"God moves in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform..." William Cowper

Monday, August 6, 2012

Summer Session #7: Just Show It!

Dear Mom and Dad and Tootles,

Thanks for such a great time last week—now I’m back at camp, refreshed and ready to write!

This week Coach Sol taught us about showing, as opposed to telling. I’d heard this advice before but never really understood it…until now.

I can’t help but think of the Olympics. I especially love watching the gymnasts. I’m in awe of their flips and twirls, but I also love to study their faces before they begin a performance. Some look nervous, some confident. And how do I know all this? I see it on the television. It is shown to me. Furrowed brow, that’s concentration. The way one girl wipes her calloused fingers with chalk a little longer than necessary, that’s nerves. Straight posture, set mouth, focused eyes, that’s confidence and determination.

As readers we want to see things in our mind the way we see them on a television. As writers we want to paint words that show.

Coach Sol said there are three areas in which the writer is especially vulnerable to telling rather than showing: when he tells backstory, when he tells of a character’s physical appearance, and when he tells what a character senses or feels, better shown by action (i.e. the gymnast wiping their hands with chalk longer than necessary shows nervousness).

Here’s an example Coach gave us:
She boiled water tells.
She put the kettle on the stove begins to show.
She filled the kettle from the faucet and hummed till the kettle’s whistle cut her humming short shows.
She boiled water in a lidless pot so she could watch the bubbles perk and dance shows even better.

As writers, it’s our job to allow the reader to see what’s happening on our pages. A big responsibility, but an important one.

Now, off to watch more of the Olympics!

Love Your Little Show-Off

I remember when I first started writing, I heard the advice to show all the time but was so frustrated because I didn’t understand it. It took some time, but now showing comes more naturally in my storytelling. Did you have a similar experience? How do you remind yourself to show instead of tell?


  1. I think the hard thing is knowing WHEN to show versus tell. There are times we just have to tell an action because we have to get to the more important parts. If we showed everything, a chapter might go on forever. But it's knowing when to do one versus the other that I find tricky... :)

    1. Totally true, Lindsay. I think when in doubt, it's probably better to show. But a great point!

  2. I also just ran across a great post on this topic at www.mybooktherapy.com titled Conversations: How to use actions to show emotions! This post explained things much better than I ever could. :)

  3. I'll have to look that post up, Heidi. I agree with Lindsay. For instance, frankly, I thought that last example (the best) was a little too wordy. (Sorry, sir.) Sometimes, I tell when I don't realize it and my...ahem...critters have to point it out. :-)

    1. lol Sandy! It's definitely a tricky line there. And yes, gotta love those critters. ;)

  4. Great example from the Olympics, Heidi! I never thought of it that way. Now I'll be viewing them in a whole new light. :)