Show and Tell by Cheyenne

It is possible that the only thing harder than mastering perfect descriptions is mastering the perfect skills at showing them. Telling a story is a lot like reciting a grocery list or a to-do list to your listener. “I need to buy eggs, so I will go to the dairy section. Then, I will make Jennifer’s cake.” “I am so stressed out. I have to make a presentation for my boss. I have to pay my taxes.” It’s generic and uneventful. However, showing a story is much more insightful and thought-provoking. “Without eggs, I can’t make the cake for Jennifer’s party; everyone is depending on me for this.” “I was beyond my breaking point; first I got yelled at to make a presentation I had no idea about, and now I find out that I’m behind in my tax payments!”
It’s easier said than done though, which is why so many writers get caught in the web of telling a story instead of showing it. Sometimes, it may feel like less of a hassle to just tell how a character is doing something rather than taking the time to think of a way to describe the actions. This is lazy writing, which we are all guilty of doing. You do not have to pour your soul into every sentence you make to believe that it is a worthwhile sentence. In fact, some of the best “showing” sentences are short, and follow a “less is more” route.
One of the best pieces of advice I received on this topic was from an author who told me to avoid using “I” statements as much as possible in my stories. “I” statements include basic starts to first-person point of views such as “I stood”, “I laugh”, “I walk”, and so on. If you take a second to think of a different path to take in terms of starting a good sentence, it could be the difference between telling your viewer versus showing your viewer. For example, instead of writing: “I walked over to her table, my hand twitching nervously as I approached,” write something along the lines of: “The corner of her mouth tugged up into a calculated grin that sent my heart racing as I approached her table.”
Another way to avoid telling a story is to stray from reciting a strict sequence of events. The reader does not need to know every single detail of your character’s morning routine, or all the motions they go through when they leave their house, drive to work, enter the building, punch in their card, say hi to a fellow coworker, and so on. It gets tiring and draws on the story for the sake of having words. This is where “less is more” comes in handy. The reader is not dumb, so they’ll be able to put two and two together and understand that your character got up and got ready for work, and then arrived at the building for the day. You can skip as many unnecessary steps as possible to get to the important points.
Like all things, showing a story will take plenty of practice. Putting in a few extra moments of thought can make a sentence stand out above the rest, and when it comes to a long string of events, just remember that less is always more. Have fun and keep writing!

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Posted on February 3, 2016, in Editorial Board Essay. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. This is true and I agree with this.

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