Yeah, that sounds easy, but what, exactly,
does show mean?
Let's look at
ate breakfast, then
he took a shower and went to the
store. At the store he met a girl and they
talked for a long time.
Carey liked her but she blew him off. Then
he went home.
Tells you a
Carey, huh? Okay, so
this example is really exaggerated, but it
home the necessity of showing and not telling.
What can we do to fix
it? We need more detail, especially dialogue
and action. Consider:
frozen dinners. He'd had turkey and dressing
for the last four days, so
salisbury steak would be good for a change.
But did he want the Big
Man's or the regular?
scent teased his
nose. Not the overwhelming smell of fish and
frostbite, but a fresh
smell, like the smell of skin just out of the
shower. He glanced
sideways and saw the most perfect arm he'd
ever seen in his life. Long,
slender, graceful, full of sinewy muscle and
smooth skin. His eyes
followed the arm to the shoulder and then the
head. Her head. A head
covered with long blond hair and containing a
face that made his heart
she said, her
voice rich and melodious.
work. He tried to return her greeting, but
only a grunt came out. He
tried to smile politely, but his face erupted
with a grin as large and
toothy and goofy as a cartoon character's . .
So now you
idea. We need details. We need to know
thoughts, feelings; we need to
smell the perfume, taste the wine, feel the
cashmere. Anything less
cheats the reader from experiencing our
We also get
"show, don't tell" problem in less apparent
ways. For example, in
description. Mary was a pretty girl,
with blue eyes and blond hair.
This is telling. Consider showing her
beautiful qualities: Mary's blue
eyes glistened with joy, her blond hair
bouncing with each step.
is a wonderful
person, say Molly is always
there when anyone
needs her. She's the first to arrive with a
casserole when someone is
sick, the first to send a note of
encouragement to those who are
troubled, the first to offer a hug to
anyone, man, woman or
child at anytime.
is a talented musician, let us hear
the crowds cheer, let us feel his
passion. Take us into his head as he strokes
the piano keys:
soul. That's what Sam called the gratification
he received from music.
When his passion became so intense it begged
for satisfaction, pleaded
for release, he was helpless to resist its
urges. When his fingers
assumed a life of their own, titillating the
ivory keys with the
complex music of Bach and Mozart and
Beethoven, and he became one with
the cadence, breathing with the crescendos,
his fingers caressing the
melody, until everything else faded,
everything else disappeared, and
only the music existed.
area where we have the opportunity to show or
to tell. "I
she crooned. Creative dialogue tags
cheat your reader. It
tells your readers what your dialogue should
show them. Let the power
of your dialogue and the accompanying action
show your reader the tone
of voice and the emotion, don't tell them.
love you," she
said, her voice smooth as her fingers
someone is a wonderful person, a talented
musician or a spoiled child.
We won't believe you. You must show us.
Throughout your manuscript,
look for any opportunity to show us in real
time, to act out, to let us
feel. The difference will amaze you.
Writers, we transform your manuscript from
telling to showing with our Editorial
Services. Find out how
our editing can help you with your writing
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