While screening stories submitted to Sci-Fi Lampoon magazine, it occurred to me that editing means the opportunity to find new stories to share with others. What does that mean? It can’t mean only stories that the editor personally likes. Good stories appeal to a wider variety of readers than any one person can imagine.
So what makes a story appeal to a wide variety of readers? Common themes help, of course, because more readers will identify with the story. But I suspect the real key is participation. Think of it this way: Would you rather sit in an audience and listen to a comedian or a lecturer? The lecturer may tell you interesting things but the comedian will draw you in and make you participate. Would you rather laugh or be lectured?
Yup. I’m talking “Show don’t tell,” my favorite explanation of which remains the quote by Russian novelist Anton Chekhov.
“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
“Show don’t tell” entices the imagination. That lets the reader participate in the story.
Writers have used many creative ways to draw readers into their stories and the ‘Net is full of examples. Chekhov’s is an immersive description.
Some are half-thoughts that invite the reader to complete the image.
“She said only, ‘He spent the night rocking my world.'”
Or juxtaposed images that show something of the character’s character.
“I drive way too fast to worry about cholesterol.”
What is your favorite way to show the reader your characters, to draw then into your world?
Me, I favor dialogue. It can allow the reader to imagine the details.
“You had a vibrator?”
She nodded. “I pulled a lot of guard duty. You know how boring that is?”
It’s not enough to tell a reader anything. You have to show them something.