A popular post from February 2008
by Annette Lyon
Recently I edited a couple of books by talented writers. In both cases, the bulk of my comments related to the old adage, "Show, don't tell."
Both writers knew how to show, but didn't do it quite often enough.
And in the vast majority of cases, the solution to switching the telling into showing was placing the situation into a concrete scene and getting the characters talking.
It's hands-down one of the best ways to show. Not only is it a relatively easy (just record the movie in your head), but characters speaking will transform your work from a simple narration into a story with life.
Read your work, and every time you see a section where someone "told" something or "thought" something (when implied as speech) highlight it. Each one is an opportunity to show with added dialogue. Be sure to include contextual details (Where are your characters? What are they doing?) so your characters aren't just voices in your readers' heads.
My sister thought I was nuts for singing a rock song at the auditions for the school musical.
Let's try again. Picture a movie camera recording the scene. What do we see? What do we hear? Don't report what happened. Make it happen before our eyes.
I stepped off the stage from my audition to thunderous applause coming from three of my buddies in the back corner. I raised my arm, acknowledging them with a humble nod as if performing to a sold out crowd. "Thank you, thank you," I said. "You're too kind."
As I sauntered down the aisle, my sister sunk down into her chair. When I sat beside her she rolled her eyes away from me. "Pink Floyd? For a Sound of Music audition? You're totally nuts. From here on, I'm denying that I'm related to you. There's no way we share the same genetics."
I grinned, resting the back of one foot on the chair in front of me and crossing the other on top. "Nuts?" I said, hands clasped behind my head. "Quite possibly. But memorable."
The magic is in the details.
If you have a character who is shy, put him in a situation where he has to speak shyly. If you have a boss who's mean, don't report it. Show him screaming at his employees. Let us hear his words.
Show, don't tell. It's a crucial element to fiction.
But if it helps you remember to apply it, change the phrase to, "Show 'em talking."