Writing: Jan Sikes “Show vs Tell”

Hi, nice to see you all here. This is a wonderful article on the craft of writing—Show vs.Tell by Author Jan Sikes

Show vs. Tell #RRBC #RWISA

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything related to the craft of writing and this is a subject that we all can use a refresher on. So, if it’s redundant, I apologize. I still see this over and over again, especially with Indie writers. So, for what it’s worth, here we go.

Don't Tell me

If you wonder how can I show something, ask yourself; how do I notice she is quick, he is happy, it is big?

  • Don’t tell me the story…show me, using your words.
  • Place the reader INTO the story. This is especially important in first person POV—but also equally important in third.
  • Use the senses to bring the reader along for the ride. Sight, Sound, Touch, Taste, Smell.
  • Be specific and creative.

For example…One might describe a love interest this way. This is Telling:

  • I watched Jack walk into the room. He was hot; maybe the best looking boy I’d ever seen.

Rewriting the scene by using specificity and the senses, here’s showing:

  • Jack didn’t walk into the cafeteria. He swaggered like the Mayor of Westfield High School, as he shook hands and slapped shoulders. If there had been a baby somewhere, he would have kissed it. Normally, that sort of attitude makes my stomach turn, but not today. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He even nodded at the lunch ladies. When he got to my table, our eyes met for the briefest of moments, and I felt like the only girl in the world.

You can add character detail, voice, and setting at the same time. This is showing.

  1. USE DETAILS (NO – It was a spooky house. YES – The house had dark windows, a doorway covered in cobwebs and an overgrown path leading up to it.)
  2. SIGNS YOU ARE TELLING – Adjectives – big, old, high  etc. and any form of the words “to be.” (She was happy. He was impatient. )
  3. USE NOUNS AND VERBS – Nouns and Verbs FORCE you to describe. (NO – He was a grumpy man. (Adjective) YES – He rarely talked and when he saw kids playing, he let out a grunt.)
  4. USE SENSES – (NO – It was a lush garden. YES – The garden bloomed with wild red and orange flowers that filled the air with a thick sweet fragrance.)
  5. DIALOGUE LINES ARE ALWAYS SHOWING – It’s the character talking, not the author.
  6. BE CAREFUL WITH DIALOGUE TAGS; THEY OFTEN TELL – It’s better to express the way the character is talking with body language. (NO – …she said jokingly. YES – …she laughed and slapped his arm.)

You don’t need to show absolutely everything, especially if it’s not important to move the plot forward. You risk the danger of being too lengthy or detailed. For example, NO three-page descriptions of the woods.

“Telling” is often used to move the action along quickly or relate necessary backstory.

However, you run the risk of “info dump” if you tell all the backstory this way.

When you “show,” you put the reader in the driver’s seat and let them “feel” the scene, emotion or action.

Use a combination of the two, to amp up your storytelling!

Tips

  1. Imagine a movie scene in your head. Write all the detail that you see. No “floating” heads of dialogue—be sure to describe where people are standing, what their hands are doing, noises in the room, where they are. Activate ALL the senses.
  2. Use Action Verbs to “show” what’s happening.
  3. Avoid using “was,” “is,” “are,” – All “To Be” words. This is Passive Voice.
  4. Consider investing in “The Emotion Thesaurus” by Angela Ackerman, AND “Emotional Beats – How to Convert Your Writing into Palpable Feelings,” by Nicholas Rossis to get a sense of how physical movement conveys emotion.

You can write your first draft by telling if that’s what you need to do to get the story down, but ramp up all the feels in your story by showing through your subsequent drafts.

Happy Writing! Happy SHOWING!

show vs tell_Mark_Twain

2 thoughts on “Writing: Jan Sikes “Show vs Tell”

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    Like

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