SHOWING VS. TELLING
“Show the readers everything, tellthem nothing.” -Ernest Hemingway
“Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” ― Anton Chekhov
Whoosh! “Strike two!” the umpire called. I stepped back out of the batter’s box and hung my head. Just a hit, I thought, that’s all I want. I swung the bat a couple of times to loosen up, and took my place again near the plate.
With my heartbeat throbbing in my ears, I raised the bat over my shoulder and waited. The pitcher pulled back and let the ball fly. I watched it speed toward me and … SMACK! I dropped the bat and ran and ran and ran. Safe! First base.
I missed the ball again. It was my second strike. Disappointed, I stepped away and swung the bat back and forth. All I wanted was a hit. I went back to the plate. I was a little nervous. My heart beat fast. I put the bat over my shoulder and waited.
The pitcher threw the ball. It came toward me really fast and I swung. I hit it! I dropped the bat and ran to first base. I was safe.
SHOW AND NOT JUST TELL How to
Use dialogue. • Dialogue allows the reader to experience a scene as if they were there: “Justin Michael,” mom bellowed, “Get in here this instant!”
Dialogue can give your reader a great deal about character, emotion, and mood.
Use active verbs. • Paint pictures with specific words or groups of words: “I raised the bat over my shoulder and waited… I dropped the bat and ran and ran and ran.”
Be specific, not vague. • Show the feelings of a character by what he does, e.g., he hung his head. • Don’t write, “I had never felt anything like it before in my entire life.” • Describe what that feeling was.
“I had never felt anything like it before in my entire life.” “Seeing him for the first time was like experiencing the first drop of cool rain after a long, hot drought.”
Use sensory language. • Readers need to be able to see, hear, taste, smell and touch the world around them. • Explore several senses, not just sight.
Use sensory language. • Take a page from Roald Dahl: “His voice had the soft throaty sound of a croaking frog and he seemed to speak all his words with an immense wet-lipped relish, as though they tasted good on the tongue.”
Be descriptive. • Being descriptive means carefully choosing the right words and using them sparingly to convey your meaning. • Paint a picture.
Be descriptive. “Mary was old.” “Mary moved slowly across the room, her hunched form supported by a polished wooden cane gripped in a gnarled, swollen-jointed handthat was covered by translucent, liver-spotted skin.”
Be descriptive. • Don’t overdo it, though. You may end up with a “police blotter” description. “He was tall and had brown hair and blue eyes. He wore a red shirt and jeans, and a brown leather jacket.”
Let’s try it! On their first date, walking through the moonlit park, the couple felt shy holding hands for the first time.
Pair Work Quickwrite (10 minutes)
Choose one and “show.” • Her boyfriend was a jerk. • The little boy was frightened by the mysterious, dark woods. • Her prom date was the perfect gentleman. • The young soldier fought bravely during the war. • The student anxiously waited for his report card.
SHOW RATHER THAN TELL? Should we always
He ran his fingers through his thick blue-black hair and stood slowly, his knee joints creaking as if he was an old man. He wandered into the den, shrugging the broad shoulders that capped his muscular five-foot, ten-inch frame, and plopped into his easy chair.
It swung back with only the slightest push of one heel, as if it knew instinctively he wanted to lay supine.