I will be using some excerpts from Sonali Deraniyagala’s memoir ‘Wave” to illustrate how to employ the “show, don’t tell” directive. The following paragraphs from her book effectively employ the “show, don’t tell” directive in the narration of the non-conversational scenes in her Memoir, which is a story of how she copes up with the loss of her family [parents, husband and two young boys] who were washed away in a tsunami.

  • Steve would never again smear newsprint on the toilet seat– An indirect depiction of Steve’s callousness morning habits.
  • I had to be vigilant. What if even for a single moment, I thought nothing had changed, that no one is dead? The author, instead of plainly stating that she ‘stayed focussed on the tragedy that had happened’, uses this phrase to give a deeper sense of paranoia over losing connection with the reality and going through the dread of revisiting the reality.
  • Then suddenly every evening I was drunk. Half a bottle of vodka down by six p.m., never mind that my stomach burned….I’d swig from bottles, not time to get a glass….try to drink bottles of aftershave, perfume.. This phrase is a fitting example of conjuring the past where the author gives the reader of the physical experiences of alcoholism she became addicted to.
  • As I walked through those front doors, the huge silence of the house ripped through me….Just a few pieces of furniture remained repositioned, displaced. This is another great example of “show, don’t tell” where the author describes the engagement of her senses with an uninhabited house.
  • I wanted wardrobes full of clothes…boys’ underwear…father’s white handkerchiefs…a pencil stub with the end chewed up perhaps…a crunched up grocery bill….a squiggle made with the pen on a wall…the chocolate smears on the sofa. The author revisits the memory lane to stretch the reader’s imagination on how the deserted house once brimmed with the life of a regular home with children bustling around.
  • as midday and no shelter from the seething sun. A clear indication of the barrenness is presented to the reader in this phrase.
  • air-conditioning unit, a pink mosquito net, the number plate of a car. And in the rubble on the ground, I could see a Japanese magazine now to a curl, a room service menu, a broken wineglass, a black high-heeled shoe. In this particular phrase, Sonali, hand holds the reader through her journey back to the hotel touching upon the assortment of stuff that the reader can clearly associate with the nitty-gritty of a hotel environment and the tourists who were guests in the hotel.
  • He’s wake from his nap for the glare of the headlights and rush out in disarray, tripping over his open sandals, buttoning his shirt. Rather than simply stating that “the watchman suddenly woke up alarmed by the car headlights”, the author again provides the reader a graphic representation of the scene.
  • When Ma called me in London to ask if Malli’s fever was better or to check on how my biryani turned out, she used that phone.That was another brilliant presentation of nostalgia and the concern and fondness of Sonali’s mother, for her family, that the author brings to the mind of a reader.

Although the above-stated situations/experiences were faced by the author in the past, she, however, recreates those scenes as she revisits those moments with the reader, giving them the wide-angle view and the feel of being present in the moment. The following, in particular, are heart-wrenching illustrations of presenting to the reader the emotional story behind the words chosen for a narrative;

  • “…..One of the sleeves was still rolled up.” This was heart-rendering.
  • And I can hear a voice from the back of the car, Is it a school day tomorrow, Mum? And if I turn around…” The half-finished sentence, the opportune use of ellipsis, has the reader sorrowfully drawing on her emotions through the abrupt silence