Last week we discussed Description. If you have missed the Writing Craft post go here.
Show don't Tell is the next step and an important one. What does Show don't Tell mean? I know writers who stumble on this phrase. So I will take a little time here with you all.
Basically, Show means Experience. You want your readers to experience the events, the description, the fears and hopes of your point of view character. You may have more than one point of view character, but while you are writing in the characters head, the reader needs to be immersed in that character so that all things come to life through them. When you Tell the events of the story you're outside your characters point of view as a third party observering the action. There is a place for this, but a very small one.
Tell: Robert went into the kitchen. Bread baked. Things were strewn all over. His wife wasn't there. Where did she go?
Show: Robert was drawn to the kitchen by the smell of bread baking. Nothing was better than hot bread and melted butter. His stomach roared as the kitchen door swung shut. Piles of dirty dishes overflowed in the sink. His wife's favorite cookbook was open on the table. A cup of coffee had chilled beside it. Where was she? He turned, anxiety replaced his hunger pains and the loud beeping of the kitchen timer told him the bread was done.
This is short but it shows the difference. Often as we write, it is to tell, then as we rework the piece we change our telling into showing. The seasoned writer may be skilled enough to do that the first time. This scene is not complete; we are missing the 5 senses. I have smell and sight right now.
In the telling, you may choose to make Robert irritated with his wife. Maybe she does this all the time. Maybe she just went to the bathroom. But I have chosen to make his wife's disappearance a mystery. All writers can take a mundane, ordinary life scenario and create mystery, suspense or humor and fill it with tension.
To Tell: There is a place for telling. When you are writing your manuscript and you have 80,000 - 120,000 words it is acceptable to do a little telling. Other wise your story could easily become 90,000 - 130,000 words. When do you know to tell? When it isn't important for the tension or action to show the scene. In other words, you want 95% showing and 5% telling no matter what.
In today's market we are being told to make our stories shorter all the time. While this is the publisher's response to rising cost, it should not be your response to a well crafted story. Your reputation is on the line.
I hope this is a help to all of you. If you need more specific help, I am offering online classes, just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Alex J. Cavanaugh wants to know how he can add enough description the first time through.
Golden Eagle and Michael Di Gesu wanted to know about back story and information dump.
Nas Dean wants to know about show don't tell.
Still to come:
Riya wants to know how a writer decides on a genre since she reads in many different genres.
Mike Rushhoeft suggested a list of words to avoid. Good idea Mike.
Let me know if there is something I can answer.