I met Erika Wassall at the end of February at a NJSCBWI get-together in Cherry Hill, NJ. I let the writers there know how open I am to writers sending me articles I could use on my blog. Erika sent me this interesting article below for today’s post. I think you will enjoy it.
More Showing, Less Telling
Really? I mean, what’s the difference? If I say, Billy was sick, then we all know that Billy is sick, right? Isn’t that what’s important?
Why do I have to worry so much about SHOWING as opposed to TELLING the reader what my characters are doing? What difference does it REALLY make?
The best way I’ve learned it is that the difference largely comes down to… all right, so Billy is sick…. But why should I CARE??
We all know we want our readers to care about our characters. Max from Where the Wild Things Are, Harold with his Purple Crayon, all the way up to Katniss and down to Christopher Robin, these characters were tugging at our heartstrings even when they were just picking up a jug of honey.
One of the many ways that we do this is through the special little nuances of the way they do things. Anyone can pick up a jug of honey. But the way Winnie the Pooh does it, now THAT’s special.
We read about his sticky paws and the giant drop of honey dripping down his check. And ultimately, isn’t that why we love him?
It’s all about creating images. Ideally images that are burned into the readers brain so much that it links right to their heart.
For me, the next question was… okay, so how, exactly, do I do that?
How do I really know for sure if I’m showing rather than telling?
Via brainstorming with a few other fabulous writers over at Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 extravaganza, we came up with what is not only a great way to test if you’re showing, but is also a wonderful writing exercise.
It’s fantastically simple too. You say to yourself:
How Can I PROVE It?
So Billy is sick. But if no one TOLD me Bill was sick, how do I KNOW?
Is there snot dripping from his nose? Is there a river of sweat pouring from his temples? Is he frighteningly feverish, maddeningly mopey or curled in a cocoon under his covers?
I know personally, I FEEL more for a child curled up in bed with a snotty nose and his arms crossed in mopey madness than I do for a child who is just… sick.
I use this trick in two ways.
1) When I read over my manuscripts, I ask myself… if I wasn’t the omnipotent narrator… how would I KNOW this was true? How can I create a vivid image where I don’t even have to say the words themselves, instead the reader can SEE it.
2) As an exercise my 12×12 friends and I exchange phrases, and basically say PROVE IT!!! to each other.
Here’s an example:
Johnny hurt his knee.
If I’m looking through a window, watching Johnny play, what happens that proves to me that he hurt his knee?
Johnny crashed to the ground and rolled onto his back, clutching his knee.
Or depending on who I’m trying to portray Johnny as, maybe…
The pain shot up Johnny’s knee and filled his eyes to the brim with tears. But he gritted his teeth and picked up his hockey stick. He wasn’t going to let the other boys know he wanted to quit.
Showing and not telling is a challenge for all writers. But it can also provide some fantastic opportunities to add depth to our characters, and build that emotional connection with the reader that we all strive for.
Here’s a few for you to try. Ask yourself, how can I PROVE this? And see what you can come up with!!
Bobby hated school.
Theresa wanted to go home.
Puddles the Poodle couldn’t wait for his boy to get home.
Erika Wassall is a writer, a farmer and a liver of life. She is a member of SCBWI and a proud Mad Scientist, bringing science experiments right into children’s classrooms, and hearts. She has a small farm in New Jersey with sheep, chickens, pigs and vegetables. Check out her new website at www.TheJerseyFarmScribe.com where as a first generation farmer, she often takes the long way, learning the tricks of the trade on The Farm. On her website is also The Shop page with tips and a free Q/A from her husband’s mechanic shop, and The Writer page where she shares stories, experiences and characters from the heart. Follow her on Twitter at @NJFarmScribe. She’d love to hear from you!
Thank you Erika and thanks for offering to do regular posts here on Writing and Illustrating.