Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Show, Don't Tell

Show, don't tell. 

Scary words, at least for someone who lived and breathed the classics in her younger days. Many of the classics are written in third person and often didn't reveal the antagonist's innermost feelings and POV. It was all overview, a sweeping panorama of all the events taking place.

Let's just say since I've published my medieval trilogy, I've learned many readers prefer the second person and show, don't tell. Which is fine. I never really intended to stick with classical style after my series was complete. I've gotten the opportunity to practice new techniques. And writers need to grow.

But how exactly do you show, not tell? Here are some examples of telling.

Emma walked into the Starbucks, ordered some coffee, and sat down. She opened her laptop, realized it was low on charge, and nearly cried.

One word:


Totally, completely boring. There is no life, no sense of reality, not POV. Just the overall facts.

To effectively create your protagonist's (or antagonist, as the case may be) POV (point of view), you have to see the world through their eyes. Not above, looking down from ceiling fan or wherever you choose to be. Taste what they taste, feel what they feel, and cry when they do. Taking the same story, let's work on our showing.

Emma smiled at the young man walking out of Starbucks, allowing him to hold the door open for her. Stepping into the warmth, she paused. Inhaling, she basked in the scents of French and Italian roasts. How long had it been since she had bought an espresso?

Too long.

She walked up to the counter, making eye contact with the cute pig-tailed barista. There was no need to peruse the menu. "Hi. I'll have a hazelnut mochiatto please."

The barista took her credit card, swiping it. Secretly, Emma wondered how many times a day she had to handle other people's cards. The germs... Just thinking about it made her finger the Bath and Body hand sanitizer attached to her purse strap. 

"Here you go!"

Emma blinked. That was fast. She took the coffee, remembering to murmur some thanks. Deftly, she walked over to a vacant table. Perfect. Positioned right next to a window, her chosen seat offered a perfect view of the busy intersection and park.

Eagerly, she opened her laptop and pushed the on button. While waiting for her computer to load, she sipped her coffee. Its creamy sweetness and strong espresso flavor was just what she needed.


Emma blinked, aghast at the computer's warning. Her laptop had 5 minutes of battery time. And she had forgotten the power cord. How could this have happened? She had deliberately forced time in her hectic schedule just for this moment, just so she could have some time alone. 

"No!" She covered her mouth too late, realizing her muffled protest. She wanted to cry. All her planning, her sacrifices, her late night study hours just to give herself some time today. And now this.

"Is anything wrong, miss?"

Emma looked up. The scent of masculine cologne hit her nostrils, and she immediately met the bluest eyes she had ever seen.

Hahah! Yes, I am ending there. What do you think? Do you get the idea of show, not tell? Now for your assignment! 

Finish the story in a comment below, using the tips you've learned!

Alicia A. Willis is a home-school graduate, published author, and avid historian. She is a firm believer in the principle that one can accomplish anything by substantial amounts of prayer and coffee. Visit her at her blog to view her historical-fiction novels and all the goings-on between writing!


  1. Haha! I love this, Alicia! What a fun story.

  2. ...And then Emma fell head over heels in love with the handsome stranger and they married the next day!!! :D

    1. Seriously? ;) So you think he was handsome? You could be right. But I'm thinking he might have been a villain.

    2. ...And then Emma fell head over heels in love with the ugly villain and they married the next day!!!

  3. Quickly, she dropped her gaze to his entwined fingers that reached around a steaming cup of... cocoa? Surely not! But it was – piled high with frothy whipped cream, swirled with savory butterscotch drizzle, and topped with a square of milk chocolate. It actually looked good. She glanced down at her own favorite and quickly wondered if she was becoming sick.

    “I... I was just...” Emma couldn't help stammering as her mind swam for an answer to his question.

    “You are a writer?” he asked, pulling out the chair on the opposite side of the table and making himself comfortable.

    “Well, I try to write every chance I get. Unfortunately, it's difficult when I forget to charge my laptop.” She watched the screen blank out in front of her, and she pushed the lid closed with a sigh.

    “Here, this will help,” he placed his cup on the small table and pushed it toward her. “Don't worry, I haven't touched it yet.”

    Emma hesitated for a moment, letting her fingertips brush the hot exterior. They tingled slightly, and she quickly caught the wafting aroma of the promise beneath the whipped cream.

    “Okay.” She pulled the cup the rest of the way toward her and smiled her thanks.

    “By the way, my name is Joseph.”

    “Emma,” she replied, not able to help the smile that spread across her face. Somewhere, deep in the recesses of her mind, lurked the idea for a new book. A story entitled “A Cup of Joe”.


    1. Nice! "A Cup of Joe" - perfect ending! Emma could have been me. Making up a story about a total stranger. :)

    2. Aw, thanks! You and me both! All I need is a picture or to see someone in real life - CACHING!! A new story! :D:D


Thank you for contacting us!