Don’t tell me the moon is shining.
Show me the glint of light on broken glass.
It’s a rookie mistake. I’ve made it…sometimes, I still fall back into bad habits. Many of my students do it. Sadly, I’m seeing more published books riddled with this writing sin.
The above quote sums it up perfectly.
Writers should never tell but always show.
The skill we all have to learn is how to get our readers to see and experience exactly the same thing we’re ‘seeing’ when we sit down to write. When a writer masters that skill, they’re writing beautiful prose that forces the reader to live vicariously within the world they’ve created.
Telling your story is fine on your first draft but never on your third or second draft. During that process you need to show as much as you can.
Let’s take the quote as an example.
The moon is shining.
We all know what that looks like. We see it every day. However, this is fiction not real life so you need your character to see it in only the way they can and react to it in way that’s unique to them.
David stepped outside onto the grass. The sprinkler had been on for the last hour and the moisture invaded the space between his toes.
He’d kicked off his shoes in the kitchen, promising himself he’d experience the whole watching the blood moon in as back to nature fashion as he could. It had been on his daughter’s bucket list.
He curled his toes feeling the wetness and the chill of each blade of grass. If only Sarah was here.
No, he wouldn’t go there.
He looked up into the night sky, focusing on each tiny burst of light as it twinkled and played against the inky darkness. He shielded his eyes, not expecting the moon to be so bright as the cloud once blocking it moved slowly to the left of the sky.
It was beautiful. How come he’d never realized that before tonight? It illuminated the whole yard, almost like a spotlight beaming down on the right side where Sarah’s playhouse still stood.
He sat down, now feeling the wetness of the grass seep into his jeans.
Was she up there watching him? Making sure he’d kept his promise not to tear down her playhouse and to experience what getting back to nature was all about?
Can you see how you can go from one simple sentence to expand it and show the reader not only what a character is seeing but how they’re reacting to it.
Give it a try yourself. Start with a single sentence and see what you can do with it.