Naked Lady in the Drain and Why Authors Should Show and Not Tell

When you tell, you are blunt. When you show? You are laying out little truths that compel the reader to turn the page and read on.

Dogs Are Smarter Than People: Writing Life, Marriage and Motivation
Naked Lady in the Drain and Why Authors Should Show and Not Tell
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So a lot of writers get rejections that say, “Show, don’t tell.”

And then they are left wondering, what does that even mean?

And then everyone uses the Chekov quote, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining. Show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

That’s because writers and editors like to quote other writers and editors because it makes us sound:

  1. Pretentious. Cough. I mean intelligent!
  2. Like we know what we’re doing.

Definitions Time

Showing is what it sounds like. You are showing what’s happening in the scene or with the character.


Telling is also what it sounds like. You are blunt and direct and are just stating things. Sometimes you’re stating and summarizing.

Here is a quick example:

Telling:

Shaun was cranky.

Showing:

Gabby the dog barked for hours at the dogs trotting by the house that morning and after a quick pause for a drink from her red water bowl in the kitchen, she’d pranced back to the living room sliding glass door and started again.

Shaun tensed. He slammed his fist against his desk and roared, “Will you just shut up already?”

So why do you want to show more and tell less?

It’s more community oriented.

It gives the reader the truth about the character by illustrating it on the page rather than laying it down like an edict.

If I tell you, Carrie is a timid person, then you’re like okay. Whatever.

But if I show you a scene where Carrie steps outside and starts crying because the grass is long and things could be hiding in it and she starts sweating and shaking because she’s so afraid of the grass? You’re going to probably have a better understanding of how timid a person Carrie actually is.

Yeah, showing takes more words, but writers are word magistrates. We are dealers in the sentence and the language. Words are our friends.

The other reason is that telling makes things dull.

It’s hard to be suspenseful when you just say everything all bluntly. When you tell, you are blunt. When you show? You are laying out little truths that compel the reader to turn the page and read on. You are giving the pieces of a meal, one bite at a time, rather than shoving a four-course dinner down their throat and making them gag.

It’s the difference between reading the episode recap for Wanda Vision and actually watching the show.

Telling kills immediacy.

Just like distancing language, telling puts a wall up between the reader and the experience of the characters.

If I write, Carrie heard the bomb explode, it’s not as gripping. You are distanced from the experience.

Compare that to if I write,

The bang rippled through the air. The cops’ radios all began squawking with orders and directives as the cops turned as one towards the source of the sound and the smoke…the smoke billowed out and up. Carrie turned with them. The plastic, the soot, the burning on her tongue made it hard to swallow.

WRITING TIP OF THE POD

Show more. Tell less.

DOG TIP FOR LIFE

Show it as best as you can for all the good treats.

RANDOM THOUGHTS

Our random thoughts this week were about:

A stray dog at Dollar General stealing a purple unicorn. He’s okay and found his forever home! Yay! Link from People.

A woman who was allegedly stuck in Florida tunnels and a drain for three weeks. She’s okay! Link from the Miami Herald.

How Shaun announced at the Covid vaccine place that Carrie doesn’t bleed. He’s okay, too. Link from our life.

HEY!

SHOUT OUT!

The music we’ve clipped and shortened in this podcast is awesome and is made available through the Creative Commons License. 

Here’s a link to that and the artist’s website. Who is this artist and what is this song?  It’s “Summer Spliff” by Broke For Free.

And we have a new podcast, LOVING THE STRANGE, which we stream live on Carrie’s Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn on Fridays. Her Facebook and Twitter handles are all carriejonesbooks or carriejonesbook.

Here’s the link. This week’s podcast is all about strange habits.

almost dead book by carrie jones
almost dead book by carrie jones

HEAR MY BOOK BABY (AND MORE) ON PATREON

On one of my Patreon sites I read and print chapters of unpublished YA novels. THE LAST GODS and SAINT and now ALMOST DEAD. This is a monthly membership site (Hear the book chapters – $1/month, read them $3-month, plus goodies!). Sometimes I send people art! Art is fun.

On this, my second site, WRITE BETTER NOW, you can do a one-time purchase of a writing class or get two of my books in eBook form or just support our podcast or the dogs. It’s all part of the WRITING CLASS OF AWESOME.

It’s a super fun place to hang out, learn, read, and see my weirdness in its true form.

And I’m starting up a brand new, adult paranormal set at a Maine campground. You can read the first chapter here.

Three Quick Tips to Show Instead of Tell

As writers, showing allows us more control over what we’re trying to communicate to the reader. Pretty cool, right?

This week, I’m talking a bit about showing versus telling.

There will be more about this in our podcast, DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE.

As I say there, a lot of writers get the note that they need to show more and tell less and then they are stuck thinking a lot of swear words and end up screaming into their pillow, “HOW DO I EVEN DO THAT?”

Showing is what it sounds like. You are showing what’s happening in the scene or with the character.


Telling is also what it sounds like. You are blunt and direct and are just stating things. Sometimes you’re stating and summarizing.

Showing Example:

Carrie was hungry.

Telling Example:

Her stomach grumbled as Carrie opened the refrigerator. Nothing. Just shelves of sourdough starter and orange-vanilla soda water and left-over crumbs of pizza crust. Pressing her face against the dirty shelf, she tried to lap them up with her tongue. The world wobbled.

“Food,” she whispered. “Please, just a little food.”

Those seem like two totally different stories, right? But they are both just about me being hungry.

When you tell people, they are left filling in the gaps. If you heard, “Carrie was hungry,” I bet you didn’t fill in those gaps quite the way I just did.

As writers, showing allows us more control over what we’re trying to communicate to the reader. Pretty cool, right?

Three Quick Tips to Try to Show Instead of Tell

Use dialogue.

We learn a lot about people by how they talk to other people. Do they use big words? Little words? Dramatic words? Do they just grunt?

“I am terribly disappointed in your behavior.”

“You suck. I can’t believe you freaking did that.”

“Wow. Buttface.”

Those are all about the same thing, but three very different responses, right? Those responses tell us about the characters.

Describe the action rather than state the action.

Telling:

She loved Spring. It gave her joy.

Showing:

She spiraled around, arms out in the air as she waited for the light to change. The moment it did, she started across.

“You’re skipping,” the lady next to her said.

She smiled back at her, weaving around the school children crossing against them. A dog wagged his tail, sniffing some daffodils in the medium. “It’s Spring. Spring is the best.”

Use the setting and make your character actually interact with the setting.

Telling:

I stepped on the porch. It was hot.

Showing:

The rotting wooden boards of the porch popped under my weight as I sniffed my pits. Before I knocked on the red door with its peeling paint and bright orange STAY OUT sign, I pulled at my t-shirt fabric. The humidity made it cling.

There you go! Like I said, I’ll be talking about this in this week’s podcast, but also in my Wednesday post. Just click on the tab for SHOWDON’T TELL to see all the posts about this topic.

Hm. That seemed a little telling, didn’t it? 🙂