Show Don't Tell... What Does It Mean?

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You may have heard people say, "Show, don't tell." But what does that really mean?

This might be well-known to more seasoned authors, but for new authors, this is a question I am asked a LOT. 


So, what do I mean when I say, "Show, don't tell"?

Telling is exactly what it sounds like. It's telling the reader what is happening in your story, like so: 

Alan went outside for a walk to the town. It was cold. He saw lots of people on the way. When he got there, he went to the supermarket and bought some potatoes and some mixed vegetables and some meat to make something nice for his and his wife's dinner.

 

So, that's what Alan did. 

 

But... did you FEEL that he was cold? Did you get any sense of the people he saw? Did you care to see every item on his shopping list? 

I'm going to guess the answer to all of that is no. 

However... let's try this... 

Alan pulled his jacket tighter against him as he walked towards the supermarket. Everyone he passed was better dressed for the weather than he, wearing thick coats, scarves, and woolly hats. They cast pitying glances at him as he rubbed his hands together. With each gust of wind on his face, he was more and more looking forward to the beef stew he planned to prepare for dinner. 

Did you feel he was cold this time? Did you understand that it was absolutely freezing because of the way everyone else was dressed? Did you want some of that lovely stew to warm you up? 

That is the difference between showing and telling. Telling is explaining directly what is happening. Showing is using more descriptive, emotive words to set the scene. 

Why is this important? 

It's important because it builds an emotional connection. Sure, you can write an average story by "telling" it, but that is unlikely to cause readers a whole lot of excitement. What they want is to FEEL the story. 

In order to make this happen, the words you need to eliminate are these:

Heard
Felt
Saw
Smelled
Tasted 

Don't tell the reader your character felt sad. Describe that feeling. Don't tell them your character heard the phone ringing. "The phone rang" will do the job. Any time you feel the urge to use the above words, have another look and see if there is a less "telling" way to get your point across. 

Telling is all about bringing your reader into your story so they feel what your character is feeling. If you need some help with describing emotions, check out The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. It's the best go-to guide I've ever found! 

For more writing tips and a spectacular community of supportive authors, check out the Write Here, Write Now Community!

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