Cartoon picture of two houses. The one on the left is black and white and really simple, like a kid drawing. The other is colored and detailed.

This is the third in a nine part series on tips for showing instead of telling.

Read Show, Don’t Tell—Part 1

Read Show, Don’t Tell—Part 2

Currently reading Part 3

Read Show, Don’t Tell—Part 4

Read Show, Don’t Tell—Part 5

Read Show, Don’t Tell—Part 6

Read Show, Don’t Tell—Part 7

Read Show, Don’t Tell—Part 8

Show, don’t tell Tip #2: Write one sentence for every adjective

In general, you want to get rid of as many adjectives in your writing as possible. In case you forgot, adjectives are describer words like red, ugly, happy, etc. Adjectives answer these questions:

  • Which one?
  • What kind?
  • How many?
  • Whose?

Take the following passage for example:

Henry bought the old house and planned to fix it up with his team of muscular workmen.

Each underlined word above is an adjective. Old describes the noun house, and muscular describes the workmen. They all answer the question “What kind?”

Why get rid of adjectives?

Okay, now that we’re caught up on adjectives, let’s talk about getting rid of them.

Wait a minute! Why should we get rid of them when they help describe nouns?? Doesn’t our teacher want more description?

It’s not that adjectives are totally bad. You should cut down on using them because they aren’t your strongest choice as a writer. Let me prove it to you. Let’s rewrite our example sentence by writing one sentence for every adjective. Expanding each adjective will make each one more powerful.

Original telling sentence:

Henry bought the old house and planned to fix it up with his team of muscular workmen.

Write a sentence for old:

The wood was rotting, the door frame was sagging, and the windows had long since been boarded.

Write one sentence for muscular:

The workmen looked like Vin Diesel, muscles stretching their uniforms.

New showing sentence:

Henry bought an old house. The wood was rotting, the door frame was sagging, and the windows had long since been boarded. He planned to fix it up with his team of muscular workmen, who looked like Vin Diesel, muscles stretching their uniforms.

These additions create much clearer images in our brains.

And that’s the secret: creating images.

Whenever you write, you’ve got an image in your head. The problem is, we can’t hand these images directly to our readers. We have to rely on language to transmit this message. If we use adjectives (and that’s many writers’ first choice), our descriptions are too vague to communicate the image in our head. A better plan is to replace adjectives with full sentences that describe which one, what kind, how many, or whose.

Showing instead of telling exercise

Get out your writer’s sketchbook and write a short story, maybe a couple paragraphs or so. If you need inspiration, check out these writing prompts. When you’re done, underline all the adjectives in your story. Then go back and write one new sentence for each adjective.

Then check out the next tip for showing instead of telling.

Read More

Read Show, Don’t Tell—Part 1

Read Show, Don’t Tell—Part 2

Currently reading Part 3

Read Show, Don’t Tell—Part 4

Read Show, Don’t Tell—Part 5

Read Show, Don’t Tell—Part 6

Read Show, Don’t Tell—Part 7

Read Show, Don’t Tell—Part 8