Show, Don’t Tell
Showing versus telling sounds simple, but for many it isn’t.
By showing instead of telling, you draw the reader into the story at that moment letting them experience the scene. Your goal is to transport the reader to the world you have created. You don’t want the readers to know that you, the creator exist. A reader is more likely to suspend disbelief when they are in the character’s head.
A scene takes place in real time (at this moment), with a setting and a specific location, it will contain some kind of action, something that happens. What does this have to do with showing instead of telling?
See the examples below. The senses are there pulling you into the scene.
An example of showing from A Cursed Heart by Keelia Greer:
This vision was different. No longer watching from a distance, she experienced his pain and anguish. Her muscles tensed, her fingers curled into fists against the consuming weight of the man’s suffering. His anguish bubbled over, scalding her in a hot wash.
“Come to me. With all speed...”
The words were rough, raspy and urgent. They echoed and repeated in Tani’s mind. His deep voice surrounded her in the vision, but what spoke to her soul were his eyes. She gasped and shivered from the intensity of his gaze.
She tried to move but could not. Tears slid down her cheeks at her inability to help him. Her training as Druidess had not prepared her for visions such as this—with all of her senses engaged, the feeling in all areas of her being heightened and magnified.
Another example of showing from Wicked Temptations from Tambra Kendall:
Scotland, present day
The overhead doorbell jangled as Laria MacCleod arranged the last batch of shortbread in the display case.
“Welcome to Wicked Temptations,” she called. Laria lifted her head and the bon-bon in her hand slipped through her fingers to splat on the plate when she spied Mr. Yummy making his way to the counter. She’d seen him around the village, and bugger, he was even better looking up close. Thrice she’d dreamed of him and found the real man was definitely more delicious.
He stood at least six foot one, with sun-kissed blonde hair that brushed his collar, and blue eyes the color of Loch Awe on a sunny day. He reminded her of a Norse god. A shiver of anticipation shimmied to her core at the thought of what she’d like to sample on this man. His aura and presence affected her like no other. She took a deep breath to refocus, to still the attraction she felt for this stranger.
She closed the sliding window and wiped the crumbs from her hands on her apron. She resisted the urge to pluck her damp shirt away from her body. I’m probably a mucky mess. Just my luck.
“May I help you?” she asked as she kept watch on the village’s two gossipy crones, Agatha and Clara, in the corner.
“I’m looking for Laria MacCleod.” He pulled an envelope from his pocket.
Prickles of unease danced a Highland reel up and down her spine. Something wasn’t right. “Aye, I’m Laria.”
“This is for you, lass.” The embossed crest in the upper left hand corner caught her attention. Brighid’s Fire! Hamish Wallace. Would the man never leave her alone? Her creed, if it harm none, do what you will, she always obeyed. Hamish pushed her to her limit.
“I’ve been told this is a final offer from Wallace on your building and property.”
Her hand trembled, rattling the packet. Anger flared, heating her cheeks. “Would you give Hamish a message?”
The Viking Warrior crossed his arms and raised a tawny brow. “Aye, lass.”
“Tell that son-of-a-bitch cur he can go straight to bloody hell! I’m not selling.”
A devilish half-smile twitched at the corners of his mouth. “Hamish isn’t my client, although I currently have the misfortune of working in his solicitor’s office. It would give me great pleasure to deliver your message.”
Now for an example of telling:
She watched the man from the corner of the room and decided he was dangerous. Gathering her purse, she left as quickly as possible.
When reading the example you feel distanced. Ambiguous words also give an unclear picture of what is going on. The key words are she watched and decided. There is no description or verbs that show action in this sentence.
Showing takes more words than telling. Adding sensory details and action to show the emotion the character is feeling.
Rewritten passage of telling into showing:
She pinned her gaze on the man in the dark corner of the shabby bar. A shiver of fear ran through her as the man shifted into the pale light of a lone light bulb dangling from the ceiling. Lifting his arm, the leather jacket parted showing the handle of a large caliber handgun.
Trouble she didn’t want or need.
Gathering her purse, she slid out of the lumpy booth and headed for the door. Icy cold sweat ran down her back. She wouldn’t breathe easy until she crossed the state line. This place reeked of stale cigarettes, body odor and death.
Learning how to show puts the reader into the story, let’s them experience the story as they read.
Once you learn how to utilize this area of writing, you’ll see a difference in your work.
I hope you find this blog post helpful.
Out March 26: Cowboy of the Night
Out March 25: A Cursed Heart (Keelia Greer)
Both titles from Red Rose Publishing