“The woman entered the manager’s office to apply for the job. She was obese, he noticed.” This sentence is an example of ‘telling’ you something about this woman. If the story was told in this manner throughout the novel,… you would be bored after the first couple of pages. The first rule of fiction writing is “show, don’t tell”. Try this, “Her meaty hand nervously turned the knob on the manager’s door, opened it and then turned herself sideways to enter the room comfortably. Hardly noticing, he motioned for her to sit down. She scanned the room for a chair she wouldn’t have to squeeze into, there were none. Embarrassed, she dropped her application on the manager’s desk and ran from the office.”
Now you can ‘see’ the woman and ‘feel’ her pain, because the scene was described from her viewpoint. You know what she was experiencing…nervousness and embarrassment. The scene flowed in a logical manner. Those are the key elements of ‘show, don’t tell’.
If I had told you that my friend is nervous about getting a job because she’s self conscious about her extreme weight, that would be an objective characterization and it wouldn’t allow the reader to form an impression of the woman.
Another example, “Susie was anxious and depressed when her doctor gave her the news of her illness.” Why should you believe what you just read? If it were written as, “Trying to listen to the doctor, Susie realized the crying she heard was her own. She felt the tears running down her cheeks. As she put her head in her hands, she saw them tremble, and she thought, “I’ll never see my children grow up”, now you can see for yourself how Susie feels.
Imagery is a critical element of storytelling. This is what I’m working on in my novel now…perfecting the imagery of every scene I write.
Writing is more than just the act of putting words to paper. It’s thinking, learning, reading, researching, interviewing, keeping the blood flowing to the brain. Writers are always writing…you may just not see it happening. If you’re interested in learning more about what a particular writer says on the topic of writing, please visit Haley Whitehall’s blog here.