In every writing class that I have taken as part of my writing and linguistics major here are Georgia Southern University a professor has used the phrase “show, don’t tell.” And each professor explained it more or less in the same way: telling is when the writer just comes out and tells the reader what to think and how to feel, and showing is when the writer uses a scene and the reader determines for themselves what to think and how to feel. In our text, “Immediate Fiction,” Cleaver ranks the craft tool of showing as “the most fundamental of all writing techniques” (Cleaver, p. 143). Showing is a way of proving to a reader that what you are writing about is plausible within the universe of the story, otherwise the reader will not believe it and therefore not become immersed in the story. Another important reason to use images and scenes to tell your story is because it makes it more unique—“If you don’t feel different or unique, how do you make your writing original and fresh? You do that by being specific, getting down exactly as you see it, by showing” (p. 98). Cleaver also gives his readers a lot of examples on how to improve your skills with showing.
One way to improve your showing skills is to try and imagine what you have written as a scene when you are rewriting your work; if you as the writer don’t vividly see the action unfolding in the cinema of your mind then your reader probably won’t be able to envision it either. Cleverly written in bold text, Cleaver writes, “the best way to give the reader an experience is to make sure you have one first” (p. 101). So if you are proofreading a story you wrote and you find it hard to see what is happening, what do you do to fix it? In Janet Burroway’s “Imaginative Writing,” Burroway suggests that one way to fix it is by writing in a way that is appealing to the senses—“…we do in fact live through our sense perceptions…” (Burroway, p. 19). When it comes down to it, the way to really show readers what is happening, to put them into the story or at least give them a window into it, you must give sensory details. You readers will become more involved in your writing when they smell what the characters are smelling, hearing what they are hearing, seeing, tasting, and feeling.
What I have learned from Cleaver and what we have talked about in class has directly affected my writing. For example, in the novel that I am writing as part of my five-minute-a-day contract, there is a scene at the beginning in which the main character Archie is working at a light bulb factory; he cannot hear anything because of the large earmuffs that he wears to protect his ears from the loud sounds of the machines. This scene wasn’t much of a scene at all when I first wrote it because it lacked sensory detail—to fix this I plan on having Archie reveal things about himself by the way he imagines the sounds a machine is making, for example he imagines one machine making the sound of a car trunk slamming and then revealing to the readers that his wife left him recently, having slammed the car trunk shut before she drove away for good. In the rewrite of this scene, not only am I showing my readers what is happening but I am also moving the plot along and characterizing the protagonist, which pays credence to something else written in bold in Cleaver’s book, “Make all of your story worth showing” (Cleaver, p. 102).
Burroway, Janet. Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft. 3rd Ed. New York: Penguin Academics, 2011. Print.
Cleaver, Jerry. Immediate Fiction: A Complete Writing Course. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2002. Print.