Don t tell us the old lady screamed bring her on and let her scream samuel clemens mark twain
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“Don’t tell us the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream.” Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain). Show Not Tell. You’ve heard me say it over and over. You’ve seen examples galore. You’ve been practicing with writing poetry and prose. Is focused, descriptive

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Don t tell us the old lady screamed bring her on and let her scream samuel clemens mark twain

“Don’t tell us the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream.”Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain)

Show Not Tell


Show not tell

You’ve heard me say it over and over.You’ve seen examples galore.You’ve been practicing with writing poetry and prose.

  • Is focused, descriptive

    writing coming natural to you yet?

  • Hmmm, not so much, you say?

  • Then how can you become

    even better at using what

    you’ve learned in all your writing?


First know the difference between showing and telling

First, know the difference between showing and telling:

  • Telling is abstract, passive, less involving.

  • It’s competent, but not je na sai quoi

  • It’s a grade of 3


How do you recognize telling

How do you recognize telling?

1. Those ubiquitous adverbs:

You learned them on Grammar Bytes, and they

are parts of our speech. They are allowed in

our writing, but don’t let adverbs take over.

Let me illustrate:

“You ruined by book,” he said angrily.

You’ve been told he’s angry and why;

but can you see, hear, taste, smell,

touch what the writer is seeing as he writes?


How about this

How about this?

Henry slammed the book shut and hurled it at the couch. The pages ruffled open, exposing words against dark black covers. He jumped up so fast his chair skidded across the floor and dented the new drywall. You ruined my book, he shrieked.


Do you see what strong verbs and specific and concrete details can do

Do you see what strong verbs and specific and concrete details can do?

  • I didn’t have to tell you Henry was angry.

  • I didn’t even use the word angry, angrily, mad, etc.

  • By showing his actions after his dialogue you know it’s him talking and that he’s mad.

  • Readers like to be involved; they like to figure things out and be part of the action. . Show them; let them see, hear, taste, smell, feel what you want them to experience.

  • This is true for poetry or stories or essays


To be or not to be hamlet used it but he was disturbed at the time

“To be or not to be…” Hamlet used it, but he was disturbed at the time.

2. If possible, avoid forms of this verb: am, is, are, was,

was being, will have been,

could have been, et al.

It’s the deadest of all the dead verbs.

  • Too many of these dead verbs make your readers want to “end it all” when it comes to reading your work.

  • You don’t need to totally avoid this little verb; just don’t make it do your “heavy lifting” when a stronger verb is much more accurate and descriptive. (see, I just used it)


Let s see if we can practice

Let’s see if we can practice:

  • The room was perfect.

  • Really?. What do you see,

    hear, smell, feel…?

    Have you been told or shown?

  • Edits and revisions needed:

  • dead verb (was),

  • label (perfect) rather than a clearer adjective.

  • not even a specific detail—whatroom? kitchen, living room, bedroom?


Show not tell

Take a few minutes to write a sentence or two to show us what your perfect room would be. Here’s your telling sentence: The room was perfect. Here’s your empty room. Fill it in with specific and concrete details and strong verbs and then let’s share some of your “decorating skills”


Don t look seem or feel

Don’t look, seem, or feel.

  • Whoa, Mrs. Harrell, I thought you’ve been telling us to do just that! No, not exactly.

  • These words are disguising themselves as strong verbs, but they’re linking verbs (BTW, I expect you to know all about linking verbs). In our sentence “You ruined my book, he said angrily,” if you substitute “He looked angry; He seemed angry; He felt angry.” You’ve avoided the adverb, but have you shown anything? No; you’ve merely told us something. Remember, show the reader; let him or her interpret and see for themselves.


Helpful hint

Helpful hint:

  • Study movies. Movies are visual. How do you know someone is upset, angry, happy, sad, frustrated, etc? You see facial expressions, movements, actions, gestures, etc. Of course words and gestures help, but mute the sound and see if you can “tell the story” by what is shown. Foreign films, and even Shakespeare are more fun to watch if actors show their dialogue.

    Remember the 2012 Oscar winner?!

    Remember our Greek clip of “Ransom of Red Chief”?


Quick tips for show not tell

Quick Tips for Show not Tell

  • Review your handouts on specific and concrete details, sensory language,

  • synesthesia, metaphors and analogies, universe of language words, etc.

  • All the work with words, writing, and revisions we’ve been doing relates to this.

  • Use specific details (who, what, when, where, how many, etc)

  • Use sensory images (concrete details)

  • Use fresh similes and metaphors, not cliches

  • Vary sentence structure

  • Use strong verbs

  • Don’t pad too much (don’t over-show or spend time

  • describing what’s not important to your main idea or focus) Sometimes less is more.

  • Don’t be afraid to use some telling. A mix of both works. Keep your writing

  • alive! Clean out the stream, but leave that piano in the tree. (“Writing Workshop”

  • poem from You as a Writer handout…remember?)


Now for practice activities

Now for practice activities

  • Practice handouts I’ll provide

  • Twenty telling sentences from website for fun practice and extra credit (6th handouts section)

  • Examples from famous authors that I’ve put on the website (6th handouts section)

  • “Show not Tell” Read Arounds in class

Mrs. Harrell’s slide show used ideas from Rebecca Kaplan and Shirley Jump


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