tips-for-showing-instead-of-telling-eliminate-adjectives

This is the fourth 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

Read Show, Don’t Tell—Part 3

Currently reading 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 #3: Use verbs instead of adjectives

In the last post, we discussed how it’s usually better to get rid of adjectives. Instead, write one sentence that shows what the adjective told.

 

Let me just give you a big hint here (if you haven’t picked up on it already): Adjectives by their very nature tell instead of show. And we want to change that in our papers and stories. I’ll repeat our phrase again,  “show, don’t tell” (except, you’ll notice I don’t use red ink).

 

This tip is like the previous one—except it’s all about verbs. Verbs fire up your stories, providing the action of every sentence. Use these instead of adjectives.

 

Here’s our example sentence we want to fix:

“He is an ugly monster.”

 

I use the adjective ugly, a really simple telling word. But there’s a problem. What do I mean by ugly? And where is he ugly? In his face? Hands? Nose? His butt? And what does that ugliness look like? Does he have lots of dandruff? Is he too fat? Does he sweat too much?

 

This is a problem with adjectives. They typically just tell us something general, not specific. Now, you could use a very specific adjective. We could say, “He’s a nauseating monster,” which means he’s so ugly he makes me want to vomit, but that’s still not enough to really show us how he is ugly. What is it about this monster, specifically, that makes us want to vomit?

 

So let’s try something new. Let’s use verbs instead of adjectives, action verbs specifically (there’s other kinds of verbs that are just as bland as bad adjectives, but that comes later).

 

While adjectives are telly by nature, verbs are showy. We know exactly what these actions look like in our minds because we have seen them performed hundreds of times. So as writers, use that image our writing to show instead of tell.

 

So here’s our new example with action verbs:

“Pus squirted from boils around the monster’s mouth when he smiled.”

 

GROSS!!

 

This creates an ugly image in the reader’s mind. They know what squirting looks like, and they have probably been nauseated by pus. Boils is a specific noun that tells us what the pus is coming from. The action verb squirted, combined with the specific names turn telling into showing.

 

So, a good rule of thumb when you want to show instead of tell is to replace adjectives with specific action verbs.

 

Here’s a list of common adjectives to replace with action verbs:

  • bad
  • good
  • ugly
  • big
  • huge
  • large
  • small
  • tiny
  • funny
  • sad
  • wide
  • long
  • high
  • low
  • boring
  • interesting
  • unique
  • fast
  • slow

 

Try it out!

See if you can turn these telling sentences into showing sentences.

1. The class was so boring!

2. The food was good.

3. I hate sad movies.

 

When you’re done, head on over to the next tip and let’s keep improving your descriptions.

 

Read More

Read Show, Don’t Tell—Part 1

Read Show, Don’t Tell—Part 2

Read Show, Don’t Tell—Part 3

Currently Reading 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