Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Refresher #2 - Show, Don't Tell

Time for another refresher! Show, don't tell. Yes, we've covered this before, but doing so again won't hurt.

Please consider the following sentence:

"No, I don't want to go to the grocery store." Devon shook his head determinedly. 

Now consider this way:

Devon bit his lip. A chill rushed down his spine. The grocery store. His milk allergies and foliphobia were a glaring threat. "No. I don't want to go there."

Which sentence caused you to more emotionally involved and connected to what the character was feeling?

 You see, showing feelings has everything to do with causing your readers to feel what the character feels. To cry or laugh when he does. To feel that prickle of nervousness or shiver of cold apprehension. 


Lily was angry through and through. "How can you say that to me?" she demanded.


Lily clenched her jaw. She could feel heat rising in her face. "How can you say that to me, Jake? Does our friendship mean nothing to you?"

One tells. The other shows. 

How does it work in a different time setting? Pretty much the same way, even if you are trying to add historical detail.


William felt fear. "I'm sorry, Sir John. Please, it won't happen again."


A cold chill washed down William's spine. Sir John had never lashed out so wrathfully at him before. Cousin or no cousin, this man was his master. And that strain of legal authority was budding in a way he had never seen before. He found himself bowing low. "Forgive me, my lord. I will never offend in such manner again."

Yes, one is much longer, but you get some historical background as well as William's feelings. Good character driven stories have to show the emotional workings of a character's heart in at least some detail. 

 Now it's your turn! Take the following sentence and practice showing, not telling in the comments. Have fun!

Ricardo bowed before picking up his sword. "Your wish is my command, majesty." 

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 or Facebook to view her historical-fiction novels and all the goings-on between writing!


  1. This is great! I've been told show don't tell before but no one ever showed me what they were talking about. It was very helpful

    1. Awesome! I am so glad it was helpful! :)

  2. Oh this was wonderful!!! I will be commenting again soon with my show don't tell with the sample given.

    You inspire me so much with your writings and it really does help me greatly with my own!

    Blessings to you sweet friend!

  3. Wow! I totally needed a refresher on that! Thanks so much!
    Here is my sentence made new.

    Ricardo’s face flushed at the king’s words. The strong sense of duty swelled within his breast. Bowing low to the ground he spoke fervently, “Your wish is my command, majesty.” With that he swept up his sword from where it lay and bounded off to fulfill the command.

    Does it show and not tell? I'm still trying to learn how to do this! :)

    1. You almost got it! :) Here are the things I would tweak:

      Ricardo felt the heat rise in his face. Duty swelled strongly in his breast, stiffing him. He bowed. "Your wish is my command, majesty." Fervency quivered in his hands as he swept up his sword, his feet bounding beneath him.

      See? You've got the right adjectives and the creativity. Now make it more personal. :) Instead of looking down on the scene, look at it, feel it, experience it from Ricardo's POV. :)

    2. Oh, I see! Thank you for the help! It is very much appreciated!

  4. Ricardo bowed low with his eyes still fixed warily on the king's face. "Your wish is my command, majesty," he said picking up his sword and sliding it decisively into its sheath. Turning away, he could feel his sovereign's eyes still on him and a frightened anger welled up in his chest.

    How was that?

    1. Hey, that was pretty good! I like the part with "frightened anger welled up in his chest". It's his POV, his feelings. Excellent.

      FYI, I think around 2-3 commas are missing, but hey. ;)

    2. Thank you! Yeah, I forgot a few commas. : ) That's what editing is for, right? ; )

    3. Right. ;) I edit for extra income, so don't mind my editor's brain...

    4. Great job Kate! I love it!

  5. What do you think of this, Alicia?

    Ricardo's jaw tensed as his heart recoiled from the words just spoken. Dropping his eyes, he swept into a low bow before the king. His fingers curled reluctantly around the cold handle of the sword, matching the forced nature of his answer. "Your wish is my command, your majesty." With stiff determination, he turned on his heel and strode from the king's presence.

    1. Ooooh! I like! Excepting "with stiff determination" (it's not his POV anymore), that was spot-on. Excellent example - good work!!!

    2. Aw, thanks! I did have the benefit of having read the previous examples, though, which helped me to form in my own mind exactly what was happening. I probably should have left out the "stiff determination" phrase completely, right?

      Thanks for the fun writing exercise (I always liked those in my English books)! ;)

    3. Probably, but you could have given the impression some other way. Sure thing - I like to do them myself!


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