How to show, not tell (3 simple ways to fix your writing)

What does it mean when you get feedback on your writing or advice to “show don’t tell”? I get this question a lot but didn’t have a clear answer until now. It’s hard to teach without showing exactly how to do it with writing examples… but I actually came up with three great tricks recently to identify and remove “telling” from your writing. This video also explains the difference and why “showing” is definitely better.

Are you showing or telling?

#1: “Who is saying this?” is the narrator speaking? The information should be present in the scene, and hopefully in away that’s relevant for the main character’s current state of mind or actions. If you’re supplying extra information that’s not in the scene, then the characters are there paused, which feels inorganic and slows the pacing.

#2: What are the characters doing right now?
Is anything happening, or is the narrator or author speaking directly to readers while the characters are frozen in time, waiting for you to fill in the blanks?

#3 What does this look like?
Showing vs. Telling is often about description or backstory, both of which are complex and there’s a “Best Way” to do it. With description especially, you want to show what’s there, in the scene – rather than referring to a symbolic representation of the scene. You want the information conveyed through the scene and action, not supplied by the narrator.

It’s true that adverbs are often attacked, but that’s because they can be a lazy way to communicate information without doing the work of presenting it in action.

“She sighed, sadly.” You’re telling us how she sighed; but this is, as if YOU witnessed the scene and are communicating it to us, based on your impression. Why do YOU think she looks sad? How did you come to that judgment? Or have you just decided that she needs to be sad and are telling us this. Is she really sad? How do we know? What does this actually look like?

Watch the full video to go much deeper into these three tips, or check out where I have more writing tips!

About Derek Murphy

Hey there! I'm a philosophy dropout and book cover designer with a PhD in Literature. After spending a decade as a starving artist, I vowed to create the life of freedom my restless spirit demands. I covet a cabin full of cats, where I can write young adult fantasy novels and do a few editorial critiques to pay for my cake addiction. Sometimes I live in castles. FREE GUIDE: Book Marketing is Dead.
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