Hi all! Back again with a few writing tips and tricks.
Today I wanted to talk about a very common topic in the writing community: the “show” don’t “tell” rule. This is something writers often hear from editors or the interwebs as being the key to good writing. And I wholeheartedly agree.
To show you why, I’m going to give you two different versions of the same scene from my “work In progress” Maximillian Ironson: Vampire Hunter. One is showing you the scene and one is telling you the scene. I’ll tell you which is which after, but you may be able to guess from the quality of the writing.
Cat followed Max up the hill, enduring his taunts. He was wearing a skin-tight thermal with a puffy Northface vest over to keep out the cold; she a bomber jacket with a fluffy hood, thick leggings and knee-high boots. She zipped her jacket up to her chin. It was freezing, the wind biting their faces.
They were headed to a site on the west side of the Highlands, a place where Max said there had been a few missing person reports. He suspected vampire activity.
Cat’s breath puffed out into the air in front of her in a haze of icy vapor. The muscles of her calves were beginning to cramp up beneath her knee-high boots. “Why does every place we go have to be up hill?”
“Because I enjoy torturing you.” Max peeked back at her, the collar of his ski-vest concealing his face. “It brings me great joy.”
She scowled at him past the fluffy hood of her jacket. “Where are we going anyhow?”
A freezing wind came flying up to bite their faces; Cat saw his muscles tense beneath the tight thermal he wore under his vest.
“Just up this hill,” he pulled his collar closer. “There’s a farm village due south, a couple of people have gone missing walking out here in the country.”
Cat stumbled to keep up with his long stride. “They think it’s just dangerous terrain, surely.”
“Course,” he said, turning to gaze around at the hillside. “Usually, “dangerous terrain” is code for man-eating bloodsuckers.”
“More likely one or two hoping to draw in hikers for dinner.”
If you guessed the second version was superior, it’s because it’s an example of showing and not telling.
Because telling the action in a scene doesn’t read comfortably, it reads as if I’m dictating to you what’s happening instead of the natural occurrences that happen between human beings. If every story you read started with “Once upon a time, there were three bears,” you probably wouldn’t be able to relate much, because that’s not how events really happen.
Often, telling reads like a bad fanfiction. Marysue had plain brown hair and plain brown eyes and the vampire lord was gorgeous and tall and dangerous. He kissed her, and it was sexy. While this may be fun to write for some, it really doesn’t do anything for the reader.
So how can we show and not tell? It’s easy! Here are a few ideas:
- Dialogue! Dialogue is the easiest way to show things are happening without explicitly writing that. Here’s an example:
He looked happy.
“I am happy,” he said with a smile.
- Incorporating a character’s stream of thoughts. An inner dialogue can make the text seem more natural. Here’s an example:
There was an apple on the table, it was a glorious red, and looked mighty juicy.
Cat watched the light of the dying sun hit a piece of fruit on the table. An apple, reflecting red in the light. Its skin seemed to strain with ripeness; she wondered if she bit it, would the juice run down her chin?
- Mixing your way to deliver descriptions to your audience. A lot of times, especially for new writers, we want our audience to see our characters in the exact way we see them. Think of all those books to movies you have seen, and how disappointed or disturbed you were when the character in the film looked differently than you imagined.
I think automatically to Hermione Granger as an example. Lately, many people in the Harry Potter community have been speculating that Hermione could have been dark skinned. You may think “well she was white to me,” but does it really matter? Rowling described her as having bushy hair, buckteeth and being incredibly bossy. Nothing about her skin color.
As much as you want to tell your audience what a character looks like it’s important to try and let them make a few ideas on their own. The Hermione in my head was my own skin color because I felt I was a lot like her. She was relatable to me because Rowling allowed me to form that image of her on my own. And to someone with darker skin than me, she can be relatable to them as well. Here’s an example of how you can limit direct descriptions of characters:
Max was a prick, and he was often sexiest to women.
“Nice ass,” Max said with a feral grin.
Use these three tips to start doing more showing in your writing. It’ll help your writing to be more relateable, which attracts an audience, and flow in a natural way. If you have any questions, leave me a note on any of my social media outlets and I’ll be happy to answer them.
If you’re interested in reading Maximillian Ironson: Vampire Hunter, be sure to check out my Wattpad. I update every Tuesday!