For a long time, I have stuck to the concept of showing instead of telling by comparing it with a movie. You know, they tell you that when you show, it should be like watching a movie. Don’t tell them what’s happening, show them. That all didn’t help so much.
Then, some or other time, I realised that showing is not like a movie. Movies work differently, is paced differently and gives different information. In fact, movies are not the best thing to have in your mind when you’re writing a story. Unless you’re writing a screenplay. If that is the case, ignore everything before and after this point.
So, I decided that a new comparison is needed.
Showing is like Charades. You know, that game that everyone played at some point*. You act out a word or phrase and let other people guess what it is you’re trying to say. And that is what showing is.
Let’s say you want to let readers know that your character is nervous. You could say, “John is nervous,” but that’s boring as hell. Instead, play a miniature version of Charades. Show your readers that John is nervous without using the word ‘nervous’. “John’s hands are sweating.” Better? Somewhat.
With emotions, it gets even better. Now you get to play Deep POV Charades as well. Thoughts and feelings that relate to the emotion and shows it. Without using the word itself. “John feels his heart pound against his ribcage and his mind refuses to concentrate.”
In fact, I think one should avoid using any words like ‘fear’, ‘happy’ or ‘sad’ in a piece of prose, unless it is used indirectly, like “John’s fear of Jane outweighed his fear of ants.”
As a final note, a quote from Anton Chekhov**: “Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
Sorry for the less than stellar example sentences.
* Except for me. I saw it on TV once though.
** I burrowed/stole this gem from J.C. Martin’s blog.