Show, Don’t Tell Part 2

Here are more ways to “show” rather than “tell” in your writing.

5. Use the five senses: Sight, Sound, Smell, Touch, Taste. Not only describing, but using what the character sees, hears, smells, touches and tastes.

6. Setting: Example: a love scene. Is sunset in a park more romantic than busy street corner? Where an action happens makes an impression.

7. Tension: I once attended a workshop where the instructor said there should be tension or conflict on every page. That doesn’t necessarily mean a big confrontation or fisticuffs, but something as simple as your main character feeling uncomfortable—too warm, too cold. Feeling out of place, clothing too tight, fidgety during a long lecture, etc.

Which of these openings would attract the reader more?
1. It was a spring day in 1974 when Tom and I were getting ready to sail up the Sound to Block Island. We had bought the boat the year before, but this was to be the longest sail we’d tried …

2. The cold dawn roused us from grainy sleep, and we stumbled from our bunks into the cockpit to stare at the open water of the Sound, less than a mile from the marina. The numbness we felt was more than the cold, it was the uncertainty of our sail to Block Island…

Example: If you write, “He was a gorgeous hunk.” What does that mean? Does that evoke any emotion at all in you? That could apply to a lot of men. So maybe you write, “He was a tall, gorgeous hunk.” That’s also pretty generic. Doesn’t attract you much, does it?

Show your hunk with powerful details of action, setting and body language. i.e. He ducked as he entered the room, the door frame barely brushing the top of his wavy black hair. Stopping to survey the room, he took a deep breath, his powerful torso stretching the seams of his black knit shirt.

The housewives clustered around the table stopped their chatter. Six pairs of eyes turned toward the door, coffee cups poised mid-way to their open mouths.

Watch for “telling” words: the “to be” verbs, especially was with an “ing” verb. Example: He was seething with anger. Show it in how he feels inside or how he reacts physically.

Also the word “felt”—She felt a great sadness come over her. How does that actually FEEL? When you come across that usage, stop, close your eyes and remember a time you felt sad. Live through that moment again. Paint a picture of it in your mind. What do you see? What do you smell or taste? What physical things did you feel in your body? What triggered your reaction?

What else do you use to “show” rather than “tell” in your writing?

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Published in: on June 18, 2012 at 6:17 pm  Comments (4)  
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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Really good suggestions, Heidi. Thanks!

  2. Great suggestions, Heidi. Here is a great resource for showing emotion through body language:

    http://thebookshelfmuse.blogspot.com/p/emotion-thesaurus.html

    • Thank you, Margaret. This is great!

  3. Great tips, but where’s the hunk?


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