May Toolbox Meeting – Show Don’t Tell

Showing allows the reader to experience the story through the feelings, actions, dialogue, and flow of time of the POV character.  Telling (exposition, summary, labelling, info dump) allows the reader to tune out – and if you want your reader to turn the next page, DON’T TELL unless it is short, concise, clear (a sentence or two for: transition, echo/repetition, in a sequel) and absolutely NECESSARY.

Use the actions, dialogue, description, emotions, thoughts OF THE POV character to enable your reader to LIVE moment by moment through each scene as the POV character – we want them to be the character, feel what the character feels, experience what the character experiences, do what the character does (slight generalisation here, but don’t think about horror/murder here – there is always a way to allow the reader to slide past the scary bits).

‘Show, Don’t Tell’ is a difficult toolbox subject (unlike the others, which are Soooooooo Easy – not!) because we are trained to Tell, Not Show through our education, through most of the books we read, through the concept of story being ‘Once Upon A Time’ or ‘In the Beginning’ or ‘Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch’ and the worst of all ‘It was a dark and stormy night’ – these are all Tell.  Look at how many ‘it was’, ‘there was’, etc. in your story, and get rid of them, or better yet, put them into a Show mode: is the POV character thinking about it? Could it be part of a conversation (being careful not to overload a conversation with too much tell), a description through POV? POV actions/reactions?  Think carefully, because show also uses up lots of words, and your word count may skyrocket.  And don’t forget that you don’t have to write down every single moment from waking to sleeping – the words must be relevant to the story, to the POV character, and the reader (think of jump-cuts in the movies to get from one point in the story to the next).  Show is drama, and enables the reader to experience the story, and speaking as a reader, this is what I want.


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