The best way to learn is by example! “Show, don’t tell”, right? Here are some examples that illustrate the difference between showing and telling.
This is the first of a series of examples I will post that shows a BEFORE paragraph and an AFTER paragraph. The Before paragraph is telling us. The After paragraph is showing.
She didn’t know what to say. Of course she loved him, but she couldn’t find the strength to speak. She couldn’t control the way she felt or what she said.(1) She saw his smile fade and he looked like he regretted speaking.(2) Who knew silence could be as powerful as speaking?(3)
1. We’re getting internal thoughts, which is fine, but we’re not in the moment with any sensory, concrete details. I want to see her have trouble.
2. We’re seeing his actions filtered through her observation. This is an easy trap but also an easy fix.
3. Rhetorical questions can take us out of a moment in a bad way.
She opened her mouth to speak, but she couldn’t even breathe. Her tongue dried up and her fingers twitched.(1) The silence emptied out the space between them: no more tension, no more sparks, no more heat.
His smile slipped away. His shoulders slumped. The warmth of his hands faded from her skin as he stepped back and crossed his arms.(2) The space widened, scraped clean by all the things she couldn’t say.(3)
1. Invoke sensory details during emotional scenes. This connects the emotional events with events that readers can physically understand and empathize with.
2. It’s easy to put other character’s actions through a filter (especially in first person stories). What you want to do, though, is give those characters their own actions. It’ll strengthen the way we visualize the scene.
3. Here, we’re still getting some of that “bigger picture” feeling by using a recurring metaphor of the space between them. (Not super original, but it’s an example of how to make changes, not that it’ll instantly be perfect.)
What do YOU think? How would you tweak/change the Before paragraph in order to show us the scene’s emotions? What are your thoughts on what to add/take away to make it better?