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If you have ever tried your hands at Fiction then you must have come across the term “Show, not tell.” But what does it mean? Why is it important and how can you master it? These are the questions that every writer struggles with in the beginning.
Everyone tells you to do it. This is the most commonly given writing advice out there but no one will tell you how to do it.
Even I have talked about it along with some other tips that you need to write like a pro. They are easy to follow and will make a difference to your writing overnight. Click here to read.
If used correctly, this piece of advice can make your writing career and if you overdo or neglect it, then your book will never get any admirers and it will lie deserted in the abyss of failure.
Don’t believe me? Then I hope this will keep you hooked.
“His breaths became slow and his body started to turn cold. He closed his eyes as his heartbeats grew slower with every second and darkness engulfed his vision.”
“His dark brown eyelashes flutter with fatigue as his white shirt turned dirty on the back as it kissed the ground. The sun was shining brightly and the birds chirped as his Nike Shoes were laden with mud indicating a recent rainfall. It was then the oxygen level transported to his brain dropped and he slowly closed his eyes. His heart was beating slowly for ten minutes now and his AB negative blood running in his veins slowed down. Soon, he closed his brown eyes and was met with the darkest of blacks ruling the eternal truth of life.”
See the difference?
I hope you are convinced now that the tool called “Show, not tell,” can make a huge difference in your writing career and you should take it seriously.
And I hope that I have your attention now.
WHAT DOES SHOW NOT TELL MEAN?
Let us begin with what this phrase means. You can’t obviously master something you don’t understand. If you don’t understand the art then how can you be a famous artist, right? So now we will try to understand and demystify this short yet powerful advice.
Show means turn your book into a movie.
Tell means simply stating facts.
If you just say what’s happening, readers will be like, “Okay it happened. So what?”
As a writer you have to make their sensory organs alive and make them feel that they are there in the story when something is happening.
All of us cried when Snape died.
All of us cried when Tony said, “I am Iron Man.”
But why? They were just fictional characters right?
This is where feelings come in the play. To us, they were not just fictional characters, they were more than that. We have been with them through their whole journey and felt the pain they suffered. We were happy when they won and sad when they lost. We winced when they were wounded and relieved when they were better.
Show not tell is the writer’s ability to teleport their readers to their worlds.
WHY IS SHOW NOT TELL IMPORTANT?
Let us look at the SHOW, NOT TELL example I gave earlier.
1. “He died.”
2. “His breaths became slow and his body started to turn cold. He closed his eyes as his heartbeats grew slower with every second and darkness engulfed his vision.”
3. “His dark brown eyelashes flutter with fatigue as his white shirt turned dirty on the back as it kissed the ground. The sun was shining brightly and the birds chirped as his Nike Shoes were laden with mud indicating a recent rainfall. It was then the oxygen level transported to his brain dropped and he slowly closed his eyes. His heart was beating slowly for ten minutes now and his AB negative blood running in his veins slowed down. Soon, he closed his brown eyes and was met with the darkest of blacks ruling the eternal truth of life.”
Statement 1 simply tells you the fact. That the person died. But did you feel anything? Sadness or relief? Any emotion? I guess no.
Now let us look at the next two statements. Statement 2 and 3 take you through the journey and let you decide for yourself. You feel the tense situation and it was as if you could see the person dying in front of you and you had no power to change the course of events. Are you eager to know what happens next? Did that person really die? Did someone come to help him? Why did he die? How did he die?
And this is how your book will turn into a massive page turner.
Readers won’t be able to stop themselves from turning the pages.
“Catch their curiosity and they will be hooked till the last page.”Pranjali Aditi
When someone reads your book, they try to imagine your world. They get immersed into it and feel everything that the characters are feeling. In reality, we are used to feeling everything through our senses before concluding. So if your book fails to play with the reader’s senses, the reader won’t be able to connect himself to your world. If you can’t soak the reader into the pages, then trust me, no one will read your book. It won’t be binge-worthy neither will readers remember what happened ten sentences ago.
