Writing Tips by Gary Speer

Tips for writers, musing about writing and life

Guest post by Suzanne Lieurance: ‘ “Show Don’t Tell” — What Does That Really Mean?’

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Let’s hear a round of applause out there, good readers, to welcome our guest writer for today — Suzanne Lieurance. Suzanne commented on a recent post here regarding deadlines and she and I struck up an online conversation. Suzanne is an accomplished writer and writing coach. I encourage you to check out her website, The Working Writer’s Coach, for more excellent information and some great services for freelance writers.

She graciously agreed to let me post the following article from EzineArticles.Com, the Internet’s best article directory. I encourage you to check out the author’s bio information at the end of this post for links to her excellent writing websites. So the following is Suzanne’s article, ” ‘Show Don’t Tell’ — What Does That Really Mean?” I hope you find it as helpful as I did. Thanks again Suzanne:


Do good writers tell stories?

Well, not exactly.

Good writers show stories.

To show a story instead of just tell it, you should include details that make the reader feel he is experiencing the story right along with the characters, rather than just hearing about it.

There are several ways to do this – through dialogue (you show the reader what the characters are saying to each other), through action (you show what the characters are doing), and through sensory details (you help the reader see, smell, taste, touch, and hear what is going on).

This is telling: Mary was sad.

It doesn’t show the reader much.

It just tells him how Mary felt.

But can the reader really envision what’s going on with Mary?

Probably not.

This is showing: Mary felt a sinking feeling in her stomach. Then her eyes watered and her bottom lip started to quiver before she burst into tears.

This lets the reader see what’s happening to Mary, then he can figure out for himself that she must be sad.

As a writer, you want to take the reader to the action in the story.

Help him to feel as if he’s experiencing it firsthand.

For that, you need details.

And the best ways to include details that show what’s going on are through action and dialogue.

But you can also show a scene through sensory images – describing how a particular time and place smelled, how it sounded, what it felt like, tasted like, and looked like.

Here are some examples of sentences that merely tell the reader something:

1. My room was a mess.

2. It was a beautiful day.

3. Mark had a terrible cold.

Now, here are the same situations, only this time, the paragraphs show the reader what is going on in each situation:

1. Where was my homework? I looked under the pile of Legos behind my bedroom door. Nope. I pulled dirty clothes, shoes, a green sandwich, and a rubber ball from under my bed. Not there either.

2. Sun soaked into my dark hair and sweater. I leaned back and took a deep breath. The smell of saltwater taffy and the sea filled me, and the breeze tickled my cheeks. I listened to the children laugh and the seagulls argue.

3. “Achoo!” Mark sat up in bed. His head throbbed and his nose dripped like an ice cube in July. He shuffled to the mirror. “Achooo!” SPLAT! At least he couldn’t see his puffy face through the goo. Mark shuffled back to bed.

Once you get the hang of showing instead of telling, you’ll never want to go back to simply telling a story again.

A story that includes too much telling and very little showing tends to sound like a summary.

But showing things in a story makes every scene come to life for the reader.

And isn’t that the kind of story you’re really hoping to create?

For more writing tips visit the National Writing for Children Center at http://www.writingforchildrencenter.com and find out how to receive two free ebooks for writers and a free subscription to The Morning Nudge (a few words of inspiration and motivation to help you get a little writing done each day). Visit Suzanne Lieurance’s website at http://www.workingwriterscoach.com for additional articles about writing and receive a free 21-day minicourse called “Effective Article Marketing.”

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One Response to “Guest post by Suzanne Lieurance: ‘ “Show Don’t Tell” — What Does That Really Mean?’”

  1. Suzanne says:

    Hey, Gary,

    It was my pleasure to be your guest blogger. Thanks for the nice intro, and the links.

    Have a super writing week!

    Suzanne Lieurance
    The Working Writer’s Coach
    “When Your Pen Won’t Budge, Read The Morning Nudge”

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