A few minutes ago I searched online, “Show, Don't Tell.” In point sixty-six seconds, there were six hundred and seventy-five million answers to my search. Clearly, writers want to learn how to show and not tell!
But that number's overwhelming. Sure, you can read lots of articles. But how can you actually get better at showing?
Here's how: today, we're playing a Show, Don't Tell Game to practice.
Why Show and Not Tell
In grade school, your teacher had Show and Tell. You brought your stuffed Teddy Bear to class to show your class the bear, and you told them how your Teddy Bear came alive at night and fought the monsters under your bed.
If you wrote a story about the Teddy Bear fighting the monsters under your bed, you could say, “I was scared,” or you could show your fear. Did you hide under the covers? Did you wet the bed? Did you jump into bed quickly so the monsters didn't have enough time to grab your legs?
“Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
― Anton Chekhov
Show, don't tell, to bring your reader into the story. Let them see the glint of light on broken glass, walk beside the protagonist, and live inside of the pages of your story.
Let the reader decide if your protagonist is scared. Don't tell us, “She was scared.” Show us.
How to Show and Not Tell
Telling is stating information, and sometimes you will tell in a story. You might want to tell us your protagonist is a carpenter.
On the other hand, you could show she is a carpenter by describing her using her dual-bevel, sliding, compound miter saw.
You can show by using your five senses. What does it smell like, feel like? What does your protagonist hear?
If you're still not sure you know how to show, check out these other great resources on The Write Practice. In The Secret to Show, Don't Tell, Joe Bunting explains how to be more specific in your writing.
And in Use This Tip To Test If You're Showing or Telling, Monica M. Clark shares an awesome strategy for recognizing your own tendencies towards telling: as you revise your manuscript, highlight adjectives and feelings. These words reveal when you're telling, and you might be amazed at how little you're showing in comparison.
Understanding the theory of “show, don't tell” is only half the battle, though. Now, let's play a game to practice!
Writing Prompt Show and Tell Game
I've made a list of possible emotions to use as writing prompts. Choose one — or think of your own! — and write for 15 minutes in the comments section. Then the readers will guess what you are trying to show in your writing.
Think of any adjective or feeling and see if we can guess what you are trying to show.
Show sadness. Writing “she was sad” would tell me what she was feeling. Instead, show me what sad looks like. Is sad staying in bed and not getting dressed? Missing work? Not taking a shower and eating only potato chips?
Show anger. Tell: He was angry. How can you show anger instead? Is anger throwing pots? (It is for me. I am a pot thrower.) Or is anger not talking?
Show fear. Tell: She was scared. Instead of writing that, how would you show fear?
Show surprise. Tell: She was surprised. Instead, how can you show surprise?
Have you ever felt like you were sucked into the pages of a story because the writing brought you in by showing? Please let us know in the comments.
Choose one of the prompts above or think of your own emotion or adjective. Take fifteen minutes to write a piece that shows us that feeling, then post it in the comments.
Please be kind and comment on someone else's writing. What do you think they were trying to show?
Pamela writes stories about art and creativity to help you become the artist you were meant to be. She would love to meet you at pamelahodges.com.