The Izakaya in Tokyo 02 is a quiet hub in a lot within the alleyways of Kabukicho and serves as a refuge of the night, with alcohol, soft drinks and food to help ease the constant grind of life. Patrons are flesh apes finding respite from their daily life before they continue on.
Salarymen. School students. Punks. Middle aged, tired eyed folk. Very few corporates in a table engage in quiet murmurs, discussing the acquisition of TransBoost by Verdicts and Sec.
At the bar itself are two sitting beside each other and further away from the rest. A young, black haired lad in a bodysuit of living flesh from neck to toe. Bleeding and pulsating, the scent of fresh blood permeates the air of this spot as it still bleeds from an exit wound on the left breast, now bandaged.
Next to him is a woman with a hime haircut, dyed in white. Her body is snuggled by a white set of suit, dress shirt and pants, and her lips are a lipsticked shade of red. A nametag stenciled “MARISSA LOON” sits just above her right breast. Her black irises are aimed straight at the lad as her fingers caress an empty glass shot of what was whiskey on the rocks.
His own glass is filled to the brim with a Bloody Mary.
“Lad,” says Loon.
The lad turns his head to her. She scoots her stool closer, keeping her gaze fixed at his.
“Don’t feel guilty about it. Won’t do you any good.”
“Leave me be, why don’t you?”
“I’m getting sick of hearing your voice. Seeing your eyes. Your stupid…stupid suit and hair. Go away. Find another scum. Don’t touch me!”
Lad slaps Loon’s hand away, but her arms are already wrapping themselves around his meaty bodysuit. Lad puts pressure on her collarbone with his palms when his eyes are already flooded with tears. Quickly, Loon brings his head onto her shoulder, it now hitches between his muffled sobs.
His hand ball into a fist and tapped her neck repetitively before stopping. The hug is tightened when Loon now plants her face onto his neck, her own hand patting his head gently.
“It’s okay,” Loon coos in his ear. “It’s okay.”
Lad continues to sob on Loon, his own arms now embracing her torso. In his head, he still sees the lifeless husk of a long, red haired boy with a katana in his hand. This is the same acquaintance that was all smiles to Lad. The same comrade who had dinner together with him after a night of CEO liquidation. The same beauty who declared “I love you” in his own room. The same Cain that sent him to the hospital with a slashed spine replaced by a chromatic variant.
Lad sobs on Loon’s neck as her arm wraps around his back, rubbing his head slowly while she plants small kisses onto his wet cheek. Her free hand brushes its fingers over his tears.
“I’m so sorry, Lad. So sorry,” she whispers.
The above short is my own example of utilizing the rule of showing and not telling. Or rather, being as barely obvious as I possibly can.
You might be tempted to type out every exposition or explanation of feelings and context of many things. You fear that your readers may not be able to process your scenes in their heads, that they are not smart enough to understand the exact feelings of your characters or the workings of a faction.
Do not fall into this spiked pit of worries. Your readers may be smarter than you think, and remember that they want to be immersed in the fictional world you created without being guided by a babbling tour guide pointing out every single crevice and rant about how an alien race was wiped off the face of Earth for “the lulz” in excruciating detail.
“Show, don’t tell” makes your story better to be immersed into when you let the actions, emotions and the mere presence of characters, objects or other entities do the talking. Showing not only conveys the audience of the scene’s happenings, sometimes it also allows them to interpret the scene based on their own observations and opinions, which is more fun.
Using my short as an example, there is a moment where Loon’s glass is shown to be empty in her hands but Lad’s is still full of Bloody Mary. That was it. There was no mention of whether he actually touched the glass or not. Maybe he did but took a tiny sip and left it be. Maybe he isn’t the one to drink alcohol yet Loon ordered it for him anyway. Maybe he was too full of guilt to even touch his glass.
All of these interpretations and yet neither of them are canonically pointed out in the short. Still, it is clear afterwards that Lad is stressed enough to not drink when he starts throwing his outburst. That is already enough to know why the Bloody Mary remains intact.
Implementing The Rule
“Show, don’t tell” is a rule that is easy to understand but hard to follow on paper. You may go too far in giving more exposition than necessary or still worry that your readers may not understand your scene. Calm down, and take a look at your current draft.
An effective way to employ the rule with no sweat is to read your draft as the audience, and see what you think is obvious enough without needing an explanation. You can also do this by actually telling what is happening first, and then convert the narration to a showing without one.
In the final scene of my short, Lad is still crying while Loon is comforting him. If I want to tell first, I would simply write something in this effect:
“Lad is so full of guilt that he cannot stop crying, laying his face on Loon’s neck as misery fills his brain. Loon feels very pitiful to this poor soul, planting kisses on his cheek while knowing that it had to be done. There was no choice for him. She wipes Lad’s tears, thinking that he should rest for the night, and feeling guilty of putting him into the latest hit.”
The passage is exhausting to read. It’s so damn obvious! As a reader, you might feel like throwing that paper into my mouth. As a writer, I feel bloated and see that the fat must be trimmed away.
The result is the final sentence in my short before Loon apologized. It is much shorter, precise and more immersive. As a bonus, even though Loon said sorry, you never know if it was genuine, but the short ended anyway.
That is “show, don’t tell.” It isn’t about the length of your passage, but how you describe your scene without verbally pointing out the notes behind actions, emotions and other contexts. If you must tell, only do so to give just enough pointers for your readers, but do not give away too much.