Any writer who has ever gone to a writer conference, attended a writing seminar, or taken any type of a writer class has heard the phrase “show don’t tell”. This annoying phrase is the thorn in every writers side, especially new writers who don’t really know what it means and don’t know how exactly to fix it.
What is “show don’t tell”? Telling a reader what they need to hear can be useful, it can also annoy them. Showing the reader allows them to follow the story in the moment to feel and experience what the author and character is experiencing.
USE DIALOGUE…BUT WITH CAUTION
Probably the most used fix when eliminating a telling sentence is to use dialogue with tag lines. ‘Bellowed’ shows anger, ‘laughed’ shows happiness, and ‘cried’ shows sadness. Unfortunately, because it’s an easy fix, it’s also the most used and instead of creating a wonderfully shown story, you’ve created a lot of unnecessary dialogue that doesn’t move the story forward.
Being descriptive about the scene and what the character is experiencing is a great way to show instead of tell. It’s called painting a picture. Example: “She sat on the couch holding the baby.” This sentence is telling. But, “Her eyes closed as she rocked her body back and forth, cradling the baby in her arms as she hummed a sweet lullaby.” This sentence is showing. Be sure not to over describe, though. Giving the reader a play by play of the characters hair and eye color, body build, and exactly what they are wearing is overdoing it.
DON’T BE VAUGE
If your sentence is filled with vague emotions or feelings then it’s a telling sentence and will frustrate your reader. Instead of writing: “I’ve never felt anything like this before.” Describe what this amazing feeling is that has never been felt until this very moment. Or, instead of “The flowers smelled wonderful.” Describe the smell. “The cotton candy scent of the delicate rose petals tickled my nose.”