One thing I’ve read and heard many times is “Show, don’t tell” when writing. There are many articles and suggestions online to help with this–and here is another.
What is the difference between showing and telling?
Showing is as it is defined: “to cause or permit to be seen” (Merriam-Webster.com)
You as a writer have been given the task and honor to create a story from your own imagination. Taking the world as a whole, there are not that many who have the means or ability to write a novel. That puts all the more pressure on authors shoulders to make it a good story to keep the readers engaged. To keep those readers engaged, you need to paint a picture with words. I’ve been told is to write as if it is a movie. As an example: you can offer some details about the character (features, clothes, traits, and possibly a flaw).
Telling is when you tell someone something. In a story context, it is very dry and boring to read. Telling is more for an essay or for documenting. You’re stating facts. Think of newspaper articles or science studies. This is not to be used in novels except for those (very) few books that can make it work.
Telling: Sarah went on a walk and saw a twenty-dollar bill on the ground. She gave it to the nearby store clerk in case the owner came back.
Showing: It was such a nice day out that Sarah decided to take a walk around her town for some fresh air. She spotted a twenty-dollar bill outside one of the local craft stores. She looked up and down the sidewalk for a possible owner, but saw none. The store was still open, so Sarah took the money to the clerk in case the owner came back to claim their money.
What not to do:
- Don’t vomit descriptions. Example: “The leafy green trees swayed as the puffy white clouds drifted by in the soft warm blue skies.” Ugh. This is boarding on cliché. If it is important to the story, include it. If not, tighten your sentences or get very familiar with the delete button. Instead write: “The trees swayed on a warm clear day.” There. Done. You still get that mental image of a breeze moving the trees and it’s a nice day. It’s still better than telling: “Trees swayed and it was warm out.”
- Don’t use run-on sentences. A “period” is an inserted breath for the reader to take. It helps pace the story. A comma is generally over looked, but a completed sentence breaks a thought.
- Don’t repeat: “Tom put his hand into his hair in frustration. With anger evident in his voice, Tom says…” – it’s a repeat. Do one or the other.
- Don’t “sigh”. It makes the character dreary. And make sure your character isn’t smug or conceded. It’s off putting. I’ve read stories that begin with the character being on top of the world and thought they were the greatest thing since sliced bread – I normally don’t get far in the book and never finish reading it. It could be a great story of a character learning the path of humbleness, but I personally can’t get into those type of stories.
- Don’t have characters talking to themselves or nodding to themselves. Insert a thought process instead. It helps move the story along.
L. R. Mauck