Sunday, September 05, 2010

Showing Versus Telling Writing Exercises

Showing versus Telling

One of the problems exhibited in manuscripts written by new writers is telling instead of showing. Telling is boring, vague, and can be misunderstood, or misinterpreted. For instance, to say that a man is old may mean one thing to one person, and a whole other thing to someone else. Telling usually takes fewer words, but actually slows down a story. Showing, on the other hand, is exciting, specific, reads quickly and allows readers to feel as if they are actually witnessing the action. Most importantly, showing allows the reader to connect with what’s going on, and feel as if they are there witnessing the action.

Here’s the thing to remember: If a person is thirsty, and anywhere in the sentence you actually use the word “thirsty,” then you told rather showed. Never actually say the action, feeling, or emotion . . . show it. If she’s nervous and any where in the sentence you use the word nervous (or antsy), then you showed and not told. If he’s mad, and anywhere in the sentence you say he’s mad (or angry), then you showed and not told. And don’t cheat by using synonyms!

Look at the below examples:

Telling: He was impatient because she was taking so long.

Showing: He glanced at his watch for the second time in ten minutes, then glared at her, his foot incessantly tapping on the floor.
Telling: He was hungry and wanted a piece of fried chicken, but didn't want anyone to know.

Showing: His mouth watered as he looked at the fried chicken, then quickly turned away and gave a weak smile at the others around the table; then coughing to mask the grumbling sounds coming from his stomach.
Okay . . . now you try it!

Telling: She was happy to see him.



Telling: She was sleepy.



Telling: Jim was so angry he wanted to hit her, and he struggled to regain his composure.


Telling: Her coat was dirty and too small.



Telling: There was a picture missing from the wall

Telling: She liked the flowers he brought her.

Telling: He didn’t like the coffee, but drank it so as not hurt her feelings.


Telling: He was coming in, and she didn’t want him to know she’d been smoking.


Remember, practice makes perfect! It may seem hard to master the technique of Showing vs. Telling, but once you have mastered it you'll see you'll the technique almost without thinking about it.


Cheryl Goode said...

Thanks! Been trying to master this for awhile and looking for all the help I can get.

Kimberly Keyosha said...

This is great info! And a problem that I'm very guilty of when I am writing.

Barbara Grovner said...

This is awesome info. It's something that I have had to teach myself over the years. I have new writer's asking questions all the time about why their readers are leaving 'not-so-good' reviews.

This article explains exactly what the problem is in most cases. Thanks so much.