English & EAL

Show, don’t tell

Lisa Tran

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This month’s blog post will be short but it contains one extremely valuable point you should take away – especially if you’ll be writing imaginary pieces in the next few months. Creative essays are great because they offer interesting and unique stories; however, there is one common downfall that occurs in writing. Some students create pieces that are too straightforward. Rather than using vocabulary, imagery and symbolism to express a point, they simply write down a statement that sums up what they wish to say. Your aim is to invite the reader to experience the story through your words. This can be done through the character’s thoughts, feelings, actions etc. Thus the well-known phrase among writers, ‘Show, don’t tell’. Keeping this idea in mind turn you into a much more successful writer – and you’ll see the difference!

Example 1

Tell: Katie was very happy.

Show: Katie’s face lifted. Little wrinkles appeared around her bright eyes, her dimples made an appearance that dug into her cheeks as a big grin emerged to show her perfect teeth.

Example 2

Tell: She felt horrible for the weeping children.

Show: Guilt throbbed inside her as she stared at the weeping children. Her heart pounded against her chest, her hands trembling beside her still body, her brain screaming at her to do something.

Example 3

Tell: I was scared.

Show: I hear my breathing; heavy, and rapid. I shut my eyes tightly. I can feel goosebumps running up my arms and down my back.

To test whether or not you are ‘telling’ instead of ‘showing’, think about whether or not your sentence leaves room for questions. In Example 1, ‘Katie was very happy’ would leave the reader thinking – what thought or action showed that she was happy? Whereas ‘show’ demonstrated that she was happy without directly stating it.

The key is to go into the finer details of your story!

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