Recently I had an epiphany. In my never-ending quest to become a better writer, I suck down How-to books like my morning smoothie, and you’ll find me in the wee hours of the morning flipping through the virtual pages of Romance novels on my Kindle. During the day, I can be found taking an online class relating to some aspect of writing.
One thing I’ve learned is that many authors could become better writers by learning one simple technique. Show more – tell less.
Don’t get me wrong. Telling has its place in a story. It should be used as a way to pass the time quickly. For example, “The next day,” or “The week flew by.” Get the idea?
It can also be used to briefly give descriptions of a setting, like “The table sat in the corner,” “The walls in the kitchen were yellow” Both are examples of telling statements. But when it saturates a piece of writing, “She ran down the street, then turned left. Then stopped for a speeding car, that almost hit her,” the story lacks an emotional connection to the character and leaves the reader wanting.
If you want your story to resonate with readers, they need to feel invested in the world you’ve created and the characters that inhabit it. A better version of the above example would be, “Out of breath she ran past the row of town homes lining her street, making a left at the corner stop sign. The man she was chasing after ran a good distance ahead, jumping into a large black SUV as it sped away, almost running her down.”
Which would you rather read?
Yes, I’m as guilty as any, having done exactly what I’m now advising against. Thank goodness the perfectionist in me didn’t allow it to continue for too long. I pushed myself to learn more, and build my writing skills with practice, practice, practice. No one said it would be easy did they?
Below is an exercise that will help any level writer improve their showing skills.
Telling: It was a sunny day
Showing: The brightness of the day flooded our kitchen during breakfast. Little slivers of light slipping through the white metal blinds, streaking across the stainless steel appliances in incandescent beams of light.
Your turn. Remember you can make the showing part of these sentences as simple or elaborate as you like.
- She was sad when her dog ran away.
- My sister was happy with her new hair cut.
- Last night was awful.
- The celebration was fun.
- Mary was angry with her boyfriend.
- The day was long.
- The family was moving.
Now, go tell the world you’ve arrived by “Showing” them how good your writing is