Show Don't Tell

Show don't Tell. If you've been reading about how to write, then you've read this old saw a gazillion times. Getting tired of it? Too bad. It's true. But instead of just telling you not to do this, I'll show you how. But you still have to work at it. I'll lead you to the water, but I can't make you drink.

J'accuse!

You Must Prove Your Innocence.

Oh, hey, a little repetition! But that's because mastering how to show instead of tell is key to your craft. I'm going to show you how.

Gee, she's carrying an armload of grapeshot. That stuff's really heavy. She better drop it and put her hands in the air. I mean, Geez, who wouldn't? The guy's got a gun, for goodness sake.

Well, think about it. Why should I, the person you want to spend six whole dollars, and probably more, on your book, believe a word you say? Geez, Louise, how many lies do you think I hear every time I turn on the radio or see a T.V. commercial? Add in reading the paper and billboards and the bs meter reading goes on overload. I may be willing to suspend disbelief for a novel, but I'll only balance on that limb for as long as you make it safe.

Distract me by putting pictures in my head. Performs feats of literary legerdemain by letting me figure stuff out by myself. Consider this:

Corpus Delicti

"Halt, or I'll shoot!"
Geneva did as she was told. Afraid she would be shot dead, she stopped, dropping her armload of grapeshot to the wet ground.

You're busted. That's telling. Not Showing.

But Why Did This Happen to Me?

Because it was the first draft, that's why. OK, specifically, this is telling because I told you she was afraid. I didn't let you figure it out.

Post Mortem

You're writing along, thinking, the guard sees Geneva! Oh, no! "Halt, or I'll shoot!" the guard shouts, he's practically breathing down her neck. You see it all so clearly. You type the sentence:
"Halt, or I'll shoot!"
Hmm, you say, if she doesn't stop, the guard will shoot her, he can't miss at this range, and then the story's over. She better stop. You type:
Geneva did as she was told.
Gee, she's carrying an armload of grapeshot. That stuff's really heavy. She better drop it and put her hands in the air. I mean, Geez, who wouldn't? The guy's got a gun, for goodness sake. You type:
Afraid she would be shot dead, she stopped, dropping her armload of grapeshot to the wet ground.

The Verdict - You Told!

How do I stop it from happening again?

By rewriting. And while you're rewriting, hold the picture in your head and feel the emotions. Because you already know what happens (this is the beauty of a first draft) you can now get to work.

"Halt, or I'll shoot!"
Geneva's heart slammed against her ribs. Her armload of grapeshot hit the ground like a sack of dead rats.

Note that in this version, I did not say Geneva was afraid. I said her heart slammed against her ribs. That's a stand-in for fear. I did not say she dropped the grapeshot. I said it fell like a sack of dead rats, which is a stand-in for fear as well. So, perhaps you would choose a different similie, perhaps a sack of dead rats does not strike quite the right note for you. But then it would be your story, not mine.

Your assignment

Find a place in your WIP where you were really on a roll. The words came out so fast you could hardly type fast enough. Fix it, because I bet you told. Showing takes a lot of work. Hint: the verb to be will be one tip-off. Adverbs are another.

Extra Credit

None. This is hard work, and it will take you a long time.