New writers often hear their work critiqued with the somewhat glib advice that is “Show, Don’t tell.” But what does that mean exactly? Here are some tips to help you do exactly that and take your writing to the next level.
The example above from Anton Chekhov is a great one. It’s rather easy to tell your reader, the moon is shining. But consider how much richer you could make that scene if you show us what the moon shining means to the scene, the character, the plot.
Take the time to be more specific. “She had red hair” versus “Her Auburn curls cascaded down her bare ivory back.”
Taste. Touch. Smell. Sight. Hear. Try to utilize senses in your writing and your prose will become increasingly more rich. You will be able to paint a picture that draws the reader in.
“The room stunk.” vs. “The putrid scent of rancid food filled the room her stomach threatened to empty itself.”
Which one tells you more?
Protip: If you tend to write narrative summary describing what is happening in a scene, take a step back from your writing and consider how you can show the reader what is happening through the lens of a character’s feelings rather than just an info dump.
I look at showing as simply offering more information to the reader, which in turn makes your story richer. Showing will indefinitely mean longer scenes that give the reader more insight into the character.
Here’s another example.
Telling: “The couple, obviously in love, walked to the mailbox.”
Showing: “He caressed her back and she leaned into him as they walked, their steps in sync as though they’d been walking together for years.”
How is it obvious they are in love? Show us that. You may find as you peak back at your work that you can look at a sentence that is telling and then expand that into telling by answering some questions designed to draw out more information.