‘Show don’t tell’ is one of many golden rules a writer needs to follow. This is not set in stone however. You still need to balance your writing with narrative to assist with pace and rhythm.
Nevertheless, merely telling readers about a character or scene translate to boring reading and is stifling. Showing, heightens reading, creates momentum, opens the imagination and draws the reader into the character and scene. They feel a sense of familiarity, bewilderment or movement as you draw them into the action. Showing means you utilize the five senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch through dialogue and or description.
For instance, Sam walked along the street toward his job interview. That’s telling and pretty dull telling I’m sure you will agree. All the reader has learned here is that Sam is walking along the street. There is no setting, no mood, and no scene. Is Sam angry, nervous, sad, upset, confused, happy, or thoughtful? Some form of action needs to be shown by using each or some of the senses. Further, the reader knows neither whether Sam is male nor female, since Sam could be short for Samantha. Let’s expand on this.
It was a bitch of a day. A blistering hot British bitch of a day. Samuel, or rather, Sam as he is known, emerged from Oxford Street tube station taking long casual strides, in the direction of his 2 p.m. job interview. He wondered why the bloody hell he was bothering as he simultaneously calculated that it would take him about ten minutes to walk to his destination. He intermittently ran the back of his hand across his forehead, wiping the sweat that threatened to drip into his eyes as he walked along the pavement sidestepping other pedestrians. He thought this was Vegas weather as his throat felt parched from the heat.
He turned into an office complex and checked the numbers on the buildings. Soon he stood before the nondescript address and sighed with resignation.
Now, isn’t that much better? The above won’t necessarily win first prize, but you will win brownie points with the reader who can now identify more with this rather than, Sam walked along the street toward his job interview.
And remember, you don’t necessarily need to use all the senses at one given time. You can spread them out through dialogue as well.
© 2009 Cherry-Ann Carew
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