Today I didn’t go to the zoo. I didn’t jump out of an airplane. I didn’t compose a symphony, skip stones across the lake, commit a crime, build a snowman, get married, draw a picture, or milk a cow. I didn’t even buy a new pair of shoes.
I could fill pages with details of all the things I didn’t do, but none of that matters. It’s not relevant, and it’s not very interesting. So why do novelists continue to put it in their stories? Sometimes we need to show that our characters are making certain decisions, but don’t focus on the paths they didn’t take, show us the routes they chose.
* Bobby thought about asking her out, but he didn’t.
* Sue wanted to go outside, but she didn’t.
*Mr. Smith could have driven to Canada, faked his death, and married a 19 year-old cocktail waitress, but he didn’t.
This kind of information doesn’t keep us in the story. It pulls us out of the moment to tell us something that doesn’t reveal anything about where the plot is heading. Instead, show us what’s happening:
* Bobby watched the red-head walk away again, plotting his next “accidental” meeting.
* Sue stared out the window, dreaming of the cool breeze tickling her skin. The thrill of the fresh air couldn’t push back the panic rising in her chest – she needed the security of four sturdy walls.
*Mr. Smith pulled into the driveway, forcing the wedding band back onto his finger.
Not only are these sentences active and informational, they reveal more of the story. Don’t tell your readers what’s not happening, show them what is.