Thursday, March 18, 2010

Practical Show and Tell

I read blogs all the time. I should keep a notebook just to write down the ones I should send you to for some great writing lessons. The blogosphere is full of talk about showing vs. telling and today I'm going to summarize what I've picked up.

Showing is great because it creates a visual image, draws in the reader, and allows the reader to use their brains to figure things out without having everything spelled out to them. (And let's face it, we read to escape, not be lectured at...well, at least that is why I read.) However, sometimes it is necessary to tell the reader certain things. The trick is finding the balance and knowing when to show and when to tell.

Example:

Telling--I stood nervously while I waited to see how he would react.

Showing--Swallowing hard, I chewed on my bottom lip hoping the butterflies in my stomach would not fly out of my mouth. Folding my trembling hands in front of me, I waited for him to respond to my question.

Do you see the difference? As a reader it is easier to visualize the scene when shown some physical actions. Although the word "nervous" is not used in the second set, the reader recognizes nervous habits.  

This is what I have been working on with this round of revisions. As I read a scene, paragraph, or sentence, I will ask myself, "How could I show that without saying [fill in the blank]?" It is a good exercise because I have to close my eyes and try to "see" what that scene would look like, or image a conversation that would convey those feelings or behaviors. I still need a lot of practice, but I've started a list of emotion and how to "show" them. 

UPDATE:
Forget the list I typed up and head over to The Bookshelf Muse for a fantastic Emotion Thesaurus. I am not even going to attempt to tell you how awesome it is. She has put a ton of work into it so we can write better books. How awesome is that! The Emotion Thesaurus is in the right hand side bar, just scroll down until you see it.

Thanks to Spacefreighters Lounge for tweeting and blogging about the Emotion Thesaurus so I could find it and share it with you.