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Show Don’t Tell

Show Don’t Tell

One of the first things I learned about writing was the importance of showing rather that telling. The following is an example, before and after a rewrite:

Original:Pat turned off the television and threw the remote to the table. She cleared off a spot for her glasses and stretched out on the couch.

Rewrite: Pat’s thumb smashed the remotes’ power button with the resolve of a zealot intent on detonating the television rather than simply turning it off. The control device flew to the coffee table as she cleared a spot for her glasses and shifted on the couch to press her face against the coarse fabric.

Showing makes the image stronger and the emotional setting clearer. I don’t usually worry about showing during the first writing. Then my goal is simple to tell the story. After forty or fifty thousand words, I go back through the manuscript to start the real writing. I check for point of view, over use of adjectives and other problems, such as telling instead of showing.

It was during one of those sessions shortly after the election that I was wondering why the rest of the world had been as thrilled about our election as the majority of this country was. The answer was easy—the American dream is, as it has always been, the dream of all humanity. A percentage of people in this country, and in every other country in the world may believe that the color of your skin, your religious beliefs, or the number of toys you have amassed is what determines your worth, but once again this country has said ‘it ain’t necessarily so’. You don’t ‘tell’ a person you believe in human rights.

I’m looking forward to the coming rewrites.

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Showing is hard


As a newer writer I can see the importance of showing verses telling. Showing gives the reader a better insight into your thoughts and helps to paint a richer,  more vivid picture in their minds. However, it isn't always easy to see in your own writing when you're telling and not showing. In an author's mind he sees what he is trying to convey as he edits his work even though what he actually did was to describe a scene in a drab, colorless way. For me at least, I try to turn the movie off in my head when I edit.