The race is about to begin. The competitors' bodies feel taut and ready for action. Then one runner takes off a second before the gun goes off. A collective groan comes from onlookers as the entire field is called back to the starting line.
That looks like a great paragraph, doesn't it? Yet, it tells about the action rather than shows it.
The runners take their position at the starting line, muscles taut and ready for action. A second before the gun goes off, one launches forward. A collective groan erupts from onlookers, and officials call the entire field back to the starting line.
Showing versus telling gives many writers a headache. How do we avoid the pitfalls associated with feeding readers information?
1. Use strong verbs. In the first paragraph, we're told, "The race is about to begin." The third paragraph starts off with, "The runners take their position at the starting line, muscles taut and ready for action."
In the first example, the passive construction tells the reader what is about to happen. The second example gives an action, using the active verb, "take."
2. Use deep POV. Don't throw rocks at me. I'll define my terms. In a nutshell, deep POV is short for deep point of view. When you're speaking from one character's perspective, you not only see what they're seeing, but also feeling what they're feeling.
Example 1: The competitors' bodies feel taut and ready for action.
Re-write: The runners take their position at the starting line, muscles taut and ready for action.
In the re-write, you can see those muscles tensed. Words like, feel, felt, emotion names, all tell the reader something about the character. Describing their reactions - muscles taut, a raised eyebrow, a flick of the hand eliminate the telling and show the reader what the character is experiencing.
3. Observe real-life situations. We've all seen someone's eyes flash, twinkle, tear up, narrow, close, grow wide, etc. Be aware of how people communicate in non-verbal ways. It will sharpen your writing skills.
Resources: Rivet Your Readers With Deep Point of View by Jill Elizabeth Nelson
The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi
Writers: Non-fiction writers - have you used this fiction technique in your writing?
Fiction writers - do you have a favorite writing resource? Please share.
Readers: Who are some of your favorite authors, and why does their work grab you?
Photo Credit: dimetri c