In many writing guides, you will see the instructions to, “Show, don’t tell.” But what does that really mean and how does a writer go about it?
When I’m writing a novel or short story, I do so in layers. Many layers. It’s like painting a picture, you start with one layer and add more paint, then more, and soon, you add the details, and you keep working on it until you have a finished product.
Each layer is essentially a draft. When I write the first draft (or layer), I write out the story in narration. I am “telling” the story by laying the foundation. But of course, you don’t want to “tell” a story, you want to “show” it.
But at this point, I’m not concerned about that; I want to get the outline of the story down. In this initial draft, I do not worry about details. I get the story down in a broad sense. I know that I will later go back and add the descriptives, similes, all the details that create characters and dialogue that bring the story alive.
In the second draft, I go through and add details. A character’s eye colors whereas I initially wrote as “blue” becomes “as blue as the Caribbean Sea.” Or something like that.
The key to show, don’t tell, is changing the narration into dialogue. In the second draft, I take the narration and convert it to dialogue. This is where the characters and story comes to life and visualizes the details for the reader.
Once I have the dialogue down, I go back and put in more details. I try to convert as much narration as possible and make the details very specific to create an atmosphere where the reader feels like they are part of the story.
How many layers or drafts do I do? I am always tweaking. I always read the story out loud because then you can catch the way the dialogue sounds, and you want the dialogue to sound as natural as possible.
Remember the process of “show, don’t tell” is pretty simple. Convert your narration into dialogue and you’ll have an active story that shows, not tells.About the Author: Catherine Burr is a bestselling author of over 15 books. She has served as publisher, publishing 115 books. She is currently writing her next novel. Tweet to her @catherineburr.com.