Want to know how to show, don’t tell?
This is the first in an nine part series on tips for showing instead of telling.
Currently reading Part 1
If your teacher hasn’t yet told you to “show, don’t tell” in your papers, they probably will soon.
And when it does happen (usually in red ink accompanied by an exclamation point), it’s frustrating. You try your hardest on the paper, but you get that angry “SHOW, DON’T TELL!!” and you’re thinking, “But how do I do that??”
What does it mean to show, don’t tell?
Even if your teacher hasn’t yet written this on one of your papers, this pro writing tip is for you.
If you get this figured out now, your writing will rocket to the next level. People will read your writing and they’ll go, “Wow! This is GOOD!” They may not know why it’s good, but you will because you will have learned the secret to showing instead of telling.
Over the next several weeks, we’re going to look at 8 tips for showing instead of telling. These aren’t the only the ways to show instead of tell, but these will get you started. Before we jump into those tips, let’s figure out what the heck “show, don’t tell” means. This post will explain what it means to show instead of tell. The next post will give you the first major tip.
Where show, don’t tell comes from
So, you probably remember doing the show and tell thing in elementary, right?
“This is my Transformer, Optimus Prime, and he… um… can turn into a truck.”
That’s show and tell in Kindergarten. Kids bring some kind of possession to class and… well… show it and tell about it (bet you didn’t see that comin’).
But imagine with me for a minute that your forgetful classmate (let’s call him Jonny)—the guy who sits in the back picking his nose (don’t judge, you’ve done it too)… anyway, your forgetful classmate Jonny forgets about show and tell day. He gets up in front of the class, and we’re all wondering what he’s gonna pull out to show us (hopefully not something from his nose). He stands there awkwardly and says, “I have a fat cat at home. He’s so fat!”
What’s our reaction? We just roll our eyes, right. We’re bored.
Why are we bored? Because he’s telling us about a fat cat, but he’s not showing us anything. What kind of cat does he have—a tabby, Siamese, three-legged? And just how fat is he, anyway? Are we talking slightly flabby or sumo-wrestler’s-mother fat?
That’s the difference between showing and telling. Telling gives general information (sad, fat, cat, lazy, ship, etc.). But showing gives the specifics (sobbing uncontrollably, rolls of fat jiggled as he walked, tabby, freighter, etc.).
How we can show and tell in our writing
We do this same thing in our writing. We write sentences like, “The bad guys attacked the house.”
What do you think of when you read “bad guys?” I bet it’s not the same thing I’m thinking. I’m thinking a gang of trucker-like men with thick biker-like muscles, wearing black beaters, skull caps, and leather pants. Each of them sports sunglasses and brass knuckles. Most have scruffy beards—except the new guy; he’s too young for beards—and they all have tattoos of angry clouds on their right arms (again, except for the new guy).
What changed in the description of the bad guys?
The first example was telling. It’s a shorter description, and it just tells us there are bad guys and they are attacking the house. Look at the second description. See how many different descriptive words and phrases I added to the bad guys, and I never once used the word bad guys. I showed you what they looked like.
If you’re still, like, “yes, but how did you do that?” No problem. Let me give you 8 tips to help you show instead of tell in your writing. Start using these today, and you’ll see a huge difference in your writing.
Currently reading Part 1