How to Show, Not Tell: The Complete Writing Guide

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Diane Callahan - Quotidian Writer
Published at : 11 Dec 2020
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“Don’t tell me the moon is shining. Show me the glint of light on broken glass.” – Anton Chekov

Writers often have different definitions of “showing” and “telling.” I define “telling” as any time in the story when an important moment lacks depth in terms of detail or narrative voice. However, telling can also be an excellent tool for controlling the story’s pacing and delivering important information.

In this video, I’ll explore the origins of this advice and why “showing” appeals to audiences on an emotional level. Using examples from popular works and advice from published authors, I’ll outline six strategies you can use to produce stronger writing:

1. Use evidence to support your claims.
2. Replace the abstract with the concrete.
3. Substitute vague descriptions with specific sensory details.
4. Avoid relying too much on body language.
5. Show emotion through dialogue.
6. Filter observations through the narrative voice.

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SOURCES

“The clues to a great story” TED Talk by Andrew Stanton:
https://www.ted.com/talks/andrew_stanton_the_clues_to_a_great_story#t-393892

“Creative Writing and the New Humanities” by Paul Dawson:
https://books.google.com/books?id=r2NNKUlOAXUC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q=flaubert%20onward&f=false

“The Craft of Fiction” by Percy Lubbock:
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/18961/18961-h/18961-h.htm

“Nuts and Bolts: ‘Thought’ Verbs” by Chuck Palahniuk:
https://litreactor.com/essays/chuck-palahniuk/nuts-and-bolts-“thought”-verbs

Novel Writing Help blog by Harvey Chapman:
https://www.novel-writing-help.com/prose-writing.html#sthash.byLAq4vA.dpuf

“How Fiction Writers Can Show Emotions in Their Characters in Effective Ways” by Robin Patchen:
http://www.livewritethrive.com/2015/06/24/how-fiction-writers-can-show-emotions-in-their-characters-in-effective-ways/

“Show, Don’t Tell: What You Need to Know” by Jerry Jenkins:
https://jerryjenkins.com/show-dont-tell/

Gail Carson Levine’s blog:
https://gailcarsonlevine.com/blog/2017/02/01/lachrymose-lugubriousness/

Delilah Dawson’s Twitter feed:
https://twitter.com/DelilahSDawson/status/1086657712518299650

Stewie Writes:
http://www.stewiewrites.com

More great literary examples on Reedsy:
https://blog.reedsy.com/show-dont-tell/

“Understanding Show, Don't Tell: (And Really Getting It)” by Janice Hardy:
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01M0BE4UP/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

“The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression” by Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman:
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07MTQ7W6Q/ref=x_gr_w_bb_glide_sin?ie=UTF8&tag=x_gr_w_bb_glide_sin-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=B07MTQ7W6Q&SubscriptionId=1MGPYB6YW3HWK55XCGG2

Title and End Music:
“Clockwork” by Vindsvept - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Zl4EGLoiI8&t=83s

Background Music by Vindsvept:
+ “Illuminate”
+ “The Fae”
+ “Wildkin Glade”
+ “Hideaway”
+ “The Forgotten Forest”
+ “Lake of Light”
+ “Winter’s Day”

Introduction (0:00)
The Origins of "Show, Don't Tell" (3:53)
1. Use Evidence to Support Your Claims (5:38)
2. Replace the Abstract with the Concrete (7:20)
3. Substitute Vague Descriptions with Details (10:09)
4. Avoid Relying Too Much on Body Language (12:09)
5. Show Emotion Through Dialogue (15:32)
6. Filter Observations Through the Narrative Voice (17:51)
Summary (21:51)
Writing Exercise (26:00)
writinghow to writewriting motivation

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