If you’re writing fiction, you’re bound to have heard those dreaded words: show don’t tell. They’re dreaded because, until you really get it, you won’t get it (well, I didn’t).
It took me, um, a long time, but I figured it out. The secret to knowing whether you’re showing instead of telling.
Telling is when you feed the reader the story. They don’t have to use their imagination. They don’t have to picture the scene. And so, the writing is boring and flat.
Here’s an example of telling: She was angry because her father wouldn’t let her go out to a movie on a school night.
If the whole book was filled with sentences like that, you’d put it down pretty quickly.
So here’s the same thing using showing (and note it takes a lot more words and a lot more work–on the writer’s part, that is):
She slammed her school bag down and glared at her dad. “Geez, you’d think I was three or something. Everyone else is going. It’s a movie, Dad. I won’t even be home late.”
So here’s the secret: telling is the CONCLUSION you draw from observing somebody’s body language, facial expressions, dialogue, or actions. Showing IS the body language, facial expression, dialogue, or action.
If you want your reader to know that your character is angry, don’t tell them that. Instead, describe to them what you would see if you were observing your character in that moment. How do you know that your character is angry?
Showing is like living life. How do you know if a family member is happy, sad, depressed? How do you know whether your work meeting is going well? What is it that you observe that tells you that? When you meet someone for the first time, what is it about them that tells you their personality, their profession. That’s what you need to show the reader, and trust them to draw their own conclusions. If you’ve done it right, they’ll draw the conclusion you want.