, Taste, Smell.]
Bonus Example (Combined Visceral and Senses)
A combined example of Visceral and Senses:
Barroom. The ground shook.
A bright white flash burst outward and knocked Marco's head back like a hard right slam to the jaw. A stab, icepick thin, jabbed his eardrums. Marco's heart stopped for one long shocked beat, then ramped like a machine gun in his chest.
He pounded his chest, gulped a sour, scorched breath of air. He ducked and ran for cover.
From where he lay in the brush, sweat coated his face and neck thick and clammy. Could they smell his fear? His grip on the detonator eased and trembled.
A shrill tone of nothingness stuffed his ears.
A writer being able to step back and really look at and assess their own writing is a must. No right fighting and defending what is. None of that "my writing is good" stuff. If your writing is, then why not SHOW, instead of TELL that it is. (See examples above.)