One of the most often-repeated writing tips is Show Don’t Tell and for good reason. It’s a piece of advice that applies whether you are a new or experienced writer and while it’s a relatively easy concept to understand, execution takes time and practice.
Why is it so important to develop this skill? Because it will elevate your writing and give your reader a much more immersive experience in your work. Literary agents and publishers are also looking for this writing technique, as it’s this skill that allows a writer to showcase their own authorial style.
What does Show Don’t Tell mean?
Telling is when you state the facts of the story, informing the reader. Showing is when you write in a way that lets the reader DEDUCE the information.
Here are two simple examples:
Telling: It was summer.
Showing: He felt the sweat roll down his back.
Telling: Maria was pregnant
Showing: Maria wrapped her arms protectively around her protruding belly.
One of the most commonly referred to examples is by Chekhov when he said, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining. Show me the glint of light on broken glass."
By using showing not telling, you are engaging the reader, making them involved in the story by inviting them to use their imagination to see it in their own mind, rather than simply imparting all the information through exposition.
5 Ways To Use Show Don’t Tell In Your Writing
1. Use all the senses
Don’t limit yourself when it comes to using the senses. For example, rather than saying your character is in a forest, describe the smell of the pine trees or the crunch of autumn leaves underfoot. This paints a much more vivid picture in your reader’s mind.
2. Use dialogue
A conversation between characters is one of the most effective ways to implement this technique. A character’s choice of words, tone, and sentence length can show subtext. For example, if you wanted to show a character’s personality, you could use clipped, short sentences to indicate their irritation.
3. Use imagery
This is a powerful way to convey meaning to your reader without long explanation. For example, if you wanted to convey a character’s religion, you could refer to them wearing a necklace with a cross or a statue of Buddha in their living room.
4. Use body language
A shrug of the shoulder can convey disinterest. A character’s smirk can convey conceit. Support your dialogue with body language for a richer portrayal of your characters. (For more information on character, check out this post: Your complete guide to character.)
5. Choose action-oriented verbs
Action will always make your writing more dynamic so focus on these verbs rather than state-of-being verbs (is, am, has, should, could, must, etc). You can’t replace state-of-being verbs completely but if you’re seeing too many, then consider changing them.
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