Friday, August 7, 2015

Show Me--Don't Tell Me

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Hello Alley Pals! I'm traveling right now to sunny Southern California for a few days with my family, so I've cheated and pulled a post from my archives. Show vs Tell--something we can all struggle with, am I right? Chat with you on the flipside!

Don’t you just hate that phrase? There is something so abstract about the entire statement that it’s hard to wrap your brain around it. But it’s also one of those phrases that the less you think about it and try so hard to make it fit, it will actually start to make sense. One of the greatest compliments I NEVER expected to receive was from a published author who read my work on critique (and they weren’t be paid to be nice, if you know what I mean. ;-) and told me I was actually quite good at showing instead of telling.
Could have knocked me over with a feather!

So how do you know from a first or second glance that you are telling when you should be showing? (btw, this is also a great way to really dig into deep POV)

Are you addressing the emotion (ie: she was sad) or are you taking a walk in the character’s shoes? Ask yourself a question: how would your character respond to being sad? What physical action would she go and do? Stop and think in those terms for a minute. Not only will you dig deeper into your character and mine her for a stronger reader experience, you’ll also be showing instead of telling.

When you describe a scene in front of your character, especially a landscape scene, dig into the five senses. What metaphors can you use to describe the scent of freshly fallen leaves or the crunch of gravel under the tires? Take a moment to close your eyes and embrace all your senses. As you stand on the balcony of your hotel room, what are you hearing? What are you smelling? What are you seeing? Don’t just list these things, put them on a first name basis with the reader.
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When she stands on the railing is she remembering her wedding night gone wrong? Does the honk and bustle of traffic below remind her of the cheap hotel they stayed in and were kept awake all night because of the noise? Maybe this shows a layer of her discontent—maybe with life? Maybe with her marriage? That’s up to you to decide.

Tie the scene into your character’s emotions and their past. Where they are right now.

When you purposefully try to weave all these layers together it can seem so daunting and insurmountable. But it’s possible. Don’t think long and hard about it. Stick yourself in the character’s shoes. Make their emotions and their thoughts your own. Now superimpose those things onto the character’s surroundings.
The secret to showing instead of telling is…well, at least from where I’m sitting, there is no secret. It’s a matter of storytelling. Something that you learn only by doing and once you start doing it, you realize just how easy it can be.

My best advice? Stop trying. But not if you’re always searching for that “golden nugget” that will give you the promised solution. :- ) Live and breathe through your characters. Everything will fall into place and one day you’ll have a friend read your work and tell how awesome you did in showing. 

Casey Herringshaw is a homeschool graduate and has been writing since high school. She is a country girl now living in a metropolis of Denver, Colorado, employed as an administrative assistant at Wordserve Literary.


kaybee said...

Casey, you are so right. SDT and Deep POV are inseparable, and both stem from knowing our characters.
I like the idea of "mining" their emotions. Good metaphor.
One of the things I'm striving to do right now is to knit description in with my characters. I.E., when Michael is standing on the hotel porch in St. Joseph, Mo., he doesn't just smell the stink of the animals and the sawdust from the new buildings, he notes that it doesn't smell like the peat fires and the ocean near his home in Ireland. And when he sees a slave following a Southern man, he reflects that he will never own slaves because of the treatment he suffered in Ireland. I try to make background description do double duty -- and of course keep it to a minimum.
Good post.
Kathy Bailey

Jill Weatherholt said...

Excellent post, Casey!
Have a great trip with your family. Those times are irreplaceable. :)