First up, I’d like to apologise for the absence of a December post. Life got suddenly crazy in that month, with a heap of family visiting from overseas and end of school craziness.
I hope you’ve all had a safe, happy and healthy festive season and new year.
I’d just like to send my love and thoughts out to those in fire torn areas.
For those of you on Twitter, you may have seen some great support through #AuthorsForFireys. I’d like to thank each and every one of you who shared posts or bid—please know that everything you do, no matter how small it may seem to you, is a big help to those in need.
Wishing for rain in areas that need it the most xx
So, onto this month’s topic . . .
Show, don’t tell. IfI had a dollar for every time I’ve heard this line, I’d be a millionaire. Or at least, pretty close to one (if only!).
We’ve all heard the saying, and we all (I’m sure) try our damnedest not to slip into the ‘telling’ frame when writing. So, why when we’ve done everything we think we should do to eliminate the ‘telling’ in our stories, are we still told that we’re telling?
Let’s consider the differences between show and tell. Show conjures up a mental image of the scene/emotion, while tell is a statement of an action/emotion. Show is technicolor and three-dimensional, tell is flat and does very little to evoke feeling/emotion.
There are some very simple ‘checks’ that we can go through to ensure we haven’t inadvertently slipped. Let’s take a look at a few of them now.
1. Telling verbs
These are verbs which give a pretty good indication that the sentence is telling rather than showing.
While sweeping the floor she noticed a crack in the tiles.
What’s the ‘tell’ indicator here? She noticed.
Remember, you’re in this character’s point of view, so anything that she sees, we’ll see. Why not just write it that way.
She swept the floor.
As Jennifer ran for the train, she saw she was late again.
The tell-tale telling word? Saw.
Why not simply: Jennifer ran for the train. She was late. Again.
Simple, succinct, and more punchy than the original sentence.
Other telling verbs include saw, heard, wondered, felt, thought, appeared, decided, knew, mused, realised, seemed, etc
Perhaps do a search of your current manuscript and see how many of these you find? Do they form part of a ‘telling’ sentence? How can you tweak this sentence to deepen it and make it show?
2. Reflexive pronouns
These are words such as myself, themselves, herself, himself. They reflect the verb (the doing word) back onto the subject (your character).
She said to herself ‘why am I here?’
I said to myself ‘get a move on!’
Another great example! Any sentence incorporating ‘I said to myself’, ‘She said to herself’ or something similar, is telling. Again, we’re in the character’s point of view, so why not have them just say or think the dialogue?
‘Why am I here?’
Get a move on!
3. Adjectives & emotive nouns
A quick lesson in grammar . . .
Adjectives are describing words such as in this sentence:
James clapped his hand over his mouth, embarrassed.
Emotive nouns are words that name an emotion, as in the sentence below:
James clapped his hand over his mouth, his ears burning in embarrassment.
These are both obvious examples of telling, but ones that often slip into our stories—we show, then immediately tell in the hopes of making our character’s emotional state more obvious for our reader. What we need to do is trust that we’ve ‘shown’ enough so that we don’t need to underscore this with telling.
James clapped his hand over his mouth. His ears burned.
Just make sure that context dictates the emotion this action represents.
He’d stuff up, again. Just one more cock-up in a series of cock-ups. James clapped his hand over his mouth. His ears burned.
See how the thought preceding the action gives context to the action?
Adverbs aren’t always an indication of telling, but they can be an indicator that a stronger, more evocative alternative may exist.
Tessa walked slowly through the gardens.
Compare this with:
Tessa strolled through the gardens, sniffing the roses, raising her face to the warmth of the afternoon sun.
Not only does this sentence give a sense of Tessa’s unhurried demeanor, but it also provides a visual of not only her actions, but the environment around her. A win-win when it comes to 3-dimensional writing.
5. Be specific
There are times we think we’re showing, but instead of giving visuals and being specific, we make a generalisation.
Debris bobbed in the rising flood waters.
