Wednesday Show, Don’t Tell

Show not tell

As we sit down at our computers to write our fantasy novels this week, I thought I would revisit an important topic.  One of the biggest struggles of a writing sounds simple but is hard to put down on the page.  How many times have you been told to show, not tell?  Showing is important because it helps create mood and emotion for your audience.  Telling isn’t the enemy of writers.  You’ll find both in books but this phrase is told to us because we want to paint a picture for your readers.

What better way to help writers, than sharing good resources and examples.   Here are a few tips from the Quotidian Writer on showing, not telling. 

  1. Let your audience feel the same emotions of your character.  “Think of the affect, not the cause.”  Emotions can be shown with action.  How does the character interact with the world in your novel?  Don’t tell them, but show them.  Don’t insert your opinion.  Your character’s actions and reactions should fill in the gap. 

Imagine you have a character experiencing a Minnesota Winter?  How would you show, not tell?

Telling – Swen was cold in the Minnesota Winter.
Showing – Swen’s leg shook like an ice beetle as the wet, slush slid into his heavy boots.  Hands sweat inside his thermal gloves as he pushed the heavy white powder threatening to tip higher than his nose.  Just one more heavy puff, one more scrape over the missing concrete of his driveway would complete his new morning workout.

  1. The Quotidian Writer explains that telling is broad, direct, and simplified.  Telling helps with passages of time, sharing facts, and getting to the point when necessary.  Then, she goes on to explain that telling is usually followed by showing to support the facts and provide more detail.    Showing is specific, indirect and complex.  Showing helps the reader feel something so that your words, even if their eloquent don’t sit flat on the page.  Ask if your reader can picture the scene and feel what’s being said for themselves.  In other words, you’re words aren’t telling someone how to feel.  Give your reader goose bump moments.  Let them complete your sentence.
  1. Still sounding too vague?  It’s best to show when Emotions, Opinions, or sensations are present in a scene.  Author, Janice Hardy, of Understanding Show, Don’t Tell (And Really Getting It), gives another common rule.  She says that if the reader feels the character thinking it, instead of the author, then you’re okay. Stop butting in as the author to explain you’re character’s feelings.  Let them speak, think, and act.
  1. Avoid body language when showing.  What do other people do and say around you?  The Quotidian made a good point – I don’t see a lot of people clenching their fists or gritting their teeth.  What else do they do or say? 

Example:  Instead of telling – He clenched his fists and gritted his teeth.  Show – His spun in a vicious circle and his face resembled an angry lemon.

The point of sharing this resource is to help you write a good read. Novels will have some telling and some showing.  Telling provides facts and showing helps convey emotions and personality.  Audiences don’t need to be told how to feel, just like your characters.  They like to form their own opinions. 

You can find the full length of examples at the Quotidian Writer –

Follow as I post on my progress throughout the month and share the experience.
~Yoon Ju

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Published by yoonjuwrites

I’m an author in Minnesota who started out writing and illustrating Children’s books. I’ve published poetry and adult Romance Novels. I created my website and social media to reach out to other writers because the process can be lonely. I wanted to reach out to readers, writers, and those with a dream of finishing “that” novel. I share the advice of other writers and the tools I use to create my stories.

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