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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Show It Like It Is!

A couple of weeks ago, I defined "Telling" for you with a promise to describe "Showing" in the future. Well, the future is here.

Showing, as I alluded to in my earlier post, is how writers help a reader feel as if they're in the middle of their story, seeing and experiencing the conflicts and resolutions with the protagonist. The three best ways I've found to show a scene rather than to tell it are to include dialogue, action, and details.

First, dialogue and action are more than self-expanatory, they are critical to fiction; for if your characters aren't saying or doing anything besides looking at your wonderful setting or thinking, they are stagnant. Boring, even. Your readers may even, heaven forbid, close your book and never pick it up again. So make sure, as you look over your manuscript, that your characters are doing and saying something important.

Adding descriptive details is another invaluable tool. And when I talk about details, I'm referring to those that reflect all 6+ senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch, and intuition. As I was revising my novel, Missing, I was happily surprised by how much more powerful one of my less action-packed scenes became when I incorporated such details as what one of my villains was listening to on the radio and how she felt when an unexpected stranger passed by.

Now for the big question: how do you know if you're telling more than showing your story? The answer's simple. As you glimpse over each page of your manuscript, watch for these indicators:

1. Your page is filled with long, uninterrupted paragraphs.
2. There is no dialogue on the page.
3. Your characters aren't doing anything but looking or thinking.

If you have any of these factors, take a good look at your manuscript and see if you can add dialogue, action, or details. I bet you'll be able to, and your writing will be stronger because of it.

Finally, in my earlier post, I offered you two examples of "telling," so I thought you might appreciate a "showing" example, too. I recently read Heather B. Moore's novel, "Abinidi," and as I read it, I couldn't help but marvel at how well she incorporated this technique. So, here ya go, an example from the first paragraphs of "Abinidi:"

"A rat scurried across Abinidi's legs, and he tucked his feet beneath him, wrapping his arms around his knees. The air inside the prison cell had blossomed into ripe humidity, sending rivulets of perspiration down Abinidi's back. Gazing with effort at his dim surroundings . . . A thin beam of muffled light filtered through the corridor."

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