“Tom’s fingers were trembling. His eyes followed my glare to his hands. He jerked them behind his back. Much better. After three tries the question finally came out: ‘Would you… Like, you know. Maybe, some time, have a drink somewhere. Like, with me, I’d be there too.’”
“He was very nervous, that was obvious. Asking me out was really scary to him.“
Let me introduce you: show vs. tell.
The principle “show, don’t tell” is a storyteller’s best friend. Well, at least one of them. Anyone who’s ever spent any time studying creative writing will be familiar with this technique. For anyone who hasn’t, let me explain. Show, don’t tell is a technique used to take the reader or listener by the hand and let them feel and experience everything the story has to offer. As if they are there themselves. In the first example, you really look at Tom the way the main character does. I don’t need to tell you that he’s nervous, you can see that for yourself. The second version is just dry information. At the end of the snippet, you know just as much as you do at the end of number 1. Yet, at the end of 1, you feel much more.
I don’t think I have to convince you of the importance of emotion. Storytelling is first and foremost about making people feel something. If they don’t feel anything, they’re not going to care about anything. For your audience to start feeling, you, as a storyteller, need to get close to them or get them close to you. Through show, don’t tell, you can get them close to you in your story. Have them walk around in it themselves, have them explore and make it their own.
So, how do we do this show don’t tell thing? A neat little exercise to practice showing is eliminating adjectives. If you can’t say “he is nervous”, you have to find another way of making it clear. I’m not saying adjectives are bad, they’re not! This is, however, a nice way to practice.
Another thing to do is keep asking yourself the question: what does that look like. Be specific, give me details. Zoom in on one specific telltale sign of what you are trying to convey.
Now, let’s put it into practice! In the comments make your own show, don’t tell of this little snippet:
“She was sad to see him leave. Yet, she did know it was better this way.”
Go nuts, add all you want, just take me through your story. Can’t wait to see what you come up with!