We’ve all learned to “show, don’t tell” when we write.
But why does this technique actually work?
Let’s break down the method so you can master it in your own writing:
- Take the sentence “Alan is upset.” It’s succinct, but not interesting. By telling the reader how Alan feels, we assume they cannot make that inference on their own. We also spoil the suspense; there’s little reason to keep reading as the statement is final and does not trail into the next idea.
- Before you write, figure out why Alan is upset. What CONFLICT is happening in his world? Let’s say he got into a heated argument with his dad. Again, we do not have to reveal this directly, but we can keep this information in our back pocket.
- As you write, set up your scene with sensory clues that allude to Alan’s conflict. “Alan needed some air. He sat heavy on the porch swing, clenching his fists so tight that his fingernails made tiny moon-shaped indents. And then - it began to rain. Lashing, driving rain. Alan jolted up with a shout, and kicked the porch swing hard before stalking off.”
- Notice how we never explicitly say “Alan is upset,” but it’s obvious that he is. We show it in his body language. We even show it in the quality of the rain.
- Finally, we delay the payoff of finding out the reason he’s angry, which builds suspense and interest for your reader. Try it yourself!