Show, Don't Tell: The basics
Example » Nick was angry.
This is easy. I, the author, am telling you, the reader, that Nick is angry.
That wasn't hard to spot, was it?
What makes this a bad thing? For one, if it's used too often in a story, it keeps the reader at a distance from what the character feels. If the reader cannot experience the emotions of the characters by reading your words, the reader will move on to someone else's story, someone who knows that to keep the reader interested she (or he) must bring drama and life into the character's world with powerful words and phrases.
Example » Nick's hand curled into a tight fist. He stared hard at the man standing in front of him, and his eyes narrowed to thin slits. A muscle in his jaw ticked. "You dare to question my honor?"
The preceding passage contains nothing that an observer couldn't have seen or inferred from outside the characters. That's showing in its most elemental form. The writer acts as if she (or he) is sitting outside the characters and taking notes about what she (or he) sees and hears, tastes and smells, touches and feels. Everything happens outside the characters.
In this instance, I would hope that my word choice gave you a hint (okay, more than a hint) that Nick is angry. But...sometimes, the situation begs for more information. That's where the next bit comes in.
Mixing and Matching
Example » Nick's hand curled into a tight fist, his anger swelling up from his chest, threatening to choke him with bitterness. He stared hard at the man standing in front of him, and his eyes narrowed to thin slits. A muscle in his jaw ticked. His brother had not changed, not one damn bit in the past two years that he'd been abroad. "You dare to question my honor?" Nick bit out, wanting desperately to smash his fist into the side of Robert's head. He held back. His mother would not like to see her favored son knocked to the ground.
See? I think it adds depth to mix and match the showing and telling. Too much telling distances the reader. Too much showing can have the same effect, leaving the reader with the feeling that she (or he) never really got to know that character, never found out what made him tick.
And in romance, character is everything.
© 2002 Terescia Harvey
Reprints are allowed, if you follow my reprint guidelines. Thanks.