Three Quick Tips to Try to Show Instead of Tell

best writing coaches Carrie Jones

So all this week, I’ve been talking about how to show and not tell in your writing.

You can find those past post, by clicking on SHOW DON’T TELL in the tags.

We defined it.

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.

WE GAVE 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?”

And Now I’m Going To Give Three Quicks on How to Show Not Tell

  1. 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.

HERE IS THE THING: SOMETIMES YOU CAN TELL.

You just want to not always tell. You can tell a little bit as a story begins. You just don’t want to only tell.

HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN YOU ARE TELLING TOO MUCH?

You’re using a lot of distancing words like “knew, look, saw, heard, supposed, watched, stared, told.”

      Shaun heard the bathroom door unlock and knew that someone was going to be entering the room.

You are using the word obviously, of course, clearly a lot.

      Shaun heard the bathroom door unlock, obviously someone had unlocked it and would be entering the room. Would they die from the smell, clearly it was horrifyingly bad, of course it was. It was the bathroom.

You are making a lot of fluffy language and filler language.

      A flurry of worry flooded his brain as Shaun heard the bathroom door unlock.

And there you go! I hope it helps! Have fun writing!

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Author: carriejonesbooks

I am the NYT and internationally-bestselling author of children's books, which include the NEED series, FLYING series, TIME STOPPERS series, DEAR BULLY and other books. I like hedgehogs and puppies and warm places. I have none of these things in my life.

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