Show verses Tell

This can be the bain of a new writer’s life. Show verses tell. What is it? How does it affect our writing?

Let’s examine this more closely. A book which tells the reader everything can be to the point and doesn’t leave the reader with much to imagine. The telling can slow down the pace, making the plot slow and boring in some cases.

A book which shows gives the reader a reason to continue reading. They can imagine every scene and relive it in their head. The plot and characters become real to them, to the degree they fall in love with them.

So, how does this work, I hear you ask. Easy, think about everything you are writing. I’ve read lots of books where the character mumbles, mutters, shouts, gets frustrated, angry, happy – great, they need too. However, these words are redundant in writing. Yes, on occasion I use them but as a beat and not a dialogue tag. The way you write should bring these emotions out.

Examples – I can do loads if you want.

Happiness. Okay, every character at some point is happy. Below is two version of describing a happy person.

  1. “Oh, my god, I love it.” As Sarah glanced at the ring her happiness shone around her.
  2. “Oh, my god, I love it.” The ring glistened in the morning light. As Sarah’s chest filled with a heat, her eyes danced as she held out her left hand which tingled as he slipped the ring in place.

Now, the dialogue indicates shes happy at what just happened. Therefore the beat in number 1 isn’t required. Instead, number 2 shows us how she’s feeling. You can see in your mind how happy she is as he proposes. It’s like you are there in person witnessing the event.

But what if she said no?

  1. “But I can’t marry you.” The ring should have made her happy. Instead, Sarah shook her head as she let the sadness in.
  2. “But I can’t marry you.” The words were forced out as Sarah’s throat constricted. Turning her back on him, she crossed her arms, slumped her shoulders, and lowered her head.

Again, number 2 gives you an image in your mind. You can almost feel her heartbreak and are left wondering why she said no.

Now, showing isn’t hard. No, it’s not – don’t argue back. There’s an easy way to figure out the emotional response you want. Yes, it is. Stop arguing back and I’ll tell you. All you need to do is put yourself in your characters shoes – yes, they fit, and imagine how you’d feel.

Which brings us to another fact. A rather important one. If you feel nothing when you write, your readers will have the same response. It’s a well known fact that adding your own emotions makes the book. So, those funeral scenes, death scenes – I always cry when I write them. Weddings, engagements – I feel the joy. When I add any funny moments – I have to laugh. If I don’t, they go. And it’s not just once. Every time I read the manuscript through, those emotions return. The last paragraph in my Fareious three book is a happy ending. I’ve read it several times and every time my eyes water. I won’t say why. But this is the exact response you want from your readers.

If an author doesn’t feel this when writing it does show in the book. I’ve read a lot of books by new and well-known authors. I find both types which have that missing oomph. And the ones that aren’t up to scratch? Are the ones who tell. I have no image to go with what’s happening. Nothing to give me those emotional responses. The characters do nothing to make me love them.

Right, now go and do some writing. But remember. Show not tell, is one of the best things you can do. And if you want exercises to do – I’m happy to send you a few. Just contact me. In fact, I might do a few more blogs on the different types of emotions. Any interest?

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