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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Show, Don't Tell (A famous quote most authors understand)

I was mad, really mad. I hurriedly walked into the room. I needed to find my wife and take my frustration out on her.

Okay, before you get too upset, the above sentence is an example of something that any author may write. It is not what was going on right before I began writing today. All-in-all, the above mess gets the point across to the reader. Someone was mad, they hurried into the room, and looked for his wife. We can do better though.

I ran into the living room, my fists clenched, ears ringing. Scouring the area, I noticed my wife missing. "Where the hell are you, Carolyn?" I screamed. "You owe my a huge explanation."

So what's the difference you ask? Simply put, I told you everything in the first sentences; in the second, I showed you what was happening.

One of the most difficult concepts for new authors to get a handle on is the Show vs. Tell idea. Didn't I mention he walked "hurriedly" in the first one? I told you he was "mad". The reader should get the idea, right?

The answer is: maybe

I'm going to try and keep this short and sweet, without going into boring detail. But to me, it's all about the verbs.

Let's start with walked vs. ran. The first problem with the verb walked is that I used an adverb (a -ly word) to modify the first word. "Walked hurriedly" gets the point across, but what we really need to do is search for a better, stronger verb to make our sentence really shine.

That's why I used ran. You can see that action clearly in your mind. The same goes with mad (more of an adjective, yet can be a verb). Don't just tell your readers someone is mad - show them mad/angry.

Another example

The woods was beautiful today. Karen looked at the new green leaves, moving wildly in the strong breeze. She smiled, remembering the woods of her youth.

That's okay, but I basically told you about the scene. I showed you very little.

The breeze caused the spring foliage to flutter as if they were being shook by a giant. A musty odor reached Karen's nose, the smell of decay. She remembered as a child playing in piles of brown and orange as her father raked the backyard. The corners of her mouth curled upward; how long has it been since I thought of Dad? she wondered.

First off, I used a metaphor with the giant. These are great tools, just don't overuse them. Next, I killed the verb, adverb in the first (moving wildly) and replaced them with a stronger verb (flutter) - followed by the metaphor.

I also tell you Karen smiled and remembered her childhood without using those exact words. I gave you the specific memory (dad and/or) raking of leaves. And what is a smile if not the "corners of her mouth curl(ing) upward?"

Writers, good writers, learn how to show their readers almost everything. Rarely will they use words like mad, or happy, or beautiful. No, they show you what mad looks like, what happy might sound like, just how beautiful as rose really is.

 I'm not there yet, though I'm trying. It's hard to get the hang of this when you first start writing. But, as with anything, practice makes you better. Thus, I'll keep practicing.

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Until next week,

e a lake

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