This month’s featured guest author is the lovely and talented, Melissa Frey. Not only has she indie released multiple books, with her latest release published last month, she is also a superior resource for writing craft and development. She hosts writing mastermind courses, and there is even one all about this very topic of “show vs. tell” that is currently available for registration.
Before I get carried away “telling” you why Melissa really knows her stuff, I will let her “show” it in the article below!
Why Show Vs. Tell is So Important
By Melissa Frey
You may have heard about the writing concept of Show vs. Tell. (Even this blog has a great post about it here!) The basic premise of Show vs. Tell is to show the reader what is happening in the book instead of telling them.
Think of Your Book Like a Movie
I like to say “Think of your book like a movie.” The character on the screen wouldn’t say “I’m nervous.” No, the actor would act nervous by shifting their weight, avoiding eye contact, turning white, etc. The way they speak may even change; they might mumble their next words or their voice might break. The viewer would then make their own judgment about how the character is feeling based on what they’re seeing and hearing.
And that’s what we, as authors, want. Except in books, we can tap into more than just two senses. We can also describe what characters feel, smell, and taste, too! That’s what makes books so magical.
Readers Are Smart
We want the viewer — or the reader, in our case — to make a judgment about what the character is feeling. Readers are smart, so we must treat them like they are! We shouldn’t talk down to them by “telling” them what’s happening. We should instead show them what’s going on in the book so they can figure things out for themselves.
Readers actually want to interact with books this way. They likely won’t tell you this (they probably don’t even consciously know it themselves), but they want to do a little work while they’re reading — they want to make those judgments for themselves.
Because that’s how human beings interact with the world.
Readers Are Humans
Because they are a human being, your reader will feel immersed in the story because they’re interacting with it in the same way they interact with everyday life.
Think about it — when you first meet someone, you read their facial expressions, body language, inflection of their voice, vocal pitch and tone, and yes, even smell (hopefully they smell nice), and based on all this information, you make a judgment about them. It may not be pretty (or accurate), but that’s how humans work.
Then every time you see that person again, you’ll have that information — and your judgments about it — in your head to help you make decisions about how to interact with them in the future.
Readers Want to Engage in Your Book
That’s what readers ultimately want: They want to feel immersed in your book.
If you’re showing the reader what is happening, you’re essentially including them in the story. By showing instead of telling, you’re really making the reader an active participant in your book, which keeps them reading!
And that’s what you want, right?
Readers Want a Little Mystery
Not only is showing good for engaging the reader in the story, it’s also great for creating a little mystery. Why? Because readers are making judgments about what the characters are feeling, they might guess incorrectly. But that’s okay! We do that in real life, too.
We might make a snap judgment based on a first impression that we find out later was totally wrong. Or on the other hand, we might get the tiniest bit of satisfaction when we find out that we were right!
This, too, helps your book feel authentic to the reader. It creates a little mystery around your characters. Showing helps your reader connect to your characters, sure, but when done correctly, it can give the reader a broader, deeper experience by allowing them to make those judgments about your characters for themselves.
A note about characters here: Every character (like every human) is different. The way they act — and react — to things varies. So use Show vs. Tell to show the reader what the character is feeling in a way that’s unique to that character, and your characters will feel more real.
Readers Can Picture the Story Much Better When You Show
Immersing the reader in the story means that you’re tapping into their imagination. Their brain gets to fill in the gaps — they might see a character broadening their stance or rolling their eyes on a sidewalk, but the reader’s brain fills in all the little, minute details that aren’t important enough to mention or that you’ve mentioned earlier.
Maybe you said it was sunny at the beginning of the scene and the characters were walking to school. And maybe you showed them walking up to their school but you didn’t describe the building in detail. The reader’s brain will naturally fill in those gaps in the information, drawing on their own real-life experience to determine, for example, what the school actually looks like.
The key here is balance. If you overdo showing in your story by including any and every detail, the reader won’t have to use their imagination, and that will make them stop reading.
Readers Want to Empathize with Your Characters
Showing is great for creating empathy in your reader, too. When you describe how a character has butterflies in their stomach because they spotted their crush across the room, if the reader has ever experienced that, they can empathize. That description creates a visceral reaction in the reader, helping them to really get into the character’s head and feel what they are feeling.
Even if the character is experiencing something that has not happened to the reader directly, they may still be able to sympathize with the character because it has happened to someone close to them or the feelings are generally relatable.
For example, if a character is going through a panic attack, describe what that would feel like inside their body. It’s different for everyone, so imagine what that character specifically would be feeling (e.g. weak limbs, fluttering heart, head pounding, uncontrollable shaking, etc.). Even if a reader has not had a panic attack themselves, they can probably identify with at least a few of those feelings.
Show vs. Tell is Pure Magic
Once you learn to incorporate showing in your manuscript, you will be able to write a book that readers won’t be able to put down. And that’s your ultimate goal — because if readers can’t stop reading and go into book-hangover mode when they’re done, they’ll tell everyone how much they loved your book — so even more readers will come to love it, too!
If you’d like some help with the concept of Show vs. Tell and personalized support in applying it to your writing, enrollment is now open for my writing mastermind, The Magic of Show vs. Tell! In this live, six-week mastermind, you’ll discover your own unique storytelling magic and learn the tools you need to write the amazing books you were meant to write — and embrace the power of Show vs. Tell!
Enrollment closes September 20th, and class starts September 27th! You can find out more and enroll here: https://www.indieauthorlearning.com/courses/the-magic-of-show-vs-tell-mastermind
More about Melissa
Melissa Frey is the author of the supernatural action-adventure Codex series, the Codex companion romance, Honestly Always You, and the non-fiction book How to Work from Home. When she’s not writing, her passion is helping fellow indie authors with writing, editing, and publishing their books and teaching them all about Show vs. Tell. You can find her online at melissafrey.com, connecting with readers and other authors on Instagram, and editing books and anything else she can get her hands on. She’s a new transplant to the Pacific Northwest and loves yoga, the mountains, super-dark chocolate, and her husband, Andrew.
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