I have experienced more than my fair share of feedback from writing professors and peers about showing more and telling less. When you tell rather than show the reader what is happening in a story, it’s like providing information and robbing them of the opportunity to construct a picture in their mind. We hear the words, show don’t tell, but how do we really learn to practice differentiating between the two in our narratives?
Telling can be one of the most difficult habits to break. The first step is to decide for yourself what it is that you want to accomplish with the story you are creating. This is an excellent way to get your mind thinking more in terms of showing scenes, creating action, and constructing resolutions within the narrative.
Create a Picture:
In my opinion, creating a picture in your reader’s mind is literally what an author is doing when showing versus telling. Here is an example:
Carrie felt like painting.
She found a blank canvas sticking up from one of the half-unpacked boxes. Carrie leaned it onto her easel, grabbed her paint splattered palette, and began painting a French Impressionist image of a jazz musician she’d seen playing on the streets of the French Quarter. An elongated ebony face, his eyes hidden behind opaque sunglasses, with full cheeks blowing into an exaggerated golden trumpet soon stared back at her.
Use Strong Verbs:
Showing the reader what is happening and constructing those images in the reader’s mind takes action. The best way to generate action is by using strong verbs, and, remember to avoid overusing adverbs. Consider the following sentences:
Carrie went to the table.
She made her way to the center table and grabbed a lukewarm beer floating in a mixture of water and ice from the galvanized bucket.
If you have trouble bringing a sentence to life, use the thesaurus and introduce yourself to new words and new verbs, the most vivid you can find.
Interrogate Your Story:
Consider the details when creating strong scenes and a solid narrative. Comb through your draft and ask yourself if there are too many details in a particular scene or not enough. It’s important to distinguish between areas in a narrative that require more detail to move the story forward and create clarity for the reader, and those details that add nothing essential.
Practice Makes Perfect:
There are a number of exercises that a writer can do to practice showing versus telling. Find short sentences or scenarios and devote a few minutes to expanding them by adding more detail. Practice the reverse. Find longer scenes and distill them down to the essentials. Join a writing community, go to workshops, and keep reading. Learn from those with more experience. Most of all, keep writing.