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Show versus Tell – The Small Details

It’s the little details that can really make a book sparkle, and the lack of details that can make it fall flat without someone really knowing why. One culprit for missing details is telling. Writers hear the mantra “show don’t tell” all the time, but what does that really mean concerning the small details of a story?

It means the cruel robber makes your characters cry (telling) instead of having tears roll down their cheeks (showing). He makes them angry instead of them punching a wall.

You’ll note in the above examples I mention emotions. These are great places to target and examine to determine if you’re telling something that could be shown and for the most part relatively easy solutions to the “telling” small details problem.

So why would you want to do this? What’s the advantage?

In short: reader involvement and interest.

As writers, we want readers to be absorbed in our stories and characters. We want them to stay up all night unable to put the book down. To do this, they need to be immersed in the story. One way to accomplish this is to help them feel what the characters feels, and to activate your reader’s imagination. When a reader’s imagination is activated they’re participating more with the story and developing connections and associations with it.

If you read, “Claire cried” the intellectual part of your mind says, “okay, cried. I know what this is.” And you stop at that. Only one part of you has been engaged.

But if you read, “tears rolled down Claire’s cheeks and she sniffed.” Now we’ve not only activated the intellect, but the imagination. The intellect has to make inferences: tears = crying, and is therefore working just a little harder with this sentence than the previous one. But you’re also activating another part of the reader’s mind: the imagination. The imagination is given enough information to create an image. We “see” the tears and we “hear” the sniff. Now the reader is participating more in the story and has more invested.

Add in a little of Claire’s thoughts and we have a character we can relate to. And all by paying a little attention to your small details.

 

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