Annie Nicholas writes paranormal and science fiction romance. Read about her hot vampire thrillers, werewolf romantic stories, alpha shifter and sexy alien romance.

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Monday, June 7, 2010

Show vs Tell

The nemesis of all new writers and, you know, even the ones who’ve been writing for awhile. LOL
To start I want to mention that I think how much you show your story versus how much you tell lends to your voice. It gives your stories a fingerprint, if that analogy helps more.

In my opinion, writing is about forging an emotional link to the reader. While some good fiction functions on a higher intellectual level, it’s the visceral stuff that sticks in our memories. The ones that made you feel the characters’ losses and joys. We’re drawn to these stories because it touched something deep inside and took hold. One of the best ways to grab someone with your story is by creating vivid images that immerse them in the world— by not merely telling readers what’s happening, but showing it to them.

“Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” ~Anton Chekhov.

Like I’ve repeatedly said in this blog series, everything in moderation. I believe in showing more than telling but it’s not written in any writing rules book that is the way it has to be. This choice is part of my voice as a writer.

Every time I find emotional adjectives such as angry, sad, happy, etc in my WIP, I step back and ask if there is a way I can show what my character is feeling instead of telling the reader. This draws the reader emotionally closer to the character.

Ex: Angered by Sheila’s betrayal, Tom left the room. (TELLING)

Tom squeezed his fists until the nails bit into his palms. He stomped from the room and slammed the door behind him. How could she betray like this? (SHOW)

Another suggestion is to show time passing without telling the reader. This is simple but I didn’t get it until another writer told me, so for those like me here you go. LOL State what meal the character is eating, where the sun is in the sky, mention the stars or moon, piles of mail can grow, or have them check their watch. There are plenty of things that can be done and it’s better than stating, “three days later.”

Describing the setting can be considered showing as well but I’ll be discussing this at length in its own blog.
Use of everyday things you observe from people around you will help with showing. If my character is anxious, I’ll make her dialogue short and fast and sometimes it won’t make sense depending on how upset she is. See how this kind of ties in with sentence structure, which I discussed in another blog. Show isn’t an easy concept to jump onto. It’s not 1+1=2. It’s more like 3+2=7 except when there’s a full on the 4th of May but then again you can minus 1.

Once you do get it, I promise it will snap in your head and you’ll see all the possibilities.

When I finally grasped the power of show, I realized I told my readers too much in the aspect of my plots and decided to show them clues instead. Even if they didn’t pull them all together and solve my story on their own, when my heroine did figure it out the readers would have an ‘AHA!’ moment and hopefully think, “She wrote something about this in chapter three. OH! She also mentioned that clue in chapter seven.” I know as a reader, I LOVE those ‘AHA’ moments.

Let’s use an example for this. I’ll make up a plot for this example. Say the end of your story is that the hero saves the heroine by mixing a magic potion to cure her from an evil spell. He needed to gather all the rare ingredients to make it and use a recipe from his great grandmother’s spell book. Mention the spell book in ch 1 or 2 as hint. Have him notice ingredients here there in context with the rest of the story but not too obvious. At the end of the book when he’s in the process of saving her, the reader is more involved in the story because you showed them pieces of the solution. Mind you this is just a simple example to give you an idea of what I meant.

Last but not least, do not go crazy on the showing either. If your character needs to cross the kitchen and get a glass of water and if it is not relevant to the story, then by all means, just tell us. Megan walked to the sink and poured a glass of water.

I hoped this helped more than harmed your understanding of show vs tell.


Kayelle Allen said...

I struggle with this all the time, and notice it when authors do it. You are so right about there being a time and place for telling. Sometimes telling is showing. For example, in this line:

He opened his mouth to speak, paused, and then shut it again.

We were told what he did, while at the same time allowing the reader to interpret the movement as hesitation to speak.

Great tips here. I'll be checking back on this series!

Annie Nicholas said...

Thanks Kayelle. It's not the easiest concept to grasp.

hotcha12 said...


hotcha12 said...


Anonymous said...

Talk about a AH-HA moment. I'll be going back over my work looking for the emotional adjectives and trying this.


Annie Nicholas said...

Glad it helped Barb