One of my favorite exercises is taking a telling expression and wowing a reader with what can actually be shown. This opening line is one horrendous jumble of telling. It definitely lets the reader know something about the character, but is it enough?
She was frightened and cold!
She shivered in the dark room, spiders from the ceiling dropping closer on their thin threads with each breath she took. Her arms wrapped around her chest as she clung to the last bit of warmth before the night enclosed her in frigid despair. Where had he put her? She sucked back another tentative breath. What was that? She reached over her shoulder and pulled eight crawly legs from her skin. Another shiver, and she gasped aloud as the dirt floor met her face.
Now, without using the word frightened or cold, we’ve shown the reader so much more. Just saying she was frightened and cold didn’t tell us she was imprisoned somewhere. Or that there wasn’t any heat. Or that bugs shared the same space with her. But the second time, we got all that and more without ever using the tag words.
Let’s see what anyone of you can do with an exercise of your own. Surprise us, make us happy, make us afraid. Wow! us.
Okay, so here’s the exercise:
He was ugly as sin. (Oh, how cliché, give us something new and wonderful!)