If you are a fiction writer and have had your work critiqued by others, it is inevitable at one time or another you have heard the words, “Show don’t tell.”
So what does this phrase actually mean and how does it pertain to a piece of writing? “Show don’t tell” can be used to indicate that a manuscript is giving too much back story or too much description and this is often referred to as an “info. dump”. Readers want to connect with the characters in a work and the story itself, otherwise why turn the page and finish the book?
A writer can connect with a reader through various literary devices. However, the main goal should be taking the reader live into the action of the story to make a connection. For a general example of what I am talking about let’s look at the following two sentences:
1. “The girl was mad.”
2. “Her eyes widened as she clenched her fists and her face grew into a scowl.”
Can you guess which sentence tells and which one shows? I bet you can. Sentence 1 tells the reader that some girl was mad. Okay, so there is this girl who was mad. So what? Sentence 2 takes the reader into the action of the girl getting mad without stating it, but showing what happens when the girl gets mad.
Hopefully, after reading sentence 2, questions will pop up for the reader. Who is this girl? Why is she mad? Why do her eyes widen and is it from anger or surprise at something she is seeing and then she gets angry? These are questions that we want to invoke in a reader because a connection has now been formed.
Connections are all around us. We are connected to each other in so many ways, which is why I think “show don’t tell” is such an important phrase because often times, we forget to “show” those that we have the strongest connections to, that we love them.
Life can be stressful and hectic and with so many responsibilities brought upon us all at once, it is easy to take those we love for granted. It is easy to focus on the chaos and forget how or why we are connected.
This has me thinking about another phrase, “I love you more than you know”.
At first read, it seems like a lovely sentiment, even romantic if you are saying it to a partner. On a second read, it is a sentence that shows underlying fear or even laziness. Why shouldn’t the person we love know how much we love them?
Everyone searches for love and needs to be loved so why not show it? How do you show it? This is different for everyone because we all have different likes, wants, and needs. But, if you are connected to a person, you know. It certainly does not have to be a grandiose show of affection, although sometimes that is not such a bad thing.
It can be something small like a hug or kiss on the way out the door or a simple hand squeeze showing that you’re in this together, putting down the electronics and looking each other in the eye, but it should be meaningful. It should require you to be present and to show up for that person whether it be your spouse, children, family or friends.
So in life, in love, and in writing: be present, show up and show your love.