Painting With Your Words

Have you ever heard the phrase "Show, don't tell."? Well of course you have. Everybody who has gone through elementary school has heard a teacher utter those words. But how exactly do we show a story instead of telling a story? I was once told that the idea is to paint a picture with your words. So here I will share the process that I go through when editing my own work.

She was alive and that made him happy.

This sentence gives a very broad idea of what is going on in the scene. It only reveals very basic information but doesn't strike a cord. So lets begin with the tense. This sentence is written in past tense. She was alive and that made him happy. Writing in past tense puts the action of your writing in the background. We don't watch things as they happen we see that they have happened. So if that sentence was my first draft my first correction would be;

She is alive and that makes him happy.

Now this sentence is in present tense. We are watching the action unfold before our eyes. But this is still not good enough. We are still being told the bulk of information, just before not after the fact. The next hurtle to jump is to break out of the "white room syndrome". I always begin by asking myself basic question about the scene. Where are they? How do they feel about what is going on? What is the weather like today? And then when I get a feeling for it I re-write to further bring it to life.

Pulling back Steve felt his lips crack a little from dryness as they separated from Brenda's. Sitting on the warm cement still cradling her head she remains motionless. The silence is broken as the pool filter whirs to life and he feels his muscles tense up even more. For him nobody else at the party exists. Staring into her glazed lifeless eyes he realizes the worst and feels the nausea begin to set in. Her back arches and her head jerks upwards towards his. Her mouth opens wide as a horse cough brings forth almost an entire gallon of watery mucus. Steve doesn't even recoil from the face full of slimy water or blink as it stings his eyes and invades his gaping mouth. He wraps his arms tightly around her as she regains consciousness and buries his head into her chest to hide his tears. The tears of sorrow for the ten seconds he had lost her and the tears of joy knowing that he hasn't.

There we go, now we can see the difference between showing and telling. Paint a picture of the scene with your words and let the action unfold in front of your reader. If done correctly they won't have time to thank you because they won't be able to put down your work.

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