Monday, January 28, 2013

Show Me All About It

We have talked about social media and platforming. We've talked about the normal mistakes in a manuscript, but we haven't discussed, to me anyway, the hardest creative writing to do-show, don't tell.

I'm sure all of you have heard this phrase at one time or another. Either your teacher, or critique partner, even your editor. It's the one that none of us want pointed out because it involves having to put your brain into overdrive. Trust me, that's what it does to my sister and I. 

But if you can show, instead of tell a scene or description of a scene, it will draw your reader into your story. For example:

The blood stained the carpet--The smell of copper lingered as she pushed open the bedroom door. The odor rising from the crimson stain that assaulted the plush oriental design covering the oak-wood floor.

Okay, so I'm not the greatest at it either, but you get my meaning...I think. The point is, the blood stained the carpet is boring. It really doesn't give a description to take a reader into the scene. One of the ways to get more scripted is to use the five senses. Touch, taste, smell, hear, and see. Smell is one of the easiest to use in descriptions, such as the 'copper' smell. 

We are all guilty of taking the easy route when describing a scene. Try to explain 'The moon shone through the trees' in another way. A way that you could look up and see it as though you were actually there. 

If you can take your reader into a battle scene, or a love scene with a better choice of words, then you are a great writer, instead of 'just' a writer. If you can help them to smell or taste as apposed to telling them 'He ate an apple', you have hit the nail on the to speak.  

The next time you find yourself writing a scene, stop and think about how you describe it. Once you have found the exact words and then read it out loud, you will be thrilled at how wonderful it sounds.

There are writers that are masters at this. There are writers that are masters at POV shifts too. We all have our strong suits, but if we can master all the creative writing techniques, we will then be the 'great' writers we are striving to be.

What are your strong suits when writing? Dialog, scenes, descriptions, hooks?
Leave me a comment and let me know your thoughts on this subject, and no teasing my description of the blood on the carpet...just kidding!

Have a wonderful week everyone and I look forward to reading your comments. 

Love, Lisa


  1. I'm apparently good at fluid dialogue. I attribute that to years of shamelessly eavesdropping on conversations at the university while everyone thought I was listening to music through my headphones.

    And always remember that show vs tell is all about moderation. If you show everything, you run the risk of mangling the story's pace. The real trick is knowing what to tell and what to show.

    It's not too hard to figure that out, either. Beta readers come in handy. They can tell when the story suddenly slowed down when it ought to have sped up. You get a remark like "it got real slow here" and you can take a look: did you show where you should have told?

    The manuscript I'm revising right now had two parts where the reader wanted more details. I had the opposite problem. I told when I should have shown.

    Every time you show when you should tell, you erect a wall for your readers to crash into. Every time you tell when you should show, you create a pool for your readers to skid out on. Or sometime like that. I'm not that great with metaphors. :D

    Now we'll see if this even posts.

  2. Lol! I like your description. Only, I don't smell copper in blood, I smell iron. No matter, it's a metallic smell.

    You said not to tease so I just had to. What a brat, right?

    I think my strength is dialog and possibly scene. You're right that 'show, don't tell' is the hardest thing to maintain. Most of us will fall into the tell without really thinking about it. To continually show, it is like brain overdrive. That's what critique groups and editors are for, pointing out the places where we lapse.

    Here's my example of show:
    Soft fibers caressed her skin, the warmth immediate. The pale gray color did nothing for her skin tone, but that wasn't important. A barrier against the chill night air was.

  3. Not bad Robin! But what is her skin tone and should you end a sentence with was? I'm just wondering. Anyway, yes it is hard to always show lol!

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. The above post is Ryan's. And no it didn't work. For some reason blogger doesn't like you lol! No, I agree, you can't show all the time and tell all the time. there is a balance. But, in certain descriptions it helps to bring the reader there. Thanks for trying Ryan. I wonder what you post under? Is it Google or Yahoo or something else?

    2. Google, of course. I'm now trying using my WordPress login again, since I think it worked once with that. Google must not like me. That or it's just Blogger. I don't have much trouble with other Google services.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. the above post is Ryan's again. No, it didn't work. I don't get it. I've never had issues with posting with google. I can't figure it out, but that's not saying much. I know little about computers.

  6. I'm sure I always need work on the show don't tell adage. I think that's partly why I avoid working on my novels and write so much on my blogs. I can tell all kinds of stuff in my blog posts.

    A Faraway View
    An A to Z Co-host blog

    1. It's really not that hard if you stop and see where you can change your words to describe. Don't avoid your novels, I'm sure they are great!

  7. I actually went to a good workshop on this last summer. One key that stands out from it is if you find yourself using feeling words to describe a character's emotional state (e.g. she hates him, he felt as sad as a kitten unable to suckle its mother, she was so angry, she...), edit it out and write the scene showing the emotion. The kitten mewled as it crawled over its siblings trying to get to the teat.
    Hey, check out the recent Writer Unboxed post on this subject:

    Jagoda (

    1. I agree Jagoda, and thanks for sharing that. Certain words should be avoided such as feel, and felt. Instead show how.

  8. You've been nominated for an award from me: Please visit

  9. Lisa,

    Just getting around to reading this post - Finally!

    Yes, I know we are always supposed to use the senses when writing. We would always discuss that in my writer's group when I lived in CA. Sometimes, as mentioned by several people, it is hard to remember that when you're writing.

    That's why it is important to have someone else read your work to point these things out and why it is necessary to do rewrites. If anything, I probably need to go more into detail and put myself in the scene. Although I have been told I do it too much in the past, so there is that line and balance between the two that someone mentioned earlier.


  10. Yes, there is a fine line between the two. There is the problem of you trying to over explain details for you. You need to realize that you don't have to describe everything, you can do so in dialogs.