Showing vs. Telling

Photo by JD Hancock
Photo by JD Hancock

If you have ever hired an editor, or taken a writing class, you’ve likely been told to show more and tell less. But what does that mean, exactly? Looking at a couple examples may be the fastest way to understand the concept.

 

Telling:
Beth was a cranky woman, and boy, was she was mad at me.
Showing:
Beth’s cigarette flared, and smoke puffed from her nose like the angry bulls you see on cartoons. Since her demotion, everything I said was a big red cape to her.

 

Telling:
Astoria is old and looks like she belongs in the garden.
Showing:
Astoria’s dirt-encrusted fingernails ripped a weed from the ground. Her fingers looked like she could push them into the warm soil and roots would sprout out of her gnarled knuckles. Her back hunched like the trunk of a Live Oak, and the wisps of white hair dangled like Spanish Moss. 
 

I know what you’re thinking… This is all great, but look how the showing description has doubles or triples the word count. And you’re right, we should omit needless words. But, showing doesn’t always mean adding extra words. Take this six-word “novel” attributed to Ernest Hemingway. 

For sale: baby shoes, never worn. 

Within those 6 words lives an entire story, and it is a perfect example of “showing” and not “telling”. This is our example for Writing Challenge #3 – Show, Don’t Tell. Write an advertisement in less than 50 words that will create a story in the reader’s minds, without telling all the back story. Post it on the forum for everyone to enjoy. I can’t wait to see what you come up with!

And don’t forget, there’s still time to win a free copy of The Emotion Thesaurus!

 


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