Fiction with Kay

I read. I write. You enjoy!

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

-Anton Chekhov

Hello, lovely people!

Tonight, I have my own personal story to tell, and a little advice as well.

I’m sure you guys are aware that I am indeed a fiction writer. I do have some short stories under my belt; some are good, and some need work, which is why I have not attempted to climb the mountain and write a full novel quite yet.

I have discovered that I struggle the most with “showing” vs. “telling”. I have discovered that I try to write my short stories a bit too quickly, and I don’t exactly give the story enough time to unfold and feel realistic enough. I think the best example for this would be my short story The Right Choice.

I’ve actually gotten some outside feedback on this via a Facebook group, and those who reviewed it complimented the story as a whole, but they each one pointed out my same flaw of telling more than showing. Therefore, over the next few stories I write, I am going to be working on this problem, and I’m going to be doing a ton of editing. (Pray for me, guys.)

So, while we’re on the topic of showing vs. telling, let’s dig into it!

So, what is showing vs. telling?

Telling a story is simple. You simply write down events that happen to a character along a journey. However, a story can be felt and brought to life by writing the story with vivid details that allow the reader to experience the journey as well. For example, don’t tell your reader that your character is happy. Show them the broad smile and the twinkle in your character’s eye.

If you write something from more of an omniscient point of view, you’ll realize it’s a lot easier to “tell” more than you should. For an example, I’m actually going to be using an excerpt from my most recent short story.

Mona continued to stare up at the stars, twinkling like an ocean of glitter. She wondered if her father could see the same stars from her old home. Perhaps he, too, was stargazing, as it was an activity they both enjoyed, especially after her mother’s death. Another reason why Mona was unhappy was because she had expected her mother to be in the same graveyard. To her dismay, Annabelle Bailey’s grave was empty, and she had been told that her mother had crossed over years ago.

“Azrael?” Mona said, her sweet, trembly voice breaking the silence. “Why do we have to die? Why can’t we live on forever?”

No response was given. All Mona heard was the endless chirping of crickets and the distant hum of other ghosts’ conversations.

“Do you think I’ll get to talk to my dad again before I move on?”

Once again, there was no response.

“I know you can’t answer me. But I guess I’m just kinda depressed.” A tear formed in the bucket of her eye, and Azrael nuzzled her cheek and purred loudly. Mona ran her pale hand over the cat and wiped away her tears with the other.

Considering this was from an omniscient point of view, I actually did not think anything was wrong with this scene, but after having others criticize this, I was able to understand my own mistakes, so I rewrote this scene with less telling and more showing.

The stars were twinkling like an ocean of glitter as Mona lay on her grave, her head rested upon her folded arms. Could her father see the same stars from her old home? Perhaps he, too, was stargazing. Both he and Mona enjoyed this, especially after her mother’s death. Passing through her memory, Mona recalled the day she realized that her Annabelle Bailey’s grave was empty, and that she had crossed over years before her own arrival.

“Azrael?” Mona said, her sweet, trembly voice breaking the silence. “Why do we have to die? Why can’t we live on forever?”

No response was given. The endless chirping of crickets and the distant hum of other ghosts’ conversations continued around her, reminding her that she was still alone in her own sorrows.

“Do you think I’ll get to talk to my dad again before I move on?”

Once again, there was no response. There was only soft purring vibrating against her ribs as the cat remained at her side.

“I know you can’t answer me. But I guess I’m just kinda depressed.” A tear formed in the bucket of her eye, and Azrael’s purring left Mona’s side. Instead, the cat’s cold nose nuzzled against her cheek, her soft fur offering its limited comfort.

As you can see, in this version, I removed a few filter words, and I allowed the reader to feel the experience more vividly than I had before. I will not say that this was written to perfection, but I did fix that one small error.

So, in short, telling a reader what is going on is not as effective as showing them. Readers are more satisfied when they are put into the main character’s shoes than when someone simply tells them what is happening.

I think that writing a story in first-person point of view is a lot easier when it comes to showing. When you’re writing in third-person, you have to speak for the main character, and you have to channel their own feelings through yourself and explain to your readers how these feelings are impacting them. But in first-person point of view, all you have to do is tell the story as if you experienced the events yourself.

For example, I wrote a small excerpt of a girl seeing a ghost for the first time incorrectly, and I wrote the same excerpt correctly.

I had been lying on the sofa after a long day. I was tired, and my back was killing me. It wasn’t long before I had almost drifted into sleep. That was until I heard a voice. Opening my eyes, I raised up into a sit, scanning the room around me. Curious, I stood up and went on to investigate.

The voice was coming from outside. Following my ears, I opened the front door and stepped out onto the wooden deck of the front porch. And there he was. An insubstantial figure with the shape of a man stood before me, his translucent, ghostly eyes containing no color, but a silent plea only my ears could detect. I was scared at first, but I realized he needed help. And I knew that I was his only hope.

This excerpt was a quick, effortless piece, but as you can see, I have almost no showing in this at all. I used several filter words, and I used no detail as to how the narrator felt. Now, here is a much more detailed, more showing version of this same excerpt.

Lying on the sofa, I had been recovering from a long day. Pain throbbed throughout my back, and my muscles felt as though they would explode at any second. My eyelids grew heavier, and I began drifting into sleep. That was until I heard a low whisper. Sleepiness left me abruptly as my eyes opened. Raising myself from the warm cushions, I scanned the room. Nobody was there. The furniture was undisturbed, and the room was still and silent. Curiosity took over, and I stood to my feet. Taking a deep breath, I tugged at my jacket as I went to investigate.

The voice returned, but this time, I could tell it was coming from outside. Slowly and stiffly, I opened the door and stepped out onto the wooden deck of the front porch, slightly startled by a sudden creak below my sneaker. Before I could take another step, I drew in a sharp breath, and fear stopped me in my tracks. Before me stood an insubstantial figure in the shape of a man, his translucent, ghostly eyes containing no color. I wanted to scream, but there was something about those eyes. There was a silent plea; a muted cry for help arising from them. I swallowed the hard lump in my throat, and a tremendous weight fell upon my shoulders. He needed me. Looking into those worrisome eyes, I knew I was his only hope.

The difference between these two is very obvious. In this version, I avoided more filter words, and I clearly explained how this character felt without using phrases like “I was tired” or “I was scared”. This actually makes a huge difference to the reader, and it makes the story feel more realistic.

I think this is something every writer should practice throughout their writing process. For me, showing vs. telling is a little difficult, but it is essential to better storytelling.

This is also why you should always be open to criticism. Had somebody no pointed this error out to me, I would never had noticed that I had made the mistake. When you’re writing, it’s easy to overlook something this small, so I hope this helped you to pay more attention to these tiny details.

What are some storytelling elements you struggle with? Let me know in the comments, and I will be more than happy to write an article dedicated to them!

I hope this was helpful and enjoyable for you guys!

I will be working on more short stories for a while, and coming soon I do have a huge announcement for something I have in the making. Once I have all my materials and a decent start, I will let you guys know my big news!

If you’re on Facebook, you can follow my official Fiction with Kay page. You can also follow me on Twitter @KaylaMclaney and on Instagram @kaylamclaney

I hope you all have a great night, and remember to Keep Reading!

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