What is the “show and tell” technique
What is the “show and tell”
As the profound writer Anton Chekhov says, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on the broken glass.”
Show and tell technique is by far the most important thing in your writing. It is what will hold the readers till the last page. It will make your book stand out, different from the rest. But what is the difference between the two? What does it actually mean?
Showing means creating a mental picture in readers’ minds through your words. It instigates emotion and feeling while hand-holding between the lines.
Whereas, telling is just informing the readers about the situation and taking the narrative forward. It just apprises the readers about all the happening without delving much into details or creating a scene.
Tell: “It is cold outside, I want to stay at home,” said Adam to his mother.
Show: It was 7 in the morning and Adam was all ready to leave for school. As he looked out of the window, he could see all the houses in the neighbourhood were covered with a layer of white snow. He carefully opened the window to look out when a freezing wind kissed his cheeks making him all red. The leaves were trembling with cold, gushing winds. The air felt heavy with chimney smoke coming from all the houses in the neighbourhood. He ran downstairs, hugged her mom, and said, “Mom, my hands are numb and my cheeks shiver in the wind. May I please stay at home for today?”
Conclusion: Now see the difference. Showing helps the readers to create a background image and see-through words. You need to write in a way so that readers can be involved in all their senses and feel the narrative. Here a layer of white snow appealed to eyes/sight, the wind kissed his cheeks engaging the feeling of touch, chimney smoke involved your olfactory senses, and hugging his mom aided your sense of touch. All these helped the readers to feel the narrative alive.
How to avoid “tell” in your narrative?
While writing, amid our thoughts, we keep writing in the flow of what comes to mind. And while doing so we sometimes lose track and get in “telling” mode. Though we can change it while editing or proofreading our work, it does get tiresome. So, what do I do? Below are a few ways you can adopt that will help you run past through the trenches of “telling”.
Dialogues aid your work in multiple ways. They take the story forward while breaking the style of writing, form and evolve characters, provide multiple viewpoints, and allow the story to emerge naturally. It helps to involve multiple characters at the same time and add layers. For example:
“Raj feels terrible for telling the lie,” says Akash.
“But he had to, he had no other option,” replied Shrey.
“I know, but he is drowning in a guilt trip,” said Akash.
“But had he not lied about breaking the headlamp, the owner would have fired the clerk,” defended Shrey.
Now here we also get the background of the story, the character of Raj, Akash, and Shrey, and also of the secondary character, the shop owner. The story too is moving forward. And without using too much of “show and tell” it creates the required impact.
As explained in the above section, engaging all the senses helps the reader to leave a long-lasting impact on the readers. For example, we can use the following things to aid the narrative”
Sight: The orange sky was covered with a speckle of purple clouds, indicating the day was nearing its dawn.
Smell: The aroma of cinnamon sticks with ginger enveloped the whole house.
Sound: It was 10 the night when a rattling window broke the silence. It was raining heavily and the pitter-patter of the rain aggravated with every passing minute.
Taste: Her eyes twisted and convulsed as she put the slice of lemon on her tongue.
Touch: The moist cool breeze gently touched her skin and caressed her hair.
Try to describe the scene or character present in the particular situation. Imagine in your mind what is going on and then present the same thing on paper in your words. In simple words, visualize in your mind, and write on paper.
Aman, a 10-year-old boy, was playing in the park with his friends. He was almost five inches with deep black wavy hair, slim stature, and dark brown eyes. He wore oval spectacles over his eyes. In his white shirt and denim jeans, he appeared to be a boy next door. While playing hide-and-seek with his friends he carefully hid behind a tall green shrub. The garden where he was playing was almost 500 m away from his roads. It had a cobblestone pathway for people to walk and a huge lush green park in the middle with a badminton court, and volleyball court at the extreme left and right end respectively. In the middle, it had a fountain embellished with rainbow lights.
Conclusion: Now here the readers will be able to imagine the garden as well as how Aman looks.
As per Merriam Webster’s dictionary, “Adverbs are words that usually modify—that is, they limit or restrict the meaning of—verbs.” Which means they tend to change the meaning of the words. They distract the readers from the sentences. They “tell” the readers instead of “showing” them.
“Rohini slowly walked to the school.”
It should rather be:
“Rohini started walking towards the school at 7:30 am. She went through the park from where she plucked a bright red rose for her teacher. She admired the blooming lilies and played with the little puppies. Thereafter, she met her classmate and walked the remaining way with her.”
Now that you know the difference between show and tell, try to enhance your writing. Yes, it is not easy as it seems, but with time you’ll get hold of this. Try to sit and intentionally add “showing” in your story. After a few days, it will naturally come to you.