Saturday, February 11, 2006

Show Don't Tell

As writers, we hear that advice all the time. Anne Walradt of New Jersey Romance Writers gives a wonderful workshop on the subject. But why does it matter?

It matters because when we “tell,” we pull the reader out of the story, we break the spell we are weaving, and we risk losing readers completely. But what exactly does it mean to “show” rather than “tell?”

The simplest way I know to explain it is to imagine you are filming the story you are writing. What would your characters have to say and do so that the person watching the film knows what the people in your movie think and feel? In a film, everything is action or dialogue. What do readers need to “see” your characters do? What do readers need to “hear” your characters say?

In writing, we have the ability to fill in around the action and dialogue. And used judiciously, this adds to the story. Still, it’s a very useful exercise to begin by writing a scene as if it’s going to be filmed. It’s a safe bet that if you do so, your writing will be more vivid and readers will be more likely to feel as if they are there, part of the story, and not on the outside looking in.