Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Show Don’t Tell By Linda Carroll-Bradd

On my score sheet for the first contest I ever entered, a judge wrote “interesting story but you need to show, not tell what is happening”. Have any of you read or heard those same words? Did you know exactly what they meant? Neither did I. At least, not at that time.

An easy way to determine this is to ask yourself, does my sentence describe a feeling or an impression or does it describe a physical action?

TELLING – She looked confused as she read the letter.

SHOWING – Her brow wrinkled as she read the letter.

TELLING – His face was angry.

SHOWING – His jaw clenched and his lips drew into a tight line.

TELLING – Mrs. Wilson seemed stunned upon hearing the preacher’s announcement.

SHOWING – Mrs. Wilson’s jaw dropped upon hearing the preacher’s announcement.
In other instances, we may write the action but feel the need to make the situation crystal clear by explaining.

TELLING – She crossed her arms over her chest, obviously angry over the mess on the floor. (the word ‘obviously’ brings in another character’s perception of her mood)

SHOWING – She crossed her arms over her chest and scowled at the mess on the floor. (by building on the first action, you have made the emotion more concrete)

Or we distance the reader by inserting identifying words that have the character being too aware of what s/he is doing, called ‘gawking’ by some.

TELLING – Jeremy realized his finger was still on the doorbell.

SHOWING – His finger still pressed the doorbell. (deeper point of view)

TELLING – She guessed they’d both matured.

SHOWING – They’d both matured. (deeper point of view)


Linda Carroll-Bradd is an author for the Sweetheart, Faery and Cactus Rose lines. Visit her website at http://www.lindacarroll-bradd.com/.

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