We're writing about the age old writing rule of "show, don't tell" this week.  Typically, the longer a writer spends on an image, a conversation, or a scene, the more importance it has in the reader's mind.  As writers, we make choices about what aspects of the setting, character or action the reader "sees."  We choose what to "show" the audience and how much time to linger.

One of the first times I had my first chapter in SILVER critiqued by an agent, she pointed out that I spent a lot of time establishing one particular character in the scene.  The character, Fishnet, was introduced alongside another character, Blake:

A guy in khaki pants and a striped polo shirt exits the car.  Blake is positively drool worthy, with layered blonde hair that hangs in loose waves, softening the sharp angles of his face.  Deep dimples frame a smile that has probably charmed more than a few girls out of their underwear.

One of said girls gets out the passenger side of the SUV and strides around to meet Blake, not missing a step despite the four inch heels on her high vinyl boots.  She is a living oxymoron, her style saying "look at me" and "back off" with equal force.  Cherry red stripes slash haphazardly through her onyx hair and her fishnet stockings are strategically ripped so that the tear draws your eye up her thigh.  She lifts her chin as she loops an arm through Blake's, narrowing her kohl-rimmed eyes as she stares into the shop.

It's all very golf meets goth.

Blake holds the door open for Fishnet.  I am almost charmed by this minor act of chivalry until I notice his eyes pinned to her ass as she sashays through the shop.

Fishnet stops directly in front of Haley, placing a hand on her hip and snapping a piece of gum like a caricature of a small town waitress.

From this description, you would think that Fishnet was an important character in the scene, and maybe the more important of the two.  In fact, Fishnet was a minor character who appears in very few scenes, whose main purpose in this scene was to show something about Blake, one of the main characters in the story. I had lingered over her because her look was interesting to me, but ultimately this focus did not serve my story.  The other problem with this description is that it's very external, with very little sense of Brianna's (the narrator's) voice or feelings coming through.

Flash forward to the final version of the same scene where Blake and Fishnet are introduced to the reader: 

I mean to help her look, but I’m distracted by the sandy waves of Blake William’s hair.  It’s too long, brushing his neck in the back and his ears on the side, the kind of layered mess that is too flattering to be unintentional.
I know the second Blake spots Haley.  He turns his head just a fraction and his green eyes brighten so they’re almost silver.  He moves with the stealthy grace of a panther as he weaves through the crowd.  I’m already standing near the wall, but I inch back the rest of the way.  It’s not like he’s coming to talk to me or anything, but I prefer to watch Blake from a distance. 
He stops in front of Haley.  Dimples frame a smile that’s probably charmed more than a few girls out of their underwear.
One of said girls strides up behind him, not missing a step despite the spiky heels on her vinyl boots.  She leans into him, flashing a strategically placed tear in her fishnet stockings. 
Haley hammers out a text, ignoring Blake and his territorial indie girl.  I’d say something to them myself, but they give no sign that they even know I’m here.  A small twinge of disappointment flares in my chest before I can stamp it out.  Then I do.  Ruthlessly.  
Here, Fishnet is reduced to two lines of description, and the focus of the scene is now where it should be- on Blake- and Brianna's reaction to him.  So showing is more than describing what your character sees, dialogue or the action happening in the scene.  It's about choosing the details you want the reader to see, and bringing them to life.
I wonder what Ninja thinks is important in this room?


Great points! I've often cut excessive showing that didn't matter, but more often, I've found opportunities to take a summary sentence and flesh it out. I tend to write sparse so I'm often looking to add.

I very much like your advice, "It's about choosing a detail you want the reader to see..." Showing involves direction and perspective. Love it, Talia.

Great blog. Love it! Off to share with my writing students!

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