Show Me, Don’t Tell Me

Old school typewriter

Have you ever heard the saying: ‘Show, don’t tell.’

Because I have. For the past two and a bit years, this saying has been drilled into my head by teachers and writers. This simple phrase can help a write in many ways and it can sound a bit confusing, someone even told me once that it sounded like a daunting task. ‘Show, don’t tell’ is relativity simple.

To use ‘show, don’t tell,’ you first need to understand when writers mean when they say this to you. This saying breaks down into two parts; tell and show. Tell is simply when a write tells you what is happening, it is simple exposition. Show is when a writer uses evocative description.

Examples:

  • Tell – The wind was cold.
  • Show – The icy cold breeze seeped in through her thin dress, covering her in goose bumps.

 

  • Tell – She was wet.
  • Show – The water dripped from the ends of her hair, and off the edge of her fingers.

 

See how show gives you a vivid image while tell is simple and to the point, but it is completely boring. You want something to excite the reader, something that gets them to read on and maybe go and buy any other novels that you have.

See it. Hear it. Smell it. Taste it. Touch it.

The five senses are a writers best friend when it comes to ‘show, don’t tell.’ This is the main tool, in my opinion, that you will use to remove the ‘tell’ and reveal the ‘show’ in your writing. They help you really delve deep into the world that your character is in.

When you first start writing a scene and your not really sure who to describe it, then write the scene using simple descriptions. Once the scene is finished then go back and add in your sensory detail. What does the place smell like? What can your characters see around them that stands out? What can they hear? If they are laying on grass, for example, is it itchy? Is it soft? Is it wet? Small details like these gives readers a clear image of what the world is like for your characters.

For example:

  • Without Sensory Detail: The meadow was large and open. Filled with grass, and surrounded by a fence. In the centre was a tall tree, its leaves hung over a small damn.

In the example, you can see that readers can understand the place the writer is explaining. Its a meadow with a tree and a damn. But to make it even better think about the senses. What can the character see, smell, taste, touch and feel? Simple questions that can improve the overall imagery.

  • With Sensory Detail: The meadow stretched on for miles, surrounded by an old broken wooden fence. The grass stood tall and gently swayed from side to side. In the middle of the meadow stool a tall large willow trees, its leaves hanging from its long branches just over the surface of a small damn.

The differences might be a few words here and there but detailed description is important. You don’t want anyone reading your work to think its boring. If you think you need practice then simple look up a writing prompt or a story idea, and just practice your descriptions. As they say, practice makes perfect.


These links can give you more information for ‘show, don’t tell’ and hopefully help you some more.

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