Saturday, August 28, 2010

Writing TIP #1 - SHOW DON'T TELL.

Don't tell me what your character saw, show me.

Buster peeked around the corner of the sofa and spotted Garagee resting on dad's legs. Buster couldn't help smiling. Or was that a sneer?


His muscles taunt, his steps powerful, Buster strutted through his kingdom, his nails occasionally snagging on the carpet. He rounded the corner of the sofa and spotted his unsuspecting victim lying across dad's legs. "Here I come, Miss Garagee, ready or not."

Today's tip is just one bridge to a deeper narrator. If you're excited about your manuscript yet know there's more you can do to enrich the prose, go through and eliminate anything that takes your reader out of your protagonist's head. Search for statements like: he thought, she knew, he watched, and rephrase to show the result of their actions. Instead of telling me he watched, show me what he saw. Instead of telling me what he thought, show me his thoughts.

He thought the pain in his chest had ripped a hole through him.
Horrendous pain burrowed through his chest; his legs crumbled. 

She heard the loud boom and knew it was a gun.
A gunshot rang out, and Julie pressed her hands to her ears. Oh shit -- my eardrums are busted!

And, as I've said many times before, remember the best part of writing a book is revising. It's like renovating your house instead building a new one.



  1. "Show don't tell" is one of the first lessons I learned once I realized there actually was a difference. (I knew next to nothing when I started writing) Giving examples is great because unless you are able to see the difference just telling someone to "show don't tell" means very little.

    By the way, I loved your examples. :)

  2. Thank you, Laura. I'm trying to do what was done for me so many years ago. Help new writers overcome all these nuisances.

  3. Good point and good illustrations.
    Have a great weekend!

  4. I love the examples you give here. Wonderful advice.

  5. Hi there Joylene,
    Your examples are very good and would be welcome advice to an aspiring writer. Of course, you know me, I just do anything I want because I'm such a rebel and an old fart who is in serious danger of doing one of those ridiculous run on sentences and thus I will stop! (note exclamation point to add drama to my run on sentence).
    Oh no!!! Pictures of cats. Those dreaded beasts who have this evil plan to rule the world and make us their slaves. Hang on, they've already done that.
    Have a brilliant weekend, Joylene.
    In kindness, Gary :-)

  6. Karen. Thank you.

    Cher, thanks for stopping by.

    LOL -- thanks, Gary.

    Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

  7. Bah. "Show don't tell", has become a dirge I keep repeating to authors. And I repeat it until I'm blue in the face. And, really, many of them STILL don't get it.

    I can almost forgive dodgy punctuation but if writing is "telly" I usually reject a submission out of hand.

  8. Great examples. Thanks for the reminder. Like the cat pictures.

  9. Thanks for mentioning that, Nerine. We forget there are real people at the end of our query letters.

    Hi Susanne. Thanks for dropping by.

  10. You know what? You, Joyelene, were the first person to ever teach me this, about showing vs. telling, long ago.

    It stuck. I stil flounder with it at times, but you've taught me so many useful writing tips and tools.

    Thank you!

  11. Oh, Carol, you are such a dear. I'm thrilled I could help. Have a wonderful weekend.


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