(To the left, Darlene Torday, Cathy Seckman and me, book signing at the Java Jo House, East Liverpool, Ohio.)
Show, don't Tell: it’s very basic advice—and you can always return to it, center on it, contemplate it when you’re in fiction writing difficulties. Here’s why it’s essential advice:
While constraints of time or plot or complexity may require you—or tempt you—to just flat-out tell your readers something, it’s distancing. They are not required or even invited to participate. Fiction is a dance between writer and reader. When you show, you let the reader dance with you—figure out what a glance means, why a word is spoken. It’s not work, it’s involvement, investment. It’s nuance. Every reader puts his or her own spin on the story. And that’s classic. When you see a movie, you see the same movie everyone else in the theater sees. If everyone in the theater was reading the same book, not a one of those experiences would be identical! Similar, perhaps. Identical, no. Every reader brings their own life, experiences, education and emotions to the story.
If I tell you a character is “unpleasant” or “impatient”, or “a real SOB”, you’ll shade my meaning, but basically I’ve made a judgment and you have to take my word for it. If I show you the same character kicking a puppy that wandered into his path, you’ll make your own judgment—anywhere from klutz to incipient serial killer—and you’re engaged in that character’s story.
I did not invent this magic formula. But here’s a tip to where you can glean more such knowledge: The Writer’s Handbook. It’s published annually, and a lot of libraries include it in their Reference Department.. It’s part market guide—and a huge part of it is articles by writers and editors, speaking to some facet of their craft, sharing tips. Mine it. It’s easier than diamonds, and will be of greater and more lasting value!