Write tight: Show more than you tell &your readers will adore you

Before we dive in, here’s a quick wrap up of what we have covered so far. In week one, we looked at removing unnecessary words. And in week two, we discussedialogue tags and action beats. This week it is all about Show more than you Tell. Remember to share this series with all your aspiring author/blogger friends.

I will admit it upfront I struggle with this rule too because it is so much easier to move things along and get your reader on the same page. The problem is: when we tell more than we show we alienate the reader.

For a reader to use all her senses, as a writer, you must paint those pictures in the reader’s mind. We have to allow the reader to draw from their own life experience and co-create the story with us. I love that with Anathi, the readers get the overall message, but different scenes tugged at people and for varied reasons. A sensory experience creates fascinating book club discussions.

A book riddled with tell makes it difficult for a reader to explore their take on a character as the writer spends the entire story TELLING the reader how to feel and think about the character. This is a snooze fest!

Examples of how to show more than tell?

Example:

Tell: It was cold outside but Sthe wanted Bheki to leave.

Show: Sthe wrapped herself in her thick fleece gown and held the door open for Bheki. Her breath curled out of her mouth, “get out!” She pulled the collar of her gown up to cover her neck. Bheki rubbed his bare arms that now felt like a sheet of brail or the skin of a plucked chicken.

With show example, you don’t have to tell the reader it was cold, the actions of the characters reveal that. The action transports the reader to a time in his/her own life when he/she experienced the kind of cold that required him/her to pull the colour of a thick gown to cover the neck.

Telling is brief and gets the reader up to speed, but it lacks images and feeling. And every author wants their readers to feel! It is the holy grail we all search for, for a reader to truly escape their current life and thrust into the lives of the characters in your book.

Showing is to bring all the senses to life for your reader. It is allowing the reader to hear the rain and not be told it is raining.

Example:

Telling-It was raining when Bheki drove to his house.

Showing: The sky roared and cracked lighting up like a fireworks display, his windscreen wipers swished left, right, left on the highest setting and it made no difference it was less effort to turn them off.

Again, showing the reader helps them experience the type of rain and put themselves in a time they experienced the same rain.

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Other benefits of Show over Tell

When you show, it helps develop your character through action and thought as opposed to telling the reader your character’s traits.

Example: Bheki is a heavy smoker/Bheki smoked his entire box while driving.

Show: He fingered his box of smokes empty. He flung the glove compartment and rustled papers and threw them on the floor and still, nothing.

Only a heavy smoker would risk looking for a cigarette while driving in heavy rain, no? The show example doesn’t need you to state that he is a heavy smoker, just by showing the reader you have now revealed a character trait. Bheki has a smoking habit.

When to Tell?

Of course, your entire book can’t just be showing and, this is why this blog is titled Show more than you tell. Telling is needed to move things along. It is brief and gives the reader background information. This information is not necessary for the action but is there to help the reader anchor the story. And we tell when it is impractical to show. 

Example:

Tell: Five years after Sthe told him to leave, he can’t believe he is at the alter eager to marry Nomsa.

To show the above example is impractical and will slow down your story. All the reader needs to know before you jump into the action, is that Bheki is the one getting married and to a woman, he met five years after his last relationship and then dive straight back into show/action.

If you tried to show the last five years, you would have pages and pages of Bheki going on different dates and moping around the house or whatever else he needed to do to get over Sthe. None of this information would make your story better, just long!

A quick round-up

  • Show is a sensory experience and draws your reader in.
  • Gives the reader an opportunity to make up her own mind
  • Tell is for background information that helps move the story along to get right back into the action. Brief, informative and void of feeling.
  • Too much tell will alienate your reader.
  • When in doubt use dialogue between your characters to Show (make sure you write awesome dialogue though, please.)

Did you find this post helpful?

If you did please drop me a note about what else about writing you would like me to look into. Maybe we will have another series as this one is coming to an end next week.

Until next time,

Happy Writing!

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