Show Don’t Tell by Kristi Bradley

If you’re a writer, you’ve probably heard, “Show don’t tell your story.”

What does that mean?

It means don’t tell us the victim was stabbed, bring her on stage and let the audience hear her scream as the knife slips between her ribs. Another way is to keep adjectives and adverbs (‘ly’ words) to a minimum. Also, do not modify ‘said’ with adverbs. Avoid the word ‘WAS’ and its other forms – am, is, are, will have, have been – as this shows passive voice.

Example:  Instead of – The floor was covered with dirty clothes. Try – I couldn’t see the floor for all the dirty clothes. Avoid the words ‘LOOK’ and ‘FEEL’. Use more powerful words as this is another sign of telling, not showing your story.

Use sensory images, yes, all five senses, when describing the setting. If describing a cave, don’t just tell us it has rocky walls and cold air, but have your character touch the wall – is it covered in moss? Is slime flowing in rivulets? Does her breath fog on her exhalation? Don’t overwhelm the reader with too much description either, sometimes less is more. Find a happy medium.

Avoid clichés – use good comparisons for your metaphors. Vary sentence structure to avoid monotony. Shorter, choppier sentences help draw out suspense and create tension. Good grammar can slow a sentence down. Sometimes writers make mistakes on purpose to make the sentence resonate. Don’t use dialogue for conveying information dumps. Yes, dialogue can give information, but it should not feel like a description. Don’t be afraid to use contractions. People speak in contractions, so your writing needs to show that, too. Language matters. How it happened means turning the action into words the reader will be able to translate and see in their head as if watching a movie. Punctuation matters. It could be the life or death of a sentence. Grab a copy of Eat, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss for your punctuation questions.

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