And then your book will be just another spillage on ink in the digital world.
Before we move on to the next tip, I would like to thank Grammarly for keeping my work error-free and smooth. You can Sign In for free now by clicking on this link or if you need more convincing, check out my post on Grammarly and decide whether you should buy the premium version by clicking here.
HOW TO SHOW NOT TELL IN WRITING?
Now you know what does show, not tell mean and you know why it’s important.
So now allow me to share with you the secrets of mastering this holy task.
SEE THE ENVIRONMENT
- Clear out your station.
- Take a deep breath.
- Close your eyes.
- Try to imagine what is happening in your story.
- Stay like that for a minute.
- When you can see things clearly, open your eyes and start writing what you saw.
Eyes are the most overused sensory organ of our body. We always see things even when we are not trying to focus so hard. The visible effects are always there in life. So imagine a room where you can’t see but know what’s going on. Books void of visible effects make the readers blind.
But you have to be careful with this one.
We can see a lot of things but we choose not to focus on them in the real life. Write only about the things you will notice yourself when you were there in your character’s shoes. Don’t go overboard.
Why would I care what colour the curtains are in a fight scene?
Rather tell me about the attacker’s movements and how the protagonist is dodging it. Is she sweating? Is the attacker tired? Does he have a knife?
These are the details you should aim for.
Even in the room, you are sitting right now, you are just staring at your phone or laptop. Why would you care what’s inside the bed when you are reading an amazing blog post?
FEEL THE ENVIRONMENT
- DO IT AFTER YOU HAVE WRITTEN WHAT YOU CAN SEE.
- TAKE A DEEP BREATH.
- FEEL THE KEYS UNDER YOUR FINGERTIPS.
- FOCUS ON THE TINGLING.
- THEN IMAGINE YOUR CHARACTER.
- START THINKING ABOUT WHAT HE’S FEELING AGAINST HIS FINGERTIPS.
- TAKE YOUR CLUE AND WRITE EVERYTHING YOU CAN FEEL.
You have written what you can see but you can’t deny the power of the things you can feel.
You can feel the cold wind and feel better in a hot day. You can feel something hitting the back of your head and know that you have been attacked without having to see the attacker. You know you are not feeling well without having to check your red eyes in the mirror.
There’s so much more to the world than what our eyes can capture. The sensation of feeling is what plays an important role in our lives. Mostly in romance and adventure, you have to write a character or scene with heighten feelings to pump up the audience.
You can feel the goosebumps while reading horror.
You can feel the intimacy while reading romance.
You can feel the fear and nervousness while reading a thriller.
Don’t underestimate the power to feel. It can be the magic ingredient of your book that will make readers read it again and again.
But don’t go overboard here too. Don’t force your characters to feel what a person would normally ignore in that situation.
You won’t care about the cold breeze when someone stabs you from the back.
SMELL THE ENVIRONMENT
- TAKE A DEEP BREATH.
- DRINK WATER.
- NOW INHALE SLOWLY.
- GET INTO THE STORY.
- NOW WRITE EVERYTHING YOU COULD SMELL.
- IF YOU CAN WRITE WHAT YOU TASTE, THAT WOULD BE A BONUS POINT.
Now that you can see and feel things it’s time to awaken the third sensory organ that we use most commonly. The power of smell is like a hidden talent we don’t know we have.
It’s the smell of burnt cotton that tells us the house is on fire.
The smell of rotten food in a poor locality.
The smell of good food on a date.
The senses like smell and taste are not so overpowering but they can make a huge impact in certain scenes. Don’t force them. There’s no need to include them every time.
Just imagine yourself in your character’s shoes and ask yourself, would I really notice that?
Don’t get perplexed or highly conscious of your writing. Show, not tell is just an advice for others to say feel what you write and write what you feel.
And like any other art, it requires practice.
Don’t worry. I got you covered.
Download the free 10-page “Show, Not Tell” Worksheet I prepared for you and start to write like a pro today.
I hope you’ll like my gift and don’t forget to comment what you think of this post.