There are a lot of times I excuse telling. Seriously, if you showed every darned nitpicky thing that happened in a book...without ever once saying...Two days later...your readers would go insane from the details. So I forgive myself and other writers of a "telling" piece of two.
But last month I had an experience that really brought home the value of show don't tell.
I wrote the eHar story for May. I was assigned the version that's one "chapter" a week for eight weeks. Now, you need to know that that "chapter" is only 1250 words...or 6 pages. You have to tell a whole romance in 48 pages. Piece of cake, right? Not hardly.
Everybody thinks writing something short will be easy. (I laugh every time I hear somebody say that...esp when they are setting out to write their first novella. LOL) The truth is every ding dang word counts in a short story.
I started the story with the H and H getting into his private plane. He's brought his daughter because his ex wife dumped her on him...3 days before mother's day...the trollop...
Anyway, I use a paragraph of physical description to 'get in' his personality as the heroine sees it, more or less showing his personality through his looks. Then I wrote three chapters of "stuff" that happened, showing their growing feelings etc. etc. etc. I was feeling okay with this until I wrote Chapter 4.
In Chapter 4 the hero is on the beach and his assistant comes walking out of his beach house in a bikini. Because he'd never seen her nearly naked before, his reaction was priceless. And interesting. And fun. It was the "true" beginning of the book.
Because I'd opened that chapter with action, everything that followed was action. So I made Chapter 4 Chapter 1, trashed everything I'd written before that, and let the action roll. The result was a story that told itself. Instead of a story I was telling readers. Details were crisper. Every action was relevant...not because I told the readers it was...but because they could see it was.
In those original 3 chapters, I'd made the mistake of thinking that because my word count was so slight, I had to (or was allowed to) tell readers what was going on to set the scene and/or reveal character in ways I didn't have time (or available words) to write. When I wrote the bikini scene and the story took off on its own, I suddenly saw that a good scene, a scene that acts out the journey step (or plot point) is a hundred times better than a bunch of praddle...no matter how pretty your praddle.
It goes without saying that as an author you're always looking for the action to demonstrate your plot points. But it's even more true when you don't have a word to waste. And, when you see that in action, suddenly 'show don't tell' becomes the most important phrase in your world.
So try this this week...Pretend you don't have a word to waste. Not one word. And the actions that you choose to play out your story for readers are all you have. Only actions.
Not only will you write tighter, but your story might just come alive in a way it never has before.