Don’t you just hate it when you enter a contest and the judge tells you that you need to do more showing and less telling but they don’t tell you how?
When I used to judge contests, I always turned their manuscript over or included a whole new blank page using examples from their actual work. I would type up how they told that part and rewrite it to “show” them how they could have made it feel a little more real to the reader.
That’s basically all showing is–making it feel real.
It can be such a difficult concept and yes, I do believe there are times when telling makes more sense and works in a scene better, but sometimes it can be overdone.
I tell A LOT in my first drafts. I’m pretty sure even the most seasoned writing veteran slips into tell mode during first drafts. In this last first draft I wrote, I was racing to get through it so fast, I didn’t have the time to really get into the meat of every scene and make it breathe. I wanted to get the “idea” of the scene and mood down–just the idea.
That doesn’t mean there weren’t times when I was so far into the story, I naturally showed what was happening. Believe it or not, once the concept begins to really make sense, your basic writing will show it more and more.
I’ve talked about layering before. I know, I know…it’s one of my favorite words. <g> But if you look at that second or third draft as a challenge and actually look forward to adding all that fine nuance to your piece, it can actually be fun.
To me, that’s when the story and characters come alive, when I can taste what they eat, smell what they smell–you get the idea.
I thought I’d give a few examples of show vs. tell. This first one, I just shared on Dana’s blog. It’s from an article I published either last year or the year before on writing contemporary romances. The others are off the top of my head and could probably use another draft (heh heh) but they’ll give you an idea.
The sun rose over the ocean and made the day too hot for people on the beach.
Wincing into the glare of the sun, Sarah slipped on a pair of sunglasses so she could watch the play of colorful rays over the water. With one hand, she plucked her sopping T-shirt from her neck and blew cool air over her chest. She wished she could kick off her flip-flops and bury her toes in the sand, but at this time of day, it would fry them right off her feet.
“Rita, you are such a bitch,” Diana said, furious.
“Rita, you are such a bitch.” Venom dripped from each carefully enunciated word. Diana’s knuckles glowed white where she gripped the phone, her eyes snapping fire.
Old Martin loved kids.
Hardly a day passed that Silvia didn’t see Martin pitching a ball or giving piggy back rides to the neighborhood kids. Giddy smiles stretched his lips wide, revealing teeth, chipped and yellowed with age, and she just knew from the way he tightened his fists, that his arthritis made carrying them on his back a real chore.
Didn’t stop him. To Martin, those kids worked as a powerful elixir–they kept him going long after loneliness and spousal deaths had taken his friends from the neighborhood.
Suzy wanted Ryan. She stretched, knowing she looked sexy enough now.
Suzy stretched her body, knowing the slow movement would flex the toned muscles in her calves and thighs. Hours sweating on that damned Stairmaster would finally pay off.
Swallowing a grin, she raised her arms high over her head, making sure the pink, crop-top rose just enough to display the twinkle of diamond in her belly button. When she heard Ryan’s muffled groan, she quickly bent forward to let the fall of her long, red hair hide the smirk she couldn’t stop. One more move and he was hers.
Heather asked for an example in first person. This is a scene from my current WIP. 🙂
I was so scared and shocked over the experience, I had to stop in the middle of the parking lot. I’d never been in anything like that–never seen so many people die without provocation.
Stopping in the middle of the parking lot, I took a deep breath of the rapidly cooling night air and rested my palm on a light pole. The metal was still warm from the sun and I reached out to wrap the fingers of both hands around it as if to anchor myself to earth. I stared for a moment up at the full moon–a bright, beautiful beacon of reality in a sooty black sky. Cold pain tightened my chest, a combination of grief, shock and yeah, terror. I’d been tracking the monsters for more than ten years–had started as a teenager–and I’d never, ever, come across anything like what I’d fought in that blood-spattered hallway. I’d never seen so many people slaughtered without hesitation or thought, with such casual disregard.
And, oh God, I had never stood ankle-deep in ravaged remains with the metallic and rapidly thickening tang of death clogging my throat.
Okay, I did tell a bit in the second example, but not as much as I did in the first. In that one, I told you the main character was horrified. In the second, I showed her dealing with the horror, showed that she was trying to anchor herself in reality because what she had just seen had pulled her very far from it.
All of these examples could probably be a bit better, but hopefully, it “shows” the idea here. <g> Challenge yourself and write the scene several times. Squeeze every bit of use out of it. Layer characterization, setting, emotion– all of this can be done in the showing. Some people make a list of the five senses and make sure at least three of them are covered.
I think the trick is to make it fun and keep it real. 🙂