How many times have you been told “Show, Don’t Tell” your audience what’s happening and what your characters are feeling? Many of us don’t know exactly what this means.
You have the power to make people think of something or believe they saw/read something they did not. Let’s try an exercise. Get a piece of paper and something to write with. This will only take a minute or two if you are honest and don’t cheat.
Below is a list of 12 words, you can take just a few seconds to read them to yourself or out loud to someone else. Read them at the same rate you read when you are enjoying a book or magazine article. When you are finished, and without looking back at them, take 30 seconds to write as many of them as you can remember. No cheating! Then, read the paragraph below the list before you check your answers. Ready? Go:
Bed, rest, night, pillow, dream, blanket, alarm, tired, pajamas, yawn, nap, and snore.
Did you get the word Sleep? Sleep is not one of the words, but many will include it in their list because of inferences (making people think or believe something without outright telling them). The average person will only accurately remember about five of them.
This is what authors mean by show, don’t tell. The truth is, a great writer knows how and when to do both: show and tell. When I taught high school, I used this exercise as well as the following one to help students acquaint themselves with details, actions and expressions.
Christopher Vogler, Hollywood screenwriter and author of The Writer’s Journey, suggested this exercise to me called “reverse engineering”. You watch a movie and after each scene stop the video and write what happened. Describe the events, copy dialogue; describe the setting, clothing, characters involved etc.
Whether you are writing a book, short story or screenplay, this is a great way to work on new ways to “show and tell”.
Side note: Don’t forget to enter the giveaway contest in the previous post. You only have a few days left. Happy writing!