Showing, not Telling

When I first started writing, I had a terrible time figuring out how to write “to show” instead of “to tell.” I’ve learned a few things on the way and also see this error in my slush reading.

First of all, watch for filter words like “felt” and “started to.” If you tell us a character started to do something or felt something, you’re telling. Google filter words. There are great lists out there.

The key is ACTION with BEHAVIOR, which means strong verbs that have the character doing something that implies why the character is doing it.

The best way to learn how to show is through an example. Let’s take an actual example from my own writing. This was actually published but it is a mess. Truly awful.

Noelle walked into Witch Blossom from the bakery next door where she worked. The bakery, called DoNut Pass, was filled with yummy, sugary treats as well as breads, muffins and scones. 

So much telling! Yuck.

Let’s analyze it. The first sentence is not great but it isn’t horrible. The second is crap. Let’s re-write it.

The bell rang as Noelle entered the flower shop, and as usual, she was dusting flour and sugar off her pants from Do Nut pass, the bakery next door. Lovey sniffed, enjoying the aroma of fresh bread and muffins that she would always associate with her friend.

What changed? Action. Instead of telling that Noelle entered the door and that the bakery next door sold yummy things, I included those details with action. I had her actually walk through (you know if the bell rang that she walked in) and I used strong verbs: rang, dusting, and sniffed. The last part lets you know, without saying it, that the two have been friends a long time.

Let’s try a simpler one.

Tracey felt the need to sneeze so she walked outside to keep from disturbing everyone.

“Felt” is a warning word. Find a better verb. Let’s find one…

Tracey’s nose tickled with an oncoming sneeze.

Let’s do the second half.

She slipped out the front door as silently as possible so as not to disturb everyone.

Okay, that is better, but we now have an adverb, silently, that needs to be turned into action. Let’s try again and move the reason for her action to the front of the sentence.

Not wanting to disturb the others, she pinched her nose, took off her heels, and slipped out the door. 

What happened? We added strong verbs with accompanying behaviors. “Took off her shoes and slipped out the door,” is an action, a behavior, something that the character did that let you know she left quietly. I didn’t tell you she left quietly. I had her do things that you understand means quietly.

So now our sentence went from telling to showing.

Tracey felt the need to sneeze so she walked outside to keep from disturbing everyone.

became:

Tracey’s nose tickled with an oncoming sneeze. Not wanting to disturb the others, she pinched her nose, took off her heels, and slipped out the door. 

To repeat the beginning: The key is ACTION with BEHAVIOR, which means strong verbs that have the character doing something.

Post your telling sentences with the rewrite to showing below! I would love to see them.

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