When describing a character’s feelings, skillful writers do not just “tell” the reader how the character feels. They “show” by using imagery. Imagery is a language that paints vivid pictures for the reader. It often appeals to the Five senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. Sight: how does it look? Sound: What does the characters hear? Smell: What does the area smell like? Taste: If the character is eating, what does it taste like? Touch, the most important, what does it feel like? The “show, don’t tell” tip is one of the most important tips you will receive as a beginning writer. It’s a magic tool that breathes life into a story. This tip applies to short stories, scripts, and novels. It means that instead of saying “Paul is cruel,” say “Paul kicked and beat the defenseless animal.” I, personally, struggled with how to show instead of tell. It is not a trick you learn overnight, but with the proper practice it can elevate your writing.
“Telling” sentences tell us something. They give information, but it’s often vague. They never involve the writer. The emotion, action, and sensory detail are left out. Telling is a way of communicating facts to the reader the wrong way. Showing sentences show us; they often describe the scenes and actions. They help us see clear and specific details to create strong pictures in our mind. The reader experiences the story as if the reader is in the story.
“How do you show and not tell?” Sometimes especially in shorter works of writing, it’s easier just to tell the audience about a person. But, I’m sure we all know that just because it’s easy doesn’t mean that it’s the best road to follow. Let’s say we have a creepy house in the neighborhood in our story. Reading that the characters are visiting a creepy house doesn’t draw the same emotional reaction as showing the dark stains in the carpet and the lights that keep flickering on and off and the strange rasping sound that seems to be coming from the closet. The use of senses help draw the reader in and allows them to create their own images mentally.
Telling sentence: Dave thought Brenda was acting secretive.
Showing sentence: Brenda slammed his dresser drawer shut and spun around, her hands hidden behind her back. Her lips jerked into a stiff smile. “Dave! I‐I thought you wouldn’t be home until six o’clock.”
Remember practice makes perfect. Google is your friend. You won’t become a perfect writer overnight. Greatness takes time. Learning the “show, don’t tell” trick will take time. But, everything gets better with time. Smile, breathe, practice, and believe in yourself.
– Taylar Berry