In his book, Business Execution for Results, Stephen Lynch describes winning the title of Mr. New Zealand like this.
“All the years of brutally hard training and the torture of following pre-contest Spartan diets had culminated in this moment. I closed my eyes and waited.
‘and Mr. New Zealand…
open men’s heavyweight division……
I leaped into the air and waved to my mother and sister who were jumping up and down at the back of the theater.”
When writing coaches tell clients to “show me,” we’re looking for something like this. Stephen could have told you that he was nervous. Instead, he showed you by writing “I closed my eyes and waited.” He could have told you he was really happy to win the title. Instead he showed you by writing “I leaped into the air and waved to my mother and sister who were jumping up and down at the back of the theater.”
Showing adds emotion
Showing puts emotion into a story and makes it more powerful. It also makes your story easier to remember.
Show by describing behavior
Behavior is what a person says or does. We can interpret that behavior and say that a person is nervous or happy. But your story will better if you describe the behavior and let the reader interpret.
Chekhov summed it up this way.
“Don’t tell me the moon is shining, show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
Think like a playwright
The people who write plays don’t have the luxury of exposition. They have to tell their stories using only behavior. If you get stuck on showing, try imagining yourself as a playwright and tell your story that way a playwright would.
Bottom Line: Did you describe behavior or interpret it?
When in doubt about “showing” ask yourself this question. “Did I just write a description of what someone said or did?” If the answer is “No,” you’re probably telling.