I have an author-friend who is struggling with show don’t tell.

I’m not an expert but I found myself looking up writing techniques and tips to try and help her – the task was overwhelming. And then I remembered my friend Shirley, who was a beta reader for the draft of my book, “Love’s Secret Fire.”

Shirley is a professional photographer, not the pose-in-the-studio kind or the bowl-of-fruit kind but the breaking news, capture-the-action kind. Shirley doesn’t see things the way I do, she looks through a frame, always searching for the best light, the flattering angle, the good shot. She goes through life like that, seeing the big picture, if you will.

Shirley read my first draft and said it was good but there were a lot of things she couldn’t “see.” Don’t tell me the gun fired, make me feel it, she instructed. Is it loud enough to hurt her ears? Does the sulfur smell sting her nose? Does the recoil shove her shoulder backward? What will my camera lens capture in this picture? Make me see it.

I’m a better writer because of Shirley. I use all my five senses to describe important scenes, and I strive for action verbs instead of passive ones. A sign hangs on my desk – put, got, get, came … YOU CAN DO BETTER.

I keep adding to that list.

Don’t tell me or Shirley that your character is nervous, show me that she paced the room and chewed her thumb cuticle. Don’t suggest the air smelled fresh – fresh to me is a Snuggle dryer sheet. Don’t say your character was upset. Shirley’s camera can’t see upset.

Think of yourself sitting in an auditorium, watching a play. What do you see? Show me.


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