Writers often hear the advice: “show, don’t tell.” But what does it mean? Read and study a story from the Stone Soup archives to see the power of this technique, and then try it for yourself.
Eleven-year-old Ari Rubin’s story, “Lindy,” was first published in Stone Soup magazine in 1993, and it has been included in all the editions of our anthology, the Stone Soup Book of Friendship Stories, since then.
To prepare for this activity, read “Lindy.” Consider the way that the story unfolds. You’ll notice that the whole story is “told” to us by a strong narrator’s voice. But he doesn’t explicitly tell us the real story underneath the story. He shows us the various events as they happened to him, so that—like him—we don’t understand Lindy’s bigger story until the very end. Then, we notice all the hints dropped along the way. We see the journey the narrator has been on, and how he got to where he is now in terms of his feelings about Lindy. This approach makes you want to read the story again. And then you see that the clues were there all along, cleverly laced in to the narrative.
In “Lindy” the author brilliantly controls what he shows us, what he tells us, how, and when. This mastery of the content makes a complex emotional tale come across in an authentic voice that sounds simple and matter-of-fact. The author demonstrates how much more powerful it can be to reveal things to the reader through action and dialogue, instead of listing and explaining all the underlying thoughts and feelings in the order they happen.
Read “Lindy” again with a pencil in your hand, and mark the points in the story where something happens, or a clue is dropped, that you only recognised as a clue when you read the story the second time. Now, take a look at one of your story ideas; one that you have developed enough that you know everything about your characters, where they are going in the story, and what happens in the end. Think about when you want the reader to know all those things. Think about how you might structure your story and what clues you might be able to give along the way, and where you might drop those hints. Try to identify the crucial events or moments in the story that relate to the ending, and think about what might your characters do or say or observe at those points, without the words that literally tell us ever coming out of their mouths. How can you give your readers just enough information to mean that the truth revealed right at the end has been signposted, but never explicitly given away, in the course of the story?