As a lot of us do, I struggle with the showing part of being a storyteller. I was reading recently in Sol Stein's Solutions for Writers. He starts out by explaining why it's so easy for us to tell when we're writing. It can begin when we're children and we're being read to. We get used to someone telling us a story--and not always as well as we could have imagined it ourselves (depending upon the reader, of course). Even in school, children hear from others about things that happened somewhere else such as what a classmate did during summer break or on vacation. Learning to read ourselves changes the experience from being about something to being something.
Stein says (bolding is mine):
"All these early experiences ... can be a liability to writers later in life because the writer has to change his mind-set from telling what happened somewhere else to creating an experience for the reader by showing what happened."I really like the way Natalie Palmer described it for me, when she critiqued my WIP #1 (and she gave me permission to quote her), because she does it in a way that makes sense to me:
I’m a movie buff. As much as I love reading books I love watching movies even more and when I read a book I want to be able to have a movie like scene going through my head. So instead of walking us through the events ... just pick out the most important scenes and create an entire picture of that scene. Then make that scene tell us more than just that scene normally would ... I want to feel more depth with Lyn’s history, with her past relationship. Instead of just telling us about ... give her a flashback that puts us there… that lets us see how she was when she found out the news. That lets us smell the soup burning on the stove when she got the phone call, that lets us feel the paper cut on her finger when she’s rummaging through his things ... as a reader I want to feel the torture of that moment for Lyn. Then I’ll feel more connected to her, I’ll care more about her.Stein says that if you're concerned you're telling rather than showing, you should ask yourself some questions.
- Does what you're writing allow the reader to see what's going on?
- Are you as the author talking--is it possible to silence the author by using action to help the reader understand what the character feels?
- Are emotions being named rather than conveyed with action?
- Is a character telling another character something the character should already know?
Drawing pictures with words has never been my strength. I've jokingly called myself a minamalist when it comes to description. But I'm discovering there are more ways than I ever imagined to "show" and they don't have to include lots of flowery prose.
Is showing easy for you? Do you have any techniques that help you limit the telling?