aprilhenry (aprilhenry) wrote,

Show Don’t Tell – My Personal Achilles Heel

I have published six books, with two more out due next spring, and am contracted for three more past that.

So you would think I knew how to avoid “telling, not showing.”

You would be wrong.

Take this sentence in a manuscript I’m revising: “My reading buddy, Melissa, started jumping up and down and screaming about how she hated the fifth-grade boys.”

Is that telling or showing?

I decided it was telling, because it was summarizing. It wasn’t specific. It felt past-tensey, like I was describing an event that had already happened, rather than one that was happening now. (Even though the book is written in past tense, it should still feel immediate.)

So I changed it to: “A scream cut through the noise. It was Melissa. Her face was red, and her hands were clenched into fists. She started jumping up and down. And with each breath, she screamed just one word. “I. Hate. Boys. It’s. All. Your. Fault.”

Showing lets readers draw their own conclusions. You could say “The man was ugly,” or you could describe him in detail without every using the word ugly (or angry, or beautiful, or intelligent) and let readers draw their own conclusion.

Of course, you can’t dramatize everything. Sometimes it’s fine to summarize to move the story along or if the point isn’t important.

One trick I’ve read about is to study movies – which of course can’t tell you anything (except perhaps in voice over). They have to show it.

Do you have a favorite trick to help you show, not tell?

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