The real purpose of showing is to keep the reader hooked. When your story raises more questions than it answers, the reader wants to read on.
So when the novel starts, try not to explain why the characters are the way they are. Try not to spend too much time describing the surroundings. Try not to hand out resumes for each character.
The reader will glean from little tidbits dropped in conversation pieces of who these people are and why they do or say what they say.
Readers like to be engaged. They want to solve problems like a detective.
Here's the first draft of the beginning of my novel The Cute-Meeter as an example.
“Your slave is
“Come on, Sam. I
can’t; it’s against university policy.”
“Maybe the Dean could
make an exception for a love-sick puppy.”
“I am not.”
“True, you don’t
have four legs.”
out just a bit of beer as a small laugh escaped him. “Your joke,” he shook his head,
“Stick to the
point. You love her, don’t you?”
“I plead the
bartender, wiped up the beer and said in her usual flirty way. “If I had known
you were a dribbler, I would have taken you to the Knicks game instead of, you
know, Chrissy baby.”
She dribbled her
fine derriere to another customer, turned, and winked. Oh, I got trouble.
“I can’t believe what
just happened. Justine’s not your type. What have you been?...” Justine reached
for Dewar’s Scotch, well within earshot.
He shooshed Sam
and lowered his voice. “Either you’re a snob, or you don’t know her.”
“I’m not a snob.”
“I know. You were
my best man and still are. Although you might drop down to second place behind my
dog. Justine has a kid at home and is trying to finish her master’s too.”
“But what’s with
the beckoning behind?”
Back to me: I'm sure you'll notice that I don't supply the two men's full names or exactly what they do. I don't mention directly where this scene is located (NYC). I use a save-the-cat moment in describing the waitress, thereby showing Christopher's humanity.
A little later, the subject gets back to Christopher's Ph.D. candidate:
“You’re meeting her
still has that crazy idea for her thesis.”
opinion?…” Sam let his head lean, and his eyes roll.
“Go ahead, Sam.”
Sam picked up a
slew of peanuts and stuffed his mouth. “I’m thin kun yous,” he wiped his mouth
and downed some beer. “I think yes, her idea is far-fetched, but it is legitimate enough.”
“Oh, come on.”
“No, you come on.
You’re letting your old-school teaching methods get in the way. Give her a break.”
“The fifth.” He
patted Sam’s shoulder and pointed at the WyborowaVodka.
Back to me: Does the reader wonder what the woman's crazy idea is? Yes, and that's good because the reader will continue. The problem all writers have is maintaining these little mysteries throughout the entire story.