ACWC Writers Blog

Learn to Show, Not Tell Your Story
Friday, January 26, 2024 by Cindy Sproles

By Andrea Merrell

We hear it at conferences, discuss it in our critique groups, and read about it in books: show, don’t tell.

Like using POV (point of view) correctly, once we get the hang of it, it becomes much easier to achieve in our writing.

Example/Telling:

Joe walked across the street for the confrontation. (Telling and boring. Actually, it doesn’t even tell us much.)

Example/Showing:

 Joe’s feet felt laced with cement as he crossed the busy intersection. Each anxious step brought him closer to the inevitable confrontation—for which he was not ready.

When we’re writing—whether fiction or nonfiction—we want to draw our readers into our world by making it come alive. We can paint a picture in many ways, including the five senses: see, hear, touch, smell, and taste. The first three come fairly easy, but what about the last two?

The best model I can think of is from The Food Network. If you’ve ever watched the great shows they offer, you understand what I mean when I say you can almost smell and taste the scrumptious dishes they prepare. Why? Because of the way the food is described. When done well, it becomes an experience, not just something we’re watching.

Example/Telling:

This food is so good. It’s delicious. (Tells us nothing. They could be describing almost anything.)

Example/Showing: (Taken from several different Food Network shows.)

The scent of yeast tickled my nose as I bit into the perfectly browned roll, fresh from the oven. The honey butter slathered on top gave it just enough sweetness. A forkful of creamy mashed potatoes seasoned with sour cream and chives took me back to Grandma’s kitchen. But the pièce de resistance was the beef Bourguignon, delicately flavored with garlic, onions, a hint of red wine, and secret herbs and spices that made my mouth water. I closed my eyes and savored the first bite as it melted in my mouth. Bon appétit.

Are you hungry yet?

Using these techniques in your writing will bring it to the next level … and make your readers very happy.

This Week’s Assignment

Below are a couple of writing prompts. Get creative and turn telling into showing. Here is a sample from a manuscript I recently edited (used with permission) to get you started:

Telling

The sun was setting over the mountains. The light from the fireplace cast shadows on the wall. Pretty soon the mountain faded, and all you could see was the moon.

Showing

The night began its slow descent over the mountains. The soft light from the fireplace played on the wall, teasing the shadows emerging around the great room. Beyond the windows, the panoramic mountains faded, repainted in dark shades with only the moon to light the canvas.

Now it’s your turn.

  • Mary was tired of her co-worker’s attitude. The woman was bossy. She was demanding. And she took the credit for everything Mary did.
  • Phillip went to the hardware store. He needed tools for his upcoming project.

 

Photo 1 & 2 – Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay


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