Angry Writing Advice: Show, Don’t Tell

I know all y’all writers have heard of “show, don’t tell.” And if you haven’t, then sit the hell down and listen.

What does “show, don’t tell” mean?

It means exactly what it says. SHOW, don’t TELL. Show your readers the afternoon sunlight filtering through the canopy. Don’t tell your readers about your stupid ass setting.

For example:

Afternoon sunlight filtered through the canopy and settled on the bright red leaves piled over the ground.

is better than:

It was autumn and afternoon in the middle of a forest.

No one wants read that boring ass shit.

Does “show, don’t tell” apply to character development?

Hell yeah, it does! Remember that story you read where the author just took a shit over their own character? They didn’t even know they were doing it, but they did. They took a huge, steaming info dump all over their character.

Exhibit A:

He didn’t like reading the paper because nothing good ever happened in the world, and he much preferred his own world where no one else could bother him. Besides, there was nothing else he needed in his life other than his dog, Cupcake.

“But what’s wrong with Exhibit A?” I’ll tell you what the hell is wrong. I’m drowning in your huge info dump, and now, I need a shower and antibiotics.

Exhibit B (the better Exhibit A):

The paper sat untouched atop the worn dining table. He glanced at the headline, “Girl Kidnapped from College Campus During New Year Celebration,” then frowned and turned away. A black poodle lay at the foot of his lumpy, red couch. ‘Cupcake’ was scribbled in pink marker across a metal tag hanging from the dog’s collar–the script squiggly and uneven, as if a child had written it.

Exhibit A didn’t put the reader in the scene. It was flat and shitty, and made me want to take a nap. Exhibit B was better because it put the reader in the moment and gave us glimpses into the character without ever explicitly saying anything about him or his past. That is SHOWING.

I think I get “show, don’t tell,” but how do I know when I’m showing, not telling?

Here’s a list of questions you should go through when you’re unsure if you’re showing or telling:

– Are you questioning if you’re showing or telling?

– Do you feel like you’re not in the scene?

– Are you failing to appeal to the five senses (i.e. sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing)?

– Are you explaining a character’s thoughts more than detailing their actions?

– Are you using a lot of “to be” verbs (e.g. is, am, was, were, be, been, being)?

– Do you have a lot of exposition in a small area?

If you answered “yes” to any of these, you’re probably telling and should take a harder look at your shit.

So don’t take an info dump on your characters. Be nice to them. They don’t deserve your shit, and your readers don’t need to be shit on either.

Show us your world; don’t tell us about your shit.

About T.K.

I'm an LGBT writer, biological anthropology student, and an ardent aro(mantic).* *One who does not feel romantic attraction.
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