Kevin G Hare

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Show, Don't Tell

Writing is a fine craft. It’s a constant practice to find the right words to form a complete thought to create that perfect sentence. Writing, to me, is about inviting a reader to step out of their reality for a time and get caught up in my universe. But, in order for them to accept, I need them to become involved in the characters and the story. Emotionally involved.

This is where the real craft begins. How you tell the story is vital for the reader to connect, to become personally attached to what is going on. I believe there is no better way to do that than to let their imagination run away with them. Give them enough information for their mind to create the picture for them without you being caught up in explaining every detail of a particular scene. If they are creating their own image, it’s a sure sign they are getting involved with what is happening. What practice do we writers have at our disposal to do that?

Show them the story, don’t tell it to them.

I have been reading some indie published books lately because that’s the avenue authors are pursuing these days and that’s a great thing but something we will get into in a later post. Indie publishing means you are solely responsible for the credibility of your work. Grammar, sentence structure, plot, character development, 3 act sequence… all up to you to get right or the quality of the editor you pay for. The one thing I haven’t seen in the last couple of books I have read is the ability to show the story to me, the reader. The story was dictated to me in plain English without the embellishment of allowing my imagination to fill in the blanks and visualize the scene on my own terms. I was told how characters responded to situations with ‘-ly’ adverbs instead of the writer describing expressions or body language so I can ‘see’ the response. For example, ‘John gasped shockingly’, does nothing but tell the reader what John did. However, ‘John’s jaw dropped and his brows pulled his eyelids wide as he drew in a gasp,’ shows the reader his reaction and creates a mental picture the reader can hold on to.

Here's another example. The following is the first paragraph from my second novel, Terth Willager Age of Mythology, from 2009 when I was still honing the craft:

Tuthrow Jacob Willager sat in a creaky, wooden chair watching a pink sunrise peak over the horizon of a calm sea. He had not slept that night. There was a tension of excitement within him that would not allow his body to slow down enough to rest. Instead, Tuthrow spent the midnight hours tending to old maps and parchments and remembering how difficult they were to collect. Such stories those would make to future generations he thought.

Simple, a little descriptive, plain. Doesn’t grab your attention as much as it could. Several years later, this is how I may revise it:

Two mountains cradled the rising sun as the first rays peered over the edge onto the face of Tuthrow Jacob Willager. He hadn’t slept that night. He knew, felt it in his bones, this new day he would find it, the great secret that eluded explorers for generations before him but where they had failed, he had succeeded. He sat at a desk, elbows resting on old maps with his grey, bristled chin in his palms as he watched the pink sun rise above its perch. The gentle swaying of the schooner as it glided through the waters roused the moans from its timbers unmatched by the fainter creaks of his own chair.

This is better though maybe not perfect. Already we have a better image of the scene in mind; an elderly gentleman in a period setting, sailing on a boat with old maps and a big secret. Hopefully, just enough information to urge the reader onward into the journey.

Showing your story to the reader and not telling it to them is an advantageous tool to capture your reader’s attention. Give them more and more reasons to stay in your world, create sympathy and empathy for your characters for therein provides the emotional attachment a reader will find difficult to let go. You put a lot of time and effort into your story; write it, rewrite it and rewrite again until even you can’t put it down. That is the best reward you can give to a reader and they will come back for more.

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