Show, Don’t Tell.

As writers, we hear this mantra all the time.  But what does “show, don’t tell” really mean?

Let me lay it out straight. It refers to the concept of “watching/showing” something unfold, rather than being told in story format.

Here I’m going to give you an example with a sentence of “telling” you what happens.

  • She crossed the stage shyly, taking in the crowd.

 

Okay, so the adverb shyly, with its -ly ending is a clear indicator you’ve told just your reader what happened. So, what you need to do is spot these telling words and rewrite to “show.”

Yes, nice and simple, and I’ll give you a series of examples, because there will be multiple ways, all of them using the heroine’s body language.

  • She crossed the stage, her breath catching as she took in the crowd.
  • She crossed the stage, sucking her bottom lip into her mouth. What a crowd.
  • She crossed the stage, stumbling as she took in the crowd.
  • She crossed the stage, her gaze darting about the packed room. What a crowd.

And I could go on, but I think you get my drift. What you do is take out the “telling” word and replace it with what you would expect to see your character doing. Now you’re effectively “showing” the reader what’s happening.

Oh, but now you don’t want to miss this, because we’re going to take our “showing” one step further and expand, because as writers, it’s our job to perfect every sentence we write.

Here’s an in-depth showing example of the same scene.

  • She curled her hand around the theater’s side curtain, the red velvet raspy under her clammy fingers. Beyond the bright stage lights, the audience was deathly quiet, and her heart pounded. When she stepped out onto that platform, hundreds of people would watch her. She wanted to run.

Did you find that last “show” more interesting? All you have to do is remember the five senses of sight, smell, taste, feel, and speak. Always consider what you will use to show a scene and build from there, imagining yourself right where your character is. This type of writing will paint a vivid picture for your reader, enhancing the story and making your characters come to life.

I hope you enjoyed this “show, don’t tell” blog post, and that it aided you in some way.  If you haven’t joined me for your weekly dose of bite-sized writing tidbits and you’d like to, then simply check out the right-hand side panel, and enter your email address to “follow the blog.”  If you want, also click “like” on my FB author page to the right.  I love all the support.

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11 thoughts on “Show, Don’t Tell.

  1. Fantastic – couldn’t agree more. I just wrote about it yesterday as well, what a coincidence. As Stephen King said, the road to hell is paved with adverbs.

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