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Nov 24

How Do You Show, Not Tell?

How Do You Show, Not Tell?

The other day Jenifer said she felt she was telling rather than showing in her novel and wasn’t sure how to change it so we had a quick look online and found some excellent articles on exactly that subject. First lets define what we are talking about.

Anyone who has taken a writing class will have heard the phrase

Show Don’t Tell

What the phrase means is that as a write you should be showing your reader what is happening rather than telling them. If you are still a little confused the exercise below the break should clearly explain the phrase.

How to Show and Not Tell In Fiction Writing

How to Show and Not Telling in Writing Fiction is an excellent exercise over on WikiHow that shows a piece of telling writing and how to turn it into a piece of writing that shows action in seven steps.

  1. Decide on your topic – for this exercise the example WikiHow use is Marie went to the corner store
  2. Jot down some defining characteristics on the topic
  3. Write a first, simple draft to build upon
  4. Read over your draft and find “telling” words like looks, very, seems, old and forms of “to be”
  5. Rewrite the draft, using your imagination (and probably a thesaurus) to expand the descriptions
  6. Note that “showing” will usually be much longer than “telling”
  7. Continue to revise until you are completely satisfied with the scene you have shown

Head over to WikiHow to read the detail behind each point and more importantly to see their single sentence story Marie went to the corner store into a story 119 words long.

Joe Bunting in his article The Secret to Show, Don’t Tell for The Write Practice sums up the WikiHow exercise with in three words

Be More Specific

This leaves us with the question, how do we be more specific, especially if you are new to writing. To help us answer that question we are heading over to Scribendi for their Ten Tips To Help You Avoid Telling Writing. As always you’ll need to head over to Scribendi to see the detail behind each point:

  1. Use Dialogue,
  2. Use the Senses
  3. Description
  4. Look for Adjectives
  5. Use Nouns That Work For You
  6. Avoid Adverbs
  7. Metaphors
  8. Be On Guard For Emotional Qualifiers
  9. Be Specific, Not Vague (re-inforcing Joe Bunting‘s point!)
  10. Don’t Overdo It!

A Word of Warning

Joshua Henkin, in his column for Writer’s Digest has a word of warning. He feels “show don’t tell” is the great lie of writing workshops as:

It doesn’t follow that all a writer should do is show. To my mind, the phrase “Show, don’t tell” is a wink and a nod, an implicit compact between a lazy teacher and a lazy student when the writer needs to dig deeper to figure out what isn’t working in his story.

I would recommend you head over to Writer’s Digest and read Joshua‘s article Why “Show Don’t Tell” is the Great Lie of Writing Workshops.

Do you agree with Joshua? Do you tell more than you show?

Permanent link to this article: http://www.westlothianwriters.org.uk/show-not-tell/

1 ping

  1. WLW Meeting 09/12/2014 - West Lothian Writers

    […] request of Jenifer we did a quick exercise at the start of the meeting inspired by our post on How Do You Show, Not Tell? We asked everyone to take re-write the ‘telling’ […]

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