After various conversations, we finally narrowed it down to the dreaded “Show not Tell”. What can I say? Everyone knows the rule. Don’t tell what’s happening in the story, show it instead. Paint a picture in the reader’s mind so they can see, smell, hear, taste, and touch the characters and the story.
But that’s where I’ve been going wrong.
Our recent conversation went something like this (edited a little for dramatic effect of course):
Me: “I don’t understand what I’m doing wrong. Everyone says I should show not tell. And I’m doing that. Look, I’ve got Verity doing this, this, this, and this, and the readers can interpret her emotions from her actions. And I’ve got her thinking this and this, so we know what’s going on in her mind as well.”
Most-patient critique partner: “But you’re still not showing enough. Show us more, delve into her psyche.”
Distraught me: “I’ve done that.” Plaintive wail. “Look, here’s an example paragraph. See. Here, here, here and here. Showing. No backstory, no exposition, no flashbacks, no telling. I’ve followed all the rules. So how am I supposed to show anymore?”
Most-wise critique partner: “Hmm.” Picture an evil glint in her eye and fingers being drummed on the desk while she plots and plans. No, I made that bit up. Honest! “Here, I’ll have a go at rewriting your paragraph for you. I’ll show you.” (She didn’t really say that last bit, but I’m chortling as I add it in – poetic license and all that).
Nervous me: “Go ahead,” I say. And I bite my nails until the reply comes back, beautifully formatted in concise little paragraphs and lots of...wait...is there telling in there? And some backstory? And a hint of a tiny flashback? What’s going on? My world is ending. I can’t cope. The rules. THE RULES. WHAT ABOUT THE RULES???
Laughing critique partner: “Ah, those rules,” she says. “Well, they’re more like guidelines really.” I pictured a snigger at that stage, and maybe a little rubbing of the hands. “And you are following the rules, but it reads more like a shopping list. She went there, and she did this, and she bought a trolley-full of canned tuna. And she clenched her fists and gritted her teeth, and the reader therefore knows she’s really angry at something.”
Most understanding critique partner: “Sometimes,” she says. “It needs to be functional. What you’re doing is following all the rules very carefully (ooh look, adverb!), and being too obvious in doing so. So lighten up a little (I added that bit), let the story flow, and don’t be afraid to add in a little bit of telling or backstory here or there if the story needs it."
Lightbulb-moment me: “Aaaaaaaahhhh.”
And there you have it. Maybe now I can write a little more soul into my manuscript...
How about you. Do you ever have any trouble with “Show not Tell?” Do you follow all the rules a little too carefully (oops, adverb!)? What are your best tips on practical ways to apply the writing “rules” and/or "Show not Tell?"