Why Mastering the Art of Showing Versus Telling Will Make You a Better Writer

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Hi, everyone! Thank you for joining me in today’s blog with guest writer Sheila Likness. She is here to give us some insight into story showing versus story telling and how this relates to character creation.

Show the reader, don’t tell the reader is a standard rule of writing that all of us have heard at one time or another. It sounds easy, right? Well, the truth is, it isn’t as easy as it sounds and can be of particular difficulty as you create and develop the characters in your story. Whether it is difficult for you or easy, it’s an essential element of writing you must learn–especially if you want to truly captivate your audience and enthrall them the whole way through.

Character Creation to Keep the Reader Invested

Showing is a special commitment you make to your reader saying you will provide them a tangible, enlightening experience that will ultimately draw them in and captivate them. Now for full disclosure, there is a time and place for both showing and telling, and gauging that is something every writer needs to learn. With that said, during the process of character creation, showing will convey emotions through dialogue, body language, thoughts, etc.

It is central in character creation to compel the reader to see and feel the characters emotion on a visceral level. If you use concrete and sensory details to build your character, you will create an image the reader can see in their imagination.  Emotions are shown through body language, character thoughts, emotional decisions, any dialogue, and sensations on the deepest of levels. With character creation, in order to make the reader feel one with the scene, you want to show sensory details through the characters emotions.

Here is an example:

Jenny felt scared.

OR

Jenny’s face went completely pale. Her breathing came out in wheezy gasps.

You can see in both examples that Jenny is, indeed scared.  But the second example creates an image in your mind that allows you to feel that fear.  You are forging an emotional connection between your reader and the character.

 

Here is another example.

Jenny had long blonde hair and blue eyes.  She was pretty.

OR

Jenny’s golden hair flowed down her back as her sky-blue eyes danced in the light.

The second example the reader didn’t need to be told she was pretty because she was described in such a way they could picture it and feel it.

Choose the Right Verbs

My thesaurus is also my best friend when I am writing.  I refer to it countless times and use it when trying to find the most intense verb possible.  The more intense the verb the stronger the connection you will forge between the reader and the character.

Here is an example:

Jenny walked into the room.

OR

Jenny staggered into the room.

The second sentence gives you a sense of Jenny’s mood.  You can tell that something is wrong and the verb usage constructed an image that you wouldn’t have gotten from the first sentence.

Use Similes and Metaphors

Using similes and metaphors are excellent for character creation and also help the reader to visualize fun images. They can contribute to describing something about your character that makes them seem more vivid, exciting, frightening, etc. than what they would generally appear to be. Ultimately, the function figurative language has is to force the reader to imagine what you, as the writer, are trying to express. It is never meant to have the reader think of the literal meaning, rather just to make a comparison for easier understanding.

For example, if I were to say:

Jenny was like a jackal when running in fear.

What pops into your head with this metaphor?  It is not meant for you to think of Jenny as a jackal, but rather that Jenny is running for her life as fast as she can go.

OR

When attacked in her home, Jenny will fight like a caged animal.

 OR

Lucky for Jenny, she has learned gymnastics and is as agile as a monkey.

Both similes leave a pretty clear image in your head. And it isn’t to think of Jenny inside a cage or on a gymnastics bar.  Rather, that Jenny will fight to the death and is agile enough to do so.

Be Specific

Being specific is a key point. This is an excellent way to get rid of ambiguity and confusion. You want to get right to the point and engage the reader with specific details that add value. A laundry list of details does not add value.

 Here is an example:

Jenny was dressed nicely.

OR

Jenny wore a pink, Versace Scarf, draped loosely over a black Fendi Mink-Trimmed Cashmere Dress.

The second example should give you a better idea of how Jenny likes to dress and a more accurate sense of her character, namely that she is likely wealthy. The specific details will help clarify any confusion the reader may have about the character.

Should I always Show and Never Tell?

Telling has its place without a doubt.  It should be used as secondary information in describing how a character gets from point A to point B. You also don’t want a story that is filled with long, detailed, exhaustive descriptions, so you need to mix both long and short sentences to keep your reader engaged. It’s really a matter of balance. You just need to mix in enough dialogue to keep the reader engaged.

Helpful Hints on Showing in Characterization

  • Be vivid in your writing! There is nothing stronger than evoking a reader’s emotion through how your character reacts to something.
  • Describe your character through dialogue and action.
  • Use a thesaurus Even the best of writers rely on a thesaurus to help them better define a character.
  • Change up your verbs and use them appropriately
  • Create a mental picture for your reader using action-oriented examples.
  • Describe how emotion affects the characters and the way they act. Don’t use the word anger.  Show your character throwing a fit!

 

Summary

By using concrete and sensory details to build your characters, you will always be showing the reader more than telling them. You just want to make sure every sentence you write makes the character somehow, or advances your plot—and isn’t just a laundry list of details.  By being specific, incorporating similes and metaphors, and using the right verb, you will see how suddenly you can feel what the characters are feeling as a mental image start to form. And remember, this is an age-old rule that all writers struggle with.  Just keep working at it, and soon it will start to fall into place for you.

Feedback is Appreciated

Thanks again for joining the blog today. More of Sheila’s work can be seen at pph.me/sheila.likness.  Please leave any comments or suggestions in the below feedback box. I look forward to hearing from all of you!

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4 thoughts on “Why Mastering the Art of Showing Versus Telling Will Make You a Better Writer

  1. Thank you Shiela, this was very helpful. I stumbled on your blog today and found it to be a big
    help with Showing not telling.

    1. Glad it helped! Thanks Sheri! 🙂

  2. Very helpful article. Thank you for sharing this information.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Shelia!

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