One of the things you always hear in writing is to show, not tell. I’ve seen dozens of articles on the topic with one-paragraph examples embedded within. It’s a fairly simple premise, and yet not always an easy thing to achieve. Description is important to the story so that readers can “see” what you’re trying to portray. As an author, I can see things in my head fairly clearly, but often those things don’t make it to the written page.
One of the things that keep us sharp as authors is to read someone else’s work. In my case, today, I’m reading Stephen King’s Dreamcatcher. I read Stephen King a lot growing up, and then I think I stumbled on one of his books that stretched my imagination a tad too far – or maybe it was something a little too creepy, so I moved on to a different author. I still think he’s a remarkable author, and as my son is now a rabid Stephen King fan, I’m borrowing some of his books.
Picking up Stephen King after a number of years, I’m struck once again at how vividly he portrays his scenes. This is a perfect example of showing your readers what you see in your head. Each character has his own idiosyncrasies so that it isn’t as important what they look like, although you do see that, as what their personal tics are. He takes you deep into their point of view and effortlessly, it would seem, shows you the world through their eyes.
As I read, these things strike me. I’ve always been a hands-on learner, and Stephen King is an excellent teacher in this regard. I finished reading a chapter the other day and sat down to my own work to do some editing. Suddenly, I saw things more clearly. “She walked through the door and into his house.” Seems a straight-forward thing to do, eh? But I found myself asking, What kind of door? What did she see when she walked in? What was she feeling when she walked in? Did anything out of the ordinary catch her eye? There are the usual other sensory responses that I tap, the feel of the door, the smell of food cooking inside, what she hears, etc. After just one chapter of Stephen King, I felt as if I’d just walked out of a seminar on ‘showing’ and, thus, I can apply the lessons to my own work.
It isn’t always easy to weave the details in seamlessly, without stopping the action and taking the reader out of the story to show them. King is a master at his craft, and at a time when I needed a refresher, I’m glad I picked up one of his books.