Write Away: “Show, Don’t Tell”


I find myself bored when I spot extended “telling” in my own writing.

Sometimes, employing the concept of “showing” becomes frustrating when I’m creating a first draft. I just want to get my ideas out there.

Recognizing and correcting too much “telling” later can prove more difficult if I don’t eliminate the flatness as I write.

My rule about my own writing: if it’s boring, I’m not using the “Show, Don’t Tell” concept.

Do you remember as a teenager having an epiphany about your right to think for yourself?

“Stop telling me what to think!”

“Stop telling me what I should know!”

A verbal and/or behavioral rebellion, with attitude!

I do. My mom and I fought from the middle of my junior year to the middle of my senior year of high school. That’s when I rejected her authority over me and my thoughts.

I made a comment one sunny day that I loved the rain and she snapped back, “No, you don’t!”

With almost a question in her tone, but still a dictation of my life, our seam of synchronicity lost its first stitch in that very moment.

I remember being amazed that she would correct me on a thought from my own mind.

I needed to study the rain for myself, understand all its peacefulness and disasters through my own observations, and make up my own mind if love triumphed despair over rain.

It’s the same with a reader.

I must tell myself, like a parent:

Don’t tell my reader everything that I think she should know, so she can think just like me, the writer. Lead her and show her the rain. Show her the tender drops on the sweet little garden or the aftermath of a torrential hurricane. Allow her to decide for herself.

Trusting that the reader will understand what is written doesn’t mean telling her everything, listing every drop and where it landed. Focus on the downpour, don’t start with the lesson of H2O. Trust that the reader understands gravity.

Create the setting. The scene. The dialogue. Use active voice. Deliver the conflict.

Describe the drops. Detail the hurricane. Just don’t tell the reader that it stormed.

Or why the hurricane was scary or how the rainbow afterwards was pretty. Show it.

Stop telling the reader what to think.

Try getting rid of the subjective adverbs and adjectives. If that feels impossible, then go back a day or two later and fix them.

It’s hard. I want to throw up sometimes when I realize how much I’ve been telling what happened, what my characters thought, and why they did what they did.

I tell myself: Nope. Just go ahead and throw up, then trash those words and get to rewriting.

I like my reader, but I don’t want her to know I was there. I want her to read and be alone with my characters, wandering amongst their world, and make her own assessment of their choices.

I want to create a memory for my reader. Memories are created through experience. Experience is created by thinking for herself.

Show, don’t tell.

A great irony of terms as we refer to storytellers, but the best ones are magicians who create the story in the minds of their audience.

Imagination is why we read. As readers, we say to the author, I want to go—-take me on a journey.

We don’t say, oh please, Author, show me your slideshow and tell me everything about your trip. I’m so excited to listen to you ramble on and on about what you experienced.

Show, don’t tell. Don’t be boring.




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