I judge a lot of contests. Seven this year to be exact with an average of five entries per contest. I can’t tell you how many times I see the telling in stories instead of the more emotional-punch of showing. And you can tell the difference between a new writer and a seasoned writer by how they describe things and really use that showing to their advantage.
I’m guilty of it, too. Sometimes I just get lazy as a writer and think, “Oh, I’ll go back and redo that later.”
Anyway. I wouldn’t be rambling on about this if I wasn’t going to give you some examples of telling vs. showing. Are you ready? Here we go.
These examples are from my latest, WIP (the gladiator book I’m revising).
Cassius rounded the corner into the banquet hall and paused to take in the sights and sounds.
The words sights and sounds are vague and don’t tell us anything about the room Cassius is in.
Cassius rounded the corner into the banquet hall. Faint strains of harp and lute music floated through the mingling group of men—politicians and Citizens and other dignitaries. He even spotted a few Legion soldiers. On one side, a feast fit for, well, a king and his queen. Not to mention the Emperor. Roasted boar, venison, a rack of lamb among the meats. Fruits, vegetables, wheels of cheese, freshly baked breads, flasks of wine and mead and ale. The palace kitchen must have been cooking for days.
See the difference? In the original version, he pauses to take in the sights and sounds. But in the revised version, we actually hear and see what the character is hearing and seeing instead of the generic sights and sounds.
Here’s another example.
Heads turned as Elena crossed the room, making Cassius jealous.
Heads turned as Elena crossed the room, rousing the jealousy in him with her every step. Cassius wanted to single-handedly rip out each one of their eyeballs.
I love this description – the fact that Cassius wants to rip out their eyeballs for looking at his woman cracks me up.
And one more.
After all they’d been through now that she obviously needed him she shoved him away, making him angry.
After all they’d been through now that she obviously needed him she shoved him away. His rage and frustration exploded. At her. At the Emperor. At this unnerving situation they were both in.
I’m sure there are better examples than I can give you, but at least this gives you the idea of the difference. Just remember: don’t tell the reader “he was angry.” Show the reader his lips pressed in a thin line, his fists clenched so hard every vein pops out on his forearm, the tick in his clenched jaw.