Experts inform us that it is essential that we "show, don't tell," but then rarely explain what this means.
‘Show, don't tell’ means that you indicate to your reader what you want them to explore rather than just telling them about it. This means that readers engage more fully with what you write, and use their imaginations to create their own mental pictures of what is going on.
This is best explained by an example:
Telling: Cassie was not a good mother. She found the children challenging and difficult to cope with. She wanted more time for her own interests.
Showing: Cassie couldn't believe how much work was involved. There were toys all over the floor, and she had stubbed her toe badly on a toy car left by the sofa. Couldn't they leave her alone for just five minutes to read her book? She'd turned on the TV for them and doled out crayons and paper, but it was clear that wasn't enough -- they still wanted her attention.
Her three-year-old twins looked well-behaved to other people, but no-one but she knew what they were really like. Her children always, always wanted her attention. Every single moment!
She should be able to handle all this, she told herself. She used to run a PR department with twenty staff to supervise, for goodness sake. Why should two children be so annoying? "That's enough!" she shouted angrily. "Can't you just be quiet for one moment?’
From the examples above, it can be seen that the first example just states that childcare is challenging for Cassie. That may not seem to be very interesting. We all know that bringing up children can be difficult at times. So we may not feel motivated to feel any empathy for Cassie, or care about what happens next. However, in the second example, we learn some worrying facts about the situation – facts that evoke emotions in ourselves. The author does not state that Cassie is not doing well here. Readers draw their own conclusions. What is really going on with Cassie? What should she do? Do we feel compassion for her? Is she just bad-tempered? Are the children neglected? Is Cassie’s behaviour always like this? What would we do in her situation? Is Cathy's contempt for her daughters justified? Or is she merely selfish? Could she be suffering from Post Natal Depression? With the second example, a reader can create a richer profile of the character and her situation.
As these thoughts flow through our minds as we read about Cassie, we feel engaged, and want to read on. We want to find out if she gets help or whether the situation resolves itself. These are experiences we may have had ourselves, so the story resonates with our own thoughts.
If story-writing is a skillset that you would like to develop, why not explore the Academy for Distance Learning’s range of writing courses with full support from an encouraging tutor. Academy for Distance Learning offers courses in Children's Writing, Dramatic Writing, Creative Writing and Writing Fiction.