3/10/09

Writing Tip Tuesday: Show, Don't Tell

Show, don't tell.

How many times have you heard that phrase? A million? A zillion? A quatra-billion-gazillion?

Yeh, me too.

But sometimes it's easier said than done. One of the best tips I've ever heard on how to show, rather than tell, was to imagine your scene as if it's on a movie screen, then describe in detail what is happening.

For example, let's say we have a budding high school romance. Boy and girl are discussing their feelings for each other. Instead of telling us that he is embarrassed by the things he wants to say, or that she is afraid he's going to dump her, picture the conversation on a larger-than-life, techni-color screen in your mind. What does it look like? Show us through your description.

Does the boy shift his weight from foot to foot and look off into the distance? Does he open his mouth to say something, then close it again? Do his ears turn a little pink at the top?

And what about her? Does she hold her books up close to her chest, as if they'd protect her from the blow of his words? Do her eyes water up just a bit and does she bite her lower lip? Does she look down at the ground, then back up at him?

The description and the choice of their dialogue (or lack of it), show us that he is embarrassed and that she is afraid. That's what we mean when we say show, don't tell.

3 comments:

Stephanie Black said...

Also, please don't introduce your characters with infodumps. Let us get to know the character by seeing her in action. You can slip in bits of background here and there, but pages of exposition aren't the most exciting way to meet someone for the first time!

Anonymous said...

You can slip important background information into your story later, somewhere after the 50 page or so point, once your characters are interesting, involved in the plot and the reader would actually be somewhat interested in a few details that flesh out their character.

And once you've done your movie screen thing and created a scene that simply shows everything that's going on, don't ruin by showing your lack of confidence in the reader by adding some lines that tell the reader what they're felling. Let the reader figure it out for themselves and move on. Have confidence in us. We get it. And we think you're writing down to us when you can't resist that goofy urge to explain it all to us.

Mandy said...

I love it when I can read a novel and feel like I'm watching a movie, like with Abramson's Royal Target. And I agree with Stephanie that authors don't need to tell the reader the entire life story of their character the second he/she is introduced. Sometimes a little mystery is a good thing.