Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Make Your Story Come ALIVE! Show don't Tell.

Creating stories that pull your readers in requires dialog and ACTION. It's called SHOWING instead of TELLING. Editors sometimes write "SDT" on manuscripts. What's that stand for? SHOW don't TELL.

I’m going to use an example of how to SHOW instead of TELL. It's from a Christmas story I wrote for a magazine. The following is NOT the way I actually wrote this portion of my story. If I had written it this way, it never would have been published!

This is TELLING:
The innkeeper’s son ran to his father to tell him about the amazing star, but his father was too busy to care. He had an inn full of tired, hungry guests to serve. The father told his son to fill a jug of water for the guests, then hurry back. A few minutes later the boy ran back to his father to ask if there were any rooms left. His father told him the inn was full. The boy was worried about the pregnant woman and her husband. He knew they desperately needed a room. Even though the boy pleaded with his father to find room for the couple, his father insisted there was nothing he could do.


BORING! Did it practically put you to sleep? It should have. I merely gave the reader INFORMATION. There was NO ACTION whatsoever. This kind of writing will not pull your readers into your story and get them emotionally involved. Basically, your readers just won’t care.

This is SHOWING:
"A star?" the boy's father said as he lifted a heavy water jug onto his shoulder. "I don't have time to look at a star. We have an inn full of tired, hungry guests to serve."
"But, Father, I’ve never seen anything like it! And it's right over our..."
"Son, please! It’s only a star. I've seen thousands.” His father shook is head then thrust a clay jug into the boys arms.
“Stop star gazing and help me. Fill this jug at the well, and hurry. Our guests are waiting."

It wasn’t long before the boy bolted through the doorway, out of breath.
"Father! Are there any rooms left?"
"Son, the inn is bursting at the seams. I gave the last room away hours ago."
"But there's a man and woman who need a room," the boy pleaded. They can't stay on the streets of Bethlehem. Please find them something!"
His father threw his hands in the air. "Hundreds of people need a place to stay. We don't have room for everyone!"
The boy grabbed hold of his father's arm. “Father! She’s going to have a baby---NOW!”

Do you see how I gave the reader the basic information that was in my first example, but in a way that made it come alive through action and dialog? I wanted the reader to feel the tension... to sense the excitement and the urgency the boy felt. SHOWING through dialog and action pulls the reader into your story.

Flip through your favorite books or magazine stories. Notice how the writer uses dialog and ACTION. If you love the writing, it has everything to do with SDT.

Copyright 2008 Sheryl Ann Crawford


Avah Ham said...

Hi, Great blog...learned lots. Nice talking to you today.
Lets keep in touch.

rob said...

Sherryl Ann--just so you know--your nervousness is not unique to you when joining a critique club. I am nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rockin' chairs whenever I anticipate teaching or leading music! But God is sufficient, no?

In Him------------rob

P.S. Enjoy your blog--keep it up!