Show Don’t Tell…

Writing Wednesday

Wednesday is the day I share what I’ve learned on my journey from writing, publication, marketing; and doing it all again, and again. The kind of information I wish someone shared with me back when.

Show Don’t Tell

One of the most common questions I’m asked when I teach a class or lead a writing workshop is to explain show don’t tell. I know show don’t tell is the rule, but I prefer a delicate balance between showing and telling.

Sometimes a simple tell can say it all and at other times the reader needs much more to picture the scene in his/her mind.

The sky is blue. That is telling but it can leave the reader with questions. Is it that dark, almost blackish blue color that signals an imminent storm? Or is it the bright baby blue color of an early summer afternoon that leaves us longing for such a day?

If the whole idea of show don’t tell stresses you out to the point of making excuses not to write, my advice is to sit down and write your first draft without any rules. Once you have a complete first draft you can go back in and do some showing.

Here’s a few exercises to help you with the showing part of show and tell:

1) Pause your TV and write down every- single- thing and or person you see in the frozen frame and what about that thing or person shows you what’s going on the scene. 

Is the person wearing a coat? If so it shows you without telling you that it’s cold out, possibly late fall or winter. Try to fill an entire page with observations.

2) If there’s an old building or a place in your story consider researching the history surrounding it and weave it into your story.

Recently I wrote a book and included a wharf in the story. There’s a wharf two-minutes from where I lived for nearly thirty-years. Knowing only bits and pieces of its history, I learned that it was built in 1681 and home of a ferry service for two-hundred-and fifty years. Still wanting more of a feeling, I went to the wharf and sat on it for a half hour. That’s all it took for me to come up with the words to invite my readers to see and feel what I was seeing and feeling.

3) Get a piece of blank paper and a pen and write something, anything for ten-minutes.

Whether it’s a shopping list, an outline, a short story or a scene description doesn’t matter, just write.

4) Binge watch a TV series or watch a soap opera for a few days with a notebook in hand.

Pay attention to what the script writer, or stage manager is showing without telling you and write it down. Don’t miss what’s going on in the background of each scene.

5) Change your scenery.

Drive a different route or walk another path. Sit by some water. It could be an ocean, river, creek or a puddle. When I’m stuck I head to my local mall to sit on a bench a people watch, writing down descriptions of the way they walk, who is with who and why I imagine they’re together. Paying specific attention to their body language I usually leave the mall with a lot of content.

I hope these exercises help spark your creativity. Do you have any show don’t tell tips?
Happy writing,

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