Besides attending the monthly meetings of the Liberty States Fiction Writers, I have a smaller group that meets once a month at a local bookstore.
Last night we were discussing an oft-used phrase: Show, Don’t Tell.
One of my friends asked, “How do you know you are doing telling and not showing?”
My friend Anne Walradt is an expert on the subject and does a wonderful workshop on the concept. I can only offer some very basic advice and examples.
First, if you read it aloud and it sounds like a laundry list — You’re telling. An example of telling:
The alley was dark. It smelled of old garbage. There was movement at the end of the alley. It was a large man. He looked like a criminal. Fear gripped her. She ran away.
Was that interesting at all? Did you get involved in what was happening? Did you impart any of your knowledge to the scene, thereby becoming involved in the story?
If you answered “No”, then you understand what’s bad about telling rather than showing. So how you do write the above scene by showing? Here’s a shot at it:
Darkness swallowed her up as she entered the alley. Days old garbage filled a dumpster, making the air rank with the smell of decay. Shadows shifted at the end of the alley. A man stepped forward into the muted pool of light cast by a security lamp. Blue-black prison tattoos covered his arms and his face had the look of a boxer who had lost one too many fights. Her stomach clenched and a cold sweat erupted across her flesh a second before she whirled away.
A little better? Do you impart your own experience to what decay smells like? Did you wonder what the shadow was? Did the description of the man show you he was a criminal and/or trouble without telling you? How about the fear aspect? Didn’t use the word fear, but her reaction demonstrated it and you as the reader, recognized it.
That’s the biggest difference. When you show, the reader becomes involved in the story by interpreting what you are writing. With a laundry list, there’s no involvement on the part of the reader because it’s plan and simple. Of course, that does not mean that you should so confuse your reader with how you show something that they are lost.
So, that’s a very quick rundown on the concept of Show, Don’t Tell. I hope this Tuesday Tip was of help!