Editor Pet Peeves: Lazy Emotions
Show, Don’t Tell
You hear it a lot as a writer: show, don’t tell. It’s one of the first things you learn. It sounds easy. It sounds straightforward, right?
There are nuances with our old friend, Show, Don’t Tell. He’s actually kind of a bastard. He’s hard to get to know. Hard to figure out. You have to spend a lot of time up on the porch listening to him ramble on and on when you’d much rather be hanging out by the fence with Cool Plot or Brooding (but deeply layered and loveably flawed) Protagonist.
There are a million-and-one ways you can show instead of tell when writing, but today I want to focus on one of the more obvious (and impactful) show, don’t tell applications. One you can immediately use to strengthen your writing.
Straight out stating an emotion weakens your writing and, worse, it’s boring. There’s no life to it. It’s like chewing cardboard. No flavor.
Here’s an example.
Ed broke into the bedroom and froze, anger filling his chest and rage coating his face at the sight of Julie in bed with Adam. Julie jumped and snatched the sheet up, her eyes widening in surprise.
Emotions are opportunities just begging for a fresh take, a chance to separate your writing from the rest of the dull-eyed prose floating around the interweb. Sure, anyone can state an emotion, we all know what they are, but effectively showing an emotion, well — that’s something different now, isn’t it? Something that, if done right, will sock a reader right in the gut and leave them gasping for more.
So, let’s try this again, this time with some showing sprinkled in.
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