What if we took this one step further?
The flood waters rose, dragging wood fragments, a chair minus a leg, the sodden pages of some long forgotten classic, the plastic remains of a toy truck, rubbish, valuables, memories—all that remained of their village’s broken homes, broken lives.
Other examples of generalisations:
The room was a mess.
Rubbish littered the streets.
Trees lined the road.
Can you think of any others?
6. Use actions & reactions
It’s often tempting to use adjectives to tell the reader what kind of person our character is. Instead, see if you can show their personality through how they act on the page, or how they react to certain situations.
Michael McMurray was a grumpy old man.
As an alternative:
Michael McMurray shook his fists and growled at the passing kid on his bike.
Or, a common one:
She was my best friend.
Think about your best friend. Do they ever tell you that you’re their best friend? Or do they show you? How do they treat you? What do they do? How can you incorporate some of these actions into your writing to show that your characters are best friends?
Do you finish each other’s sentences? Know what drink to order or what pizza toppings to steer clear of? Do you share your own private jokes? Laugh at things no one but the two of you find funny?
Fluoro pink flamingos danced across the front of his shirt. I turned to Kelly to find she’d turned to me. Her lips wobbled in that funny way they do just seconds before she loses it. I spluttered, trying to contain myself. Then her nose twitched, and I was gone.
And that’s all folks!
I hope you’ve found this month’s post helpful J Who knows, hopefully I’ve helped you understand SHOW, DON’T TELL just a little bit better. If you have any questions, make sure you post them in the comments beneath the blog and I’ll be sure to get back to you. Or if you have any examples where you’ve thought you’re showing, when really you’re telling, please post them too!
Firstly, thank you all for coming back this month. I really appreciate every one of you reading, commenting and sharing my posts.
And, there’s no better time than now to announce November’s winner for the 30 minute skype session:
Drum roll . . .
And the winner is:
Congratulations Donna! Please email me on firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss redeeming your skype session.
And if you haven’t won yet, don’t despair. Once again this month, I’m offering one lucky commenter a half hour skype session to discuss anything writing related. It could be your query, your synopsis or 300 words from your current work in progress. Yes, you heard right. We get to chat, face-to-face—or computer screen to computer screen—about whatever it is about your writing you’d like to discuss.
To enter the draw, please comment below and share the most surprising or useful thing you’ve learned since reading my Simply Writing blogs. Any ideas on what you’d like to see featured on future blogs will be gratefully received. Or perhaps you’d like to share how you’ll start to incorporate a more active voice into your current WIP.
Any and all comments welcome! I love reading your feedback and input each month J and much as this blog isn’t set up for notifications, I always ALWAYS answer your comments. So make sure you pop back to check my replies J
If you’d like extra chances to win, share links to this blog on any or all social media sites. Tag me so I know you’ve shared, and the more shares, the more times I’ll place your name in the draw.
A name will be drawn in time for next month’s blog so please pop back next month to see if you’re a winner J
Thanks so much to you all for stopping by. Have a fabulous month, and I’ll see you all again in February J
Michelle Somers is a bookworm from way back. An ex-Kiwi who now calls Australia home, she’s a professional killer and matchmaker, a storyteller and a romantic. Words are her power and her passion. Her heroes and heroines always get their happy ever after, but she’ll put them through one hell of a journey to get there.
She lives in Melbourne, Australia, with her real life hero and three little heroes in the making, and Emmie, a furry black feline who thinks she’s a dog. Her debut novel, Lethal in Love won the Romance Writers of Australia’s 2016 Romantic Book of the Year (RuBY) and the 2013 Valerie Parv Award. The second in her Melbourne Murder series, Murder Most Unusual was released in February 2017.
In between books, she runs workshops – both face-to-face and online – for writers wanting to hone their craft. The first book in her Simply Writing Series, Simply Synopsis, is changing the way writers craft this vital, yet perplexing, writing tool. And through her Simply Writing series of blogs, she hopes to simplify so much more.