I’m going on protest. Why? Every writer, editor, agent, and janitor spouts the “Show, Don’t Tell” rule, blogs and bandies it about while the new writer stares puzzled. (Go ahead. Point and yell telling.)
Unfortunately, I don’t think it accurately assesses the problem in a work or tells a writer how to fix it. It’s not clear and writers more than anything must have clarity. No. I’m making my stand. It’s not good advice.
The real secret to any work of art whether writing, painting, sculpting, or quilting is DETAIL. For writing, this means using the most specific word that fits, the exact turn of phrase needed to get the point across. For example, instead of walked, perhaps she stumbled, trudged, marched or hiked. Find the word that carries the most detail and use variety.
The same principal applies to painting. Is there a line on the bird’s feather? It’s not just brown. What are the other colors peaking through? Be specific with each color and stroke. Again, DETAIL. Of course, if your detail consists of a thousand tiny red dots, you might have missed another critical element. The eye must be captivated, drawn in by the changes, thus the variety.
Most of what takes a work of art and pushes it to the next level is spending that extra bit of time to make the little bits and pieces right. It’s also something I learned the hard way after watching too many half-hour painting shows as a child. I used to think I could paint a happy tree fast, but I’ve learned to take it slower. Patience is still something I have to work on.
And so, I would urge anyone struggling with their art, whether in verbal or visual form, to take another look and see if you can get more specific.