How to write your novel: show, don’t tell (A)
Have you ever heard the expression ‘Show, don’t tell?’ Most likely if you’ve done a couple of online creative writing courses or been to a writers’ group, you’ve heard it more than once. However, what does it mean? To make the concept clearer, I’ll show, then I’ll tell.
Tell or Show
Tell: He was really angry. Show: He clenched his fists and bellowed loudly.
Tell: She was confused. Show: She furrowed her brows.
Tell: It was midday. Show: The sun stood high in the sky.
Tell: He felt cold. Show: He pulled his coat collar around his ears and shivered.
Tell: She was anxious. Show: Her mouth went dry.
Have a read of your favourite novel and you’ll see this everywhere. How many examples can you find? Get out a highlighter and see how you go. Sometimes, you might find examples of telling, but mostly, the author will show you rather than insult your intelligence.
Why do authors prefer to show?
The great thing about showing, not telling is that it involves your senses, sparks your imagination and involves you in the story both emotionally and cognitively. You bond with the character and actually care about what happens to them, even if they’re not very nice!
With this in mind, how would you improve these lines?
1. Peter felt agitated as he waited for his son to call.
2. Susie was furious with her sister for being late.
3. Jason was excited that Chloe had accepted his invitation.
4. Rusty the dog couldn’t wait for Jim to throw the ball across the park.
5. The cat was contented as she sat on Julie’s lap.
Here is an example from my novel of showing, rather than telling.
Excerpt from The Yellow Dinghy Cafe
Michaela narrowed her eyes. Was Janine’s name really Electra? And what about Charlotte? Was she using an alias too?