So, here we go again. I guess I just never say it enough. It's so easy to tell when you write, and so bloody hard to show. As a reminder, here is a wonderful write-up by Chuck Palahniuk about it, namely, about how to unpack your sneaky lazy telling into bold crisp showing, and it's hard work and you won't like me one bit for what you're about to read (and Chuck says the same thing at the very top of his lovely write-up, so it's okay, you can hate me too if you want).
Since reading theory is boring, let me slap you in the face with some examples so you can see what I'm talking about and start looking for these bastards in your own writing and kill the fuck out of them (this whole post, by the way, is as much for me as it is for you, because it's really me shouting at myself to be a better writer, and I figure you can benefit from my shouting too).
I'll drop some sentences here and unpack them below, and you go ahead and share whatever you like in comments if you want me to unpack some for you or if you have unpacked some on your own. It'll help us hone our craft because nobody likes to be told what to feel, and when you're TELLING your reader what to feel instead of SHOWING, that's precisely what you're doing.
TELLING: "The squirrel didn't like the hedgehog."
SHOWING: "The hedgehog poked his nose in the hole and didn't even have the time to say hello, the squirrel jumped at him and started punching his nose with its little fists, its eyes like two coals about to burn him down to cinders."
So I'm going totally off the wall here with animals, but how many times have you caught yourself telling us how this character felt about that character? Oh yeah. Too many to count. I know, I'm guilty of this. Bloody show it! Don't tell us, let us make our own conclusions. We will love you for it and read every one of your books.
TELLING: "They lived very poorly, and there was never any food in the house."
SHOWING: "The cupboards in the kitchen missed the doors and were empty save for an ancient box of crackers where the cockroaches have moved in last month and made scurrying noises as soon as the lights went out and shuffling footsteps crept up the stairs."
You see what I'm doing? I'm showing it to you as if I have a camera and I'm walking around and filming what I see. I said it a million times before, WRITE IT LIKE YOU'RE WATCHING A MOVIE. Let me give you a couple more examples.
TELLING: "He seemed smaller than she remembered him."
SHOWING: "She looked him in the eye and she had to stoop a little, as if she grew taller over the last four years. 'No,' she thought, 'it can't be.' But there he was, looking up at her, his chest caved it as if he carried his fifty-seven years on his back, as if—"
I better stop, I'm getting carried away. One more and you're allowed to get back to your milk and cookies.
TELLING: "She was a doctor."
SHOWING: "She had on a white cotton coat starched stiff, and there was a smell about her, of disinfectant and soap and that other smell of human excretions that didn't belong to her otherwise clean appearance."
I think that's enough of examples, and I'm sure you can dig up a lot of them and fix them.
And now I will tell you something for which you will really kill me. And that is...sometimes it's better to TELL DON'T SHOW.
You don't have to turn yourself inside out and constantly worry about showing. It will come with practice. It's okay to skate along on telling because depending on what kind of book you're writing, telling might be more suitable for you. All fairy tales are pure telling, and they are all told through a narrator's voice, "Once upon a time..." And we devoured those babies when we were kids and our kids still devour them. So what I'm saying here, there needs to be a balance and only you will know what that balance is.
I'm a big fan of showing. I like showing stuff in my writing and I like reading books that show, but once in a while I stumble on a book that is telling and that is still brilliant to me, like the way Petrushevskaya writes her stories, it's almost fable-like and it's telling through and through, but it's also showing, she's got this unique blend that keeps you glued to the page. Here is a quick example: "Sometimes instinct compels a young man to pursue his prey, especially if there is a rival panting next to him, nose to nose. That's how they felt, those idle young men, the convalescing surgical patients at a large Moscow hospital. Their prey was a very young nurse, a real angel in white, Lelia, with soft, gentle hands and a sweet smile—an ideal wife." You see how she blends the two? Delicious.
To close this rant, I'll tell you this.
Write the books you want to read.
I know I want to read books that show and so that's why I'm shouting SHOW DON'T TELL. But you might be wanting to write the opposite of this. Go ahead and do it. There are a gazillion ways to write a book. There is only one rule for writing, however. If your writing is putting you to sleep, it will probably put your readers to sleep too. When you show, we tend to wake up and pay attention, and when you drone on about something we can't see, we quickly lose interest, it's as simple as that. The reason fairy tales work so well is they are very simple. There are no complicated concepts and we can easily visualize what is going on even when we're not shown but told: "Once upon a time there dwelt near a large wood a poor woodcutter, with his wife and two children by his former marriage, a little boy called Hansel, and a little girl called Gretel." And this is the beginning of one of the scariest horror stories ever written, so you see, it's all up to you. Show. Or tell. Or show and tell. But please please please spare us the boring droning. Thank you.