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My Golden Rules to ‘Show Don’t Tell’ - The Writing Cooperative

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21/12/2019
My Golden Rules to ‘Show Don’t Tell’ - The Writing Cooperative
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My Golden Rules to ‘Show Don’t Tell’
6 useful tips I use in my writing
Leona Brits
Jul 27, 2018 · 6 min read
Image source, here
Show don’t tell is one of the most relevant writing techniques, it confers quality to the
texts and involves the readers, it grabs them.
What is Show don’t tell?
Show don’t tell is easy to, theoretically, understand; however, it can be complex to apply
it.
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My Golden Rules to ‘Show Don’t Tell’ - The Writing Cooperative
But
theMedium
good news
is, log
once
you
understand
it and
use
it, there’s
no going
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writing
will include it, intuitively.
The writer, Anton CheKhov, defined Show don’t tell like this:
Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on the broken glass.
The difference between Show and Tell
As a writer, your goal is to provoke a reaction in your readers, take them to feel the
emotions your character is feeling.
The difference between show and tell is that, show
invokes on the reader a mental image of the
scene/emotion, while tell is a statement of an
action/emotion.
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Show
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Show is a tool used to pull the reader to a scene. By using it, you’re creating a
connection between the reader and your scene/character. This happens because you’re
making the reader interpret what’s happening, instead of telling him what he should
understand or feel.
Showing concrete and vivid details will make the reader create his own conclusions —
that will be the same as yours, only he’s going to interpret them by himself.
Show keeps the reader actively involved in the story. On the other hand, tell will keep
him passive on the plot.
Tell
When you tell, you’re stealing to the reader the opportunity of discovering, by himself,
the world you’ve created, to add something personal to the scene — for him to get
involved.
You won’t allow him to use his imagination, his experiences and, even, his personality,
to make his conclusions. You’re imposing yours. You’ve kept your reader outside the
story when what you want is the opposite.
The reader doesn’t want to be told that the
character is angry, sad or happy. He wants to feel it!
When the writer shows the story from the character’s perspective, hardly the reader will
drop the book — he’s living with the character, the events are his as well. The reader
sees, listen, think and feels what the character lives; he has to interpret the meaning
that you, as a writer, print it.
The reader becomes part of the story: why would he abandon it?
Applying Show don’t tell in your writing is harder, you’ll put more effort: you’ll need to
uncover each emotion. But think about it: as a reader, do you prefer to feel a chill in
your spine reading an erotic scene, or to read that same scene told as if a documentary,
naming every feeling?
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Do you prefer to be a reader-spectator (excluded
from the scene), or a reader-character (part of the
plot)?
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. . .
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6 tips to implement Show don’t tell in your writing
1. Use the character’s five senses
Take the reader to the scene through the character’s five senses.
Make a list of what the character sees, listen, feels, touch or taste. Then, rewrite the
scene using strong verbs (more about this in the next tip).
2. Use strong verbs
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My Golden Rules to ‘Show Don’t Tell’ - The Writing Cooperative
Strong
verbs are
the
ones,
thoseMedium,
that “form
the to
past
of their
own
To
make Medium
work,
weirregular
log user data.
By using
you agree
ourtense
Privacyout
Policy,
including
cookie
policy. without calling to their assistance any ending” (source: Garner’s Modern
resources,
American Usage, Bryan Garner, 2016).
They are dynamic and, often, have a connotation of movement, they create a vivid
image in the reader’s mind.
For instance, the verbs love, hate, believe, belong, live, are static verbs. Unlike the strong
verbs: walk, say, sell or think, that implicate an action from the subject.
But this is not a rule to be always used. Weak verbs are part of the writing, and they
have value. However, when writing crucial scenes, if you want to create tension or to
highlight a scene, make sure to use strong verbs.
3. Avoid adverbs
An adverb is a word that changes the meaning of the verb, adjective or another adverb.
Using the previous tip, your verb will annul the need for an adverb.
Adverbs distract the reader of the story, they put you, the writer, on the scene. It’s you
who’s giving meaning to an action. Moreover, in the story, there’s only place for the
characters and the reader (you don’t belong there).
About the adverbs, Stephen King, in his book On Writing, a memoir of the craft, states:
With adverbs, the writer usually tells us he or she is afraid he/she isn´t expressing
himself/herself clearly.
Take this as an example: “Richard walked, slowly, through the avenue.”
Including the adverb, I’ve interfered with your reading. Instead, I could have shown,
like this:
“Richard walked on the avenue, he stopped to smell the flowers, he admired the blue
sky, smiled at the squirrels, running up the trees.”
If Richard were in a hurry, he wouldn’t stop to smell the flowers or look at the sky.
Being descriptive, I’ve shown how Richard was calm and walking slow.
Besides, I’ve also shown that Richard is a person sensitive to nature. If I wanted to let
you know that he was angry, I would show him nagging about the children’s noise.
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Showing a scene, we are also allowing the reader to
built a profile of the character. By himself, without
our interference.
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When using adverbs (which is not wrong, they must be used spaced and only if they
give real meaning to the sentence), access its combinations with the verbs.
Image source, here
4. Be specific
The more specific you are in the descriptions, the easier show will be.
Being specific, you’ll fill the blank spaces left by your tell, and you’ll create a dynamic
scene.
Don’t spare in the wording; instead, use descriptions to show.
Avoid generic terms: use concrete nouns, that will give the reader an image. If you want
to say that that the character has a dog, show it’s happiness when his owner gets home.
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Again,
there’s work,
no need
foruser
you
to apply
rule in
paragraph.
Besides
the fact you
To
make Medium
we log
data.
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Medium,
youevery
agree to
our Privacy Policy,
including
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don’t policy.
want an exhaustive description, the specificity will increase the wording — find a
balance.
5. Use dialogue
Dialogue is the easiest way of showing. Dialogue is action in real-time, life occurring in
that exact moment, a dialogue is always show.
6. Focus on actions and reactions
Don’t tell the traits of the personality of your characters: show them through their
actions. Allow the reader to see how the character acts and reacts to the events in the
plot. That will reveal his personality.
Instead of saying, “she’s a bad woman” describe her kicking a straight dog. You will,
immediately, convince the reader that she’s not a good person.
Besides, focus on body language and facial expressions: they are part of how we
communicate. When we talk we react, physically. So, the characters should also have
that.
In each emotion, we react differently. For instance: I can swallow dry when I’m
nervous, but if I’m worried I frown. Be aware of that and describe the character’s
emotions through their body language.
Conclusion
With practice, show don’t tell will become easier, to a point whereas it’ll be spontaneous
in your writing.
. . .
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