#7 of 21: Writing: Show, Don’t Tell

Good writing doesn’t just “tell” us what happens; it “shows” us, as well. If you’re one of those writers who can’t ever seem to fill up a page, chances are that it’s because you’re “telling” instead of “showing.” Look at the difference between the following examples:

Telling: Jack was very angry.
Showing: Jack burst through the door, slamming it hard behind him. He threw his books on the kitchen table and roared, “If he EVER does that again, I swear I’ll KILL him!!”

There’s no need to use the word “angry” in the second example, is there? We can identify Jack’s emotions by what he SHOWS us. Using specific examples of how Jack expressed his anger makes a more vivid “picture” of the situation. As you read, look for examples of showing, not telling – or how you can further make your writing SHOW more. Improve your writing by showing.

Tip: Get Rid of “to be” Verbs

We hug again. He tells me he loved my song that he was going to miss me when I move to Hollywood. He is late for his plane and our goodbye was short. I watched him go. More tears.

If you are using lots of verbs such as “was,” “is,” “were,” “are,” or “been,” chances are your writing isn’t as exciting as it ought to be. These verbs, whether alone or as helping verbs, tend to mark writing that “tells” rather than “shows.” Notice the difference between “It WAS hot.” and “Sweat DRIPPED from my forehead as I CHECKED the thermometer again.” The “was” doesn’t really tell us anything; it’s just a placeholder. But “dripping,” … now, that’s something we can SEE. Try to use no more than two “to be” verbs in any paragraph.

Bonus Tip:
The Iowa Writer’s Workshop is the best writing school in the world. (Since 1936.) One tip from Iowa is: “It is not the setting and action, it is how you describe the setting and action.” … and that should only take 10,000 hours to master! (according to Outliers, by Malcom Gladwell)


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