Show Don’t Tell

This piece of advice comes up again and again and again. In fact I’m sick of hearing it. While I was working on SORB my brain was filled with a litany that sounded something like this:
Show don’t tell, avoid repetition, use a stronger verb, drop that adverb. Show don’t tell, avoid repetition, use a stronger verb, drop that adverb. Show don’t tell, avoid repetition, use a stronger verb, drop that adverb.

Even though the cynic in me can’t help but point out that this umbrella piece of advice can’t possibly be suitable for every situation, I do acknowledge that my writing is a hell of a lot stronger as a result of keeping the phrase in mind. Which is nice. ^_^

So… from the view point of a person who hasn’t had any sort of ‘training’ in my chosen field :p I want to let you know what this means for me.

Showing how a character feels is a great deal stronger than simply telling the reader. My role, as a writer, is to immerse my reader fully into the story I’m telling and to do that, the five senses play an incredible role. I want you reader to feel, hear, see, smell and taste everything along with my characters.

So a sentence that looks like this:

Johnny was tired and cold.

Can turn into:

Johnny sighed, chaffing his arms with both hands. When he shivered, a trail of goosebumps prickled into being beneath his trembling fingers. Small puffs of white billowed from his lips as he opened his mouth in a yawn that split his jaw.

Yes, the second version is wordier, but its a good sort of wordy. The goosebumps down his arms, his shivers. Those are clues into how cold he is and if that’s not enough there’s the condensation from his mouth when he yawns; a traditional indicator of fatigue.

For some reason I was up for two hours at some point in the night thinking about all this. Probably because my head was filling up with plans for NaNo. I should really put thoughts like this to one side, mostly, since I’m working on a first draft, but having thoughts like this in the back of my mind will make the process of editing easier later. At least I hope.

What sort of tips do you keep in mind while writing your first draft? Is show, don’t tell one of your favourite pieces of advice, or are there others that you follow?

About Ileandra Young

I'm a thirty-*mumbles* year old (purple loving, cheese worshipping) author of fantasy, juggling a pair of beautiful twin boys with my burning desire to make up stories and write them all down. When I get the chance, I play games, listen to music, and in days long past I even ran a radio show. Though I occasionally write non-fiction, my heart lives in fantasy and my debut novel, Silk Over Razor Blades is now available through Amazon along with part two of the trilogy, Walking The Razor's Edge.
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4 Responses to Show Don’t Tell

  1. char says:

    Good luck on writing your NaNo story. For first drafts I write as fast as I can to get the plot and timeline down. I don’t worry about adverbs (I like them in the first draft to help me know how to SHOW what I mean later). I try to write scenes, but tell some parts that I’m not in the mood to show because I just want to finish the plot before it leaves me. I love going back later and fine-tuning–and it’s easier when I don’t have this huge story in my head screaming to get out.


    • That’s a feeling I’m familiar with. That’s why NaNo is so much fun; its so free! You can write all sorts of rubbish and later you worry about making it good. Lol.
      When the story is free and no longer confined by the walls of my brain. ^_^


  2. jmmcdowell says:

    I try to get the ideas out, too, without worrying *too much* about show vs. tell, adverb use, weak words…. But I always do some editing during that writing process. Some days, the Muse is silent and I go back over what I’ve already written, tweaking ideas and words.

    Then there’s Draft 2, 3, 4, … or however many are needed to get the story right. šŸ™‚

    Go, girl, go! Win NaNo!


    • So many drafts. Sounds like the story of my life! Yep, that’s exactly how it goes here too. Maybe if I focus a bit more on just getting stuff out the words will come somewhat easier. Maybe.


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