Show vs Tell in Your Writing

At a recent LCRW (Lilac City Rochester Writers) meeting, I gave a Power Point presentation on how to show more than tell in your writing. I think it went pretty well. At least the feedback said so, and everyone participated freely, responding with interest and energy to my writing prompts.

But today, I read over a short story to give to my critique group and I was shocked. I’d written the story a few years ago and plan to submit it, along with other related stories, to a publisher soon. It was full of telling! I am so glad I read it through again before I sent it to my group, most of whom were at the presentation Saturday. And now, obviously, I must go through those related stories for the book and carefully correct my shameful telling.

So what’s the difference between telling and showing? Telling gives a list of what someone did, states facts, lists actions rather than describe them.

Showing projects an image for the reader. It uses action, dialogue, imagery. It paints a picture. Let’s give an example here.

The family enjoyed its vacation, the parents taking the boys to the pool every day.             Ho hum. This is telling. You can picture a pool, perhaps, with a mother and father in it and at least more than one boy there. We don’t know how old anyone is, how many boys, what they are doing. To be frank, we don’t know squat. So let’s try showing.

The salt water pool was picture-perfect: swirling water sparkling in the sunshine, swimmers lazing around on noodles, the two little boys sitting on the curved steps, kicking their feet in the shallow water there. In a sudden flash, Austin, whose nickname is BamBam, tottered along the ledge of the pool toward the deep end. His older brother, Bradley, followed. Mom and Dad pushed through the attrition of the pool, arms outstretched, and caught the boys just in time.

This example illustrates the first point in my list of tips to help in showing more than telling: use picture nouns and action verbs. In the showing example above, I’ve typed the picture nouns in bold face and the action verbs in italics. Do you have a better idea of what’s happening in that scene when you follow tip #1? Of course, you do.

When you pound out your story on your computer, you have a mental image of your scene, your character(s), and the activity in it. To write successfully, you need to transfer that image to your readers. So paint your picture of the scene with the right kind of words, with supporting information, with your use of the five senses. Put us there!

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