The Value of "Show, Don't Tell" In Your Writing

When I first started to write fiction and send my manuscripts out for feedback, the first and most frequent thing my readers said was "Show, don't tell." In theory, I understood what this meant. But it was almost impossible for me to put it into practice after comments such as, “Why don’t you show your character sitting in a café getting frustrated with her friend? I’d really like to see that happening, rather than just being told it’s happening. It would give us a lot more insight into their characters.” GIVEAWAY: Jessica is excited to give away a free copy of her book to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners can live anywhere in the world. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: MarkR won.)
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When I first started to write fiction and send my manuscripts out for feedback, the first and most frequent thing my readers said was "Show, don't tell." In theory, I understood what this meant. But it was almost impossible for me to put it into practice after comments such as, “Why don’t you show your character sitting in a café getting frustrated with her friend? I’d really like to see that happening, rather than just being told it’s happening. It would give us a lot more insight into their characters.”

Okay. So how do I go about that? I’m not sure I understand how you can’t see it happening when I’m telling you it’s happening. What’s the difference?

GIVEAWAY: Jessica is excited to give away a free copy of her book to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners can live anywhere in the world. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: MarkR won.)

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Guest column by Jessica Bell, author of the writing guide,
SHOW & TELL IN A NUTSHELL: DEMONSTRATED TRANSITIONS
FROM TELLING TO SHOWING. Australian-native contemporary
fiction author and poet who also makes a living as an editor and
writer for global ELT publishers (English Language Teaching), such
as Pearson Education, HarperCollins, Macmillan Education, Education
First and Cengage Learning. She is the Co-Publishing Editor of
Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and co-hosts the summer event, the
Homeric Writers’ Retreat & Workshop on the Greek Isle of Ithaca.
For more information about Jessica, please visit her
blog, her Twitter, and her Facebook.There are four different
versions of her book: the US paperback, the UK paperback, the
US e-book, and the UK e-book.

I never truly understood the difference until I’d accomplished it by accident one day. My motivation was that I needed to increase the word count in one of my manuscripts. I had a 60,000-word novel that needed 80,000–100,000 before I could submit it to agents.

I combed through my manuscript, marking scenes I thought I could expand. By the time I’d finished reworking the first scene, the concept clicked. I finally understood what all the fuss was about. My writing had become cinematic, it had movement, my characters were three dimensional and I didn’t even have to mention their personality traits because I was showing them. But above all, my writing evoked emotion. This is what successful showing does. It uses the five senses (and sixth) to evoke an emotional response from your reader without telling them how you want them to feel. Simply put, does me saying Hilary felt scared make you feel scared? Of course not.

(Will a literary agent search for you online after you query them?)

This is why I felt the need to publish a pocket guide: to show writers, how to SHOW, INSTEAD OF TELL. It’s one resource I craved and couldn’t find during the early years. I needed real examples that clearly demonstrated the transition from telling to showing, in a small, concise, non-threatening, non-overwhelming format. Something I could dip into without getting lost in the jungle of technical jargon that I never really understood until I Googled my fingertips into flames. I learned better by example. By physically doing and reworking, making mistakes and fixing them through trial and error.

No matter how entertaining, diverse, concise, or detailed, a writing craft book is, it’s not going to work magic on you, it’s not going to suddenly make you a brilliant writer simply by reading it. You need to use what you read and learn in your own writing. Because that’s when you have those a-ha moments. That's when it really sticks.

In Show & Tell in a Nutshell: Demonstrated Transitions from Telling to Showing, you will find sixteen real scenes depicting a variety of situations, emotions, and characteristics which clearly demonstrate how to turn telling into showing. Dispersed throughout, and at the back of the book, are blank pages to take notes as you read. A few short writing prompts are also provided.

(Read tips on writing a query letter.)

I tried to make this pocket guide an excellent learning tool for aspiring writers and also a light, convenient, and easy solution to honing your craft no matter how broad your writing experience. Keep it in the side pocket of your school bag, throw it in your purse, or even carry it around in the pocket of your jeans or jacket, to enhance your skills, keep notes, and jot down story ideas, anywhere, anytime.

I also welcome questions via email, concerning the content of this book, or about showing vs. telling in general, at showandtellinanutshell@gmail.com.

GIVEAWAY: Jessica is excited to give away a free copy of her book to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners can live anywhere in the world. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: MarkR won.)

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