This isn’t the first time you’ve heard it. If you want to draw your readers into the action and make them care about your characters, you’ve got to show, not tell.
The only question is what does it mean?
Showing means engaging your reader’s senses. What are they feeling? Don’t say George felt cold. Show him shivering. Talk about the freezing wet snow seeping through his socks. What are they seeing? Don’t just say he saw a beautiful girl. Show your readers what caught his eye. Was it her golden blond hair? Her firm, warm breasts? Her long slender legs? How about smells? Does your character smell fresh cut grass, burning leaves, or wet dog smell? Make sure your readers smell it too. How do your characters feel? Don’t say they’re scared. Show your main character cringing when the doors in a spooky old house are creaking. Make them jump when thunder crashes, or a lightning bolt flashes nearby.
Are you beginning to get the idea? Don’t tell your readers what to think. Give them clues about what your characters are seeing, feeling, or thinking; then leave it up to your reader’s imaginations to fill in the gaps.
Telling is reciting the plain dull facts. See Dick run. See Jane throw the ball. See Spot chase the stick. Telling dumps information on your reader and tells them what to think. It has its place to occasionally slow the action down, or to fill in the details. The thing to remember is telling is boring. It doesn’t engage readers or make them root for your character.
What I really like about this book is it’s easy to read. It’s loaded with examples of what showing is, and what telling is. That way you aren’t left guessing what the difference is.
The examples are all fresh from current authors such as Stephen King, Dan Brown, and Stephenie Meyer. This way you get to see how the pros do it. In some cases, the author rewrites the passage the way it would be if the writer told rather than showed. The same information comes across. It’s just that you don’t identify as much with the character when it’s told. Point taken.
The part that really stood out for me focused on the TV show Murder She Wrote. Every scene in the show was there for only one reason because it advanced the plot. It helped readers follow the plot, and made it easier for them to pick out clues. That way they could play detective along with Jessica Fletcher.
Your book needs to be written the same way. Only include details if they advance the plot, or further the action. Ambiguous or unnecessary details only confuse your readers and make them want to stop reading.
One final takeaway: Description, setting, everything about your story needs to be viewed through the eyes of your main character. It makes readers more interested in your character and draws them further into the story.
Another related book is Show or Tell? A Powerful Lesson on a Critical Writing Skill by James Thayer.
Similar to Robyn Parnell’s book, Thayer uses lots of examples to clarify what he’s teaching. It’s a short easy to read book. You can get through it in under an hour.
The entire book can be summed up in these four words. “Showing reveals, telling explains.”
The point both books drive home is we’re an image driven society. We are a society raised on movies. We have short attention spans. We’re used to movies flashing from scene to scene, and that’s the way your book needs to read. You need to write short, concise action-filled scenes that advance your plot. Readers won’t stick around for pages of flowery description or explanations.
Give them clues about what’s happening, and let their imaginations fill in the gaps.