Show Don't Tell
"Show. Don't tell" is one of the most popular story writing tips that you often hear in creative writing classrooms. But what does it mean? And how do you do it?
Let’s say you have an unpleasant character in your story. You could tell your reader what they are like: Sally was angry and mean. Ok, we get the picture, but it does little to draw the reader to your character. We could be describing a cardboard cut-out.
However, if we described Sally’s behavior, the reader would not only understand how angry and mean Sally is, but also feel something for her: Sally wrenched the bag from her shoulder and threw it at the puppy. A smile touched Sally’s lips as the puppy yipped and darted out of the way. – Doesn’t it make you want to paddle that girl’s behind?
Josie is sad. We can tell the reader that she is sad, but we can do so much more when we describe what Josie does when she’s sad: Josie ran into her bedroom, heedless of the toys scattering the floor and threw herself onto the covers. She couldn’t help the sob that broke from her throat or the plump tears that wet her pillow. Let the reader feel how Josie feels right alongside her.
In general, showing is more vivid and interesting than telling. It has a greater visceral impact. You want your reader right alongside your characters. You want to take them on an emotional journey that will stay with them. You want them to FEEL.
- If you’re unsure, ask:
- How would I feel if this happened?
- What would I do?
- Would it show on my features?
- Would I move my body?
- What visceral reaction would I have?
- How would I respond physically?
- What would my actions be?
Putting yourself in your characters shoes, and thinking about how they show what they feel will help you to write in a show, not tell manner.
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