Writing is similar. You get to tell your readers all about your favorite summer vacation, the best sweet potato fries in the south, the time you fell in love with that two-timing DJ who took your heart for a spin and left you on the turntable, or the awful accident that killed your best friend. Because it’s your story, you decide how much time and space to give each incident and the characters involved.
Writing is also different than grade school Show and Tell. Telling is fine and a great tactic to cover time quickly (they left town that evening and arrived the next day), but if all you do is tell, you’re missing the magic. Your readers will put your book down and pick up something else.
Here’s an example:
Mary was pretty.
We assume Mary is a girl because Mary is a common girl’s name. And we know she’s pretty because you’ve told us. But you haven’t said anything about her looks, her age, her height and weight, what she wears, etc. We can’t form a picture of Mary.
Good writing is about visual images. When a skilled writer describes the ocean, you can hear the waves pound the beach, feel the sand between your toes, taste the salt spray. You’re at the ocean, in the ocean, part of that scene. The same goes for describing a person.
Dark hair curled under Mary’s jaw and emphasized the paleness of her skin, but the shine in her green eyes gave her an inner glow that reminded him of a nun in prayer.
Now we have a picture of Mary and we can take that picture with us as the story progresses. If it’s raining, Mary’s dark hair will stick to her head and hang limp. If she’s upset, her green eyes may darken or cloud. If she’s embarrassed, her pale skin will flush.
When you show, you give your readers a ticket to the movie of your story. The secret to good showing is to whet your readers’ appetites. Give them that scene from the movie but remember to proceed with caution. Too much description becomes boring and sluggish, no matter how beautiful.
In summary, painting vivid scenes with your words engages your readers to feel like they’re part of the story. And that’s magic!