“The beginning of human knowledge is through the senses, and the fiction writer begins where human perception begins.”
Every writer out there is tired of hearing the words show, don’t tell, especially when very few actually take a moment to truly explain what the concept actually looks like in reality. There are two resources that have helped me learn what it actually means to put it in practice.
The first one is quoted above. After reading Flannery O’Connor’s essay The Nature and Aim of Fiction, published in Mystery and Manners, my view of showing changed radically. I started practicing what O’Connor said and focused on the senses to describe a scene.
That idea, combined with the vivid detail that an excerpt from Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried exemplified, made my writing improve in less than a week. My scenes suddenly became alive and even my friends and family were amazed at the improvement I made in such a short time.
The other resource I found that truly takes the time to show you what showing is is Show and Tell in a Nutshell by Jessica Bell. The examples and exercises truly make a difference in how you view the details in a scene. You can compare what telling and its difference with showing in just a few examples, giving you immediate insight of what you need to do to stop telling and start showing.
Ever since I read these texts, I put more emphasis on what the characters noticed, not just with his/her sight, but also with their sense of smell, hearing and taste. Because, as O’Connor says, emotion can’t be shown with emotion, nor thoughts with thoughts. It is the senses’ job to express them, in the sweat that leaves a salty, burning flavour on your parched lips, in the throbbing of your side as you run towards your home, in the wrinkling of your nose at the itching smell of garlic when you dash into the kitchen expecting the worst.
I’m done telling. From now on, I’ll show.