Thursday, November 17, 2011

Showing vs Telling

Missy, here. And first off, check out my new cover!! I love it. :) A House Full of Hope is coming in February (and can be pre-ordered now!).

Okay, thanks for letting me share. :) Now on to a topic that's been on my mind lately. I've been taking a fantastic online class with Shirley Jump (she's an amazing teacher), and this week, she's having us brush up on showing instead of telling. Since I've been focusing on improving this in my own wip, I thought I'd make up an example to help anyone who may be struggling with this as well.

Here's an obvious example of telling, although I'm sure I did this when I began writing...

The boy stood at the front door, obviously high, smiling.

John was so furious he was shaking. He told the obnoxious boy to get out of his way as he barreled through the door. He found his daughter on the couch, smoking a cigarette. Not wanting to give her a chance to argue, he just pointed and told her to go outside and get in the car.

She smirked and refused.

That was strictly telling, and it made it really passive. Here's a shot at doing a better job of showing...

The boy stood at the door, eyes bloodshot and half open. "Hey, man. Whaz up?" He staggered as he tried to hold his head up. The sickly sweet smell of pot radiated out of the house.

Flashes of light sparked behind John's eyes, blinding him. He clenched his fists until his arms shook as he fought the urge to knock the punk across the room. He took a deep breath to clear his vision. "Get out of my way."

He barreled through the door and found his daughter on the couch, smoking a cigarette.

She rolled her eyes. "Oh, man. What are you--"

"I don't want to hear it." He pointed at the front door. "Get in the car. Now."

After a long, deep draw on the cigarette, she blew out smoke rings. Five puffs of white that floated above her head. Then she lifted one side of her mouth in a hateful smile. "Make me."

Note: If you ever need to add to your word count, this is the trick for you! :)

Okay, so that was better. But I struggled with the flashes of light behind his eyes. I really wanted to say: Fury made flashes of light spark behind his eyes. But again, I'd be naming the emotion. And it's better to try not to name the emotion. Instead, show it. Showing is also a great method for adding description and dialogue. It makes everything much more active and engaging.

I'd love to have you share an example, just for fun. One of your own. Or, you can choose a writing exercise challenge. I'll give you a starter, and you improve on it. It'll be fun to see the different ways we do it.

Here's a starter:

Billy Bob heard someone bang on the front door. It nearly scared him to death. So he hollered to ask who it was.

The person didn't answer. Just banged again. Billy Bob wondered if it was the escaped prisoner he'd heard about on the television earlier that day.

"Who is it?" he yelled loudly, trying to sound mean. He thought he might throw up. Or cry. Neither would be good in front of Susie Q.

"Billy Bob, I'm scared," Susie Q whispered quietly.

He felt totally humiliated and wondered why she didn't feel safe with him. "It's okay, Susie Q. I'll take care of you."

She looked doubtful.

When the door started to open, he got so scared, he ran. Then he thought better of it and hurried back to grab Susie Q's hand.

Fear and anger warred on her face.

He just hoped that Susie Q could someday forgive him.

Okay, Missy again. I have to say I had entirely too much fun writing that. :) Now...have at it!

Hint: Shirley Jump has a really helpful article on her website. Click here if you'd like to read it before attempting to do the challenge.


  1. Congrats on your new book, Missy!! Love the cover! Hope to read it! Will you do a book signing at your you did on another book! Hope so; will try to be there!

  2. Thanks, Jackie! I'm still deciding. But I think I will do another one. I'll be sure to let you know!! :)

  3. Hi Missy:

    I’ll play along. Here’s my version:

    The front door was shaking like there was an earthquake. Billy Bob's knees were shaking almost as bad. He still had earthquake nightmares from three years ago.

    “Whooooo's there?” He surprised himself when the words actually came out of his mouth. It could be that excaped prisoner they mentioned on TV. Not as bad as an earthquake but not good either. The door kept rattling; something evil was out there.

    Behind him Billy Bob could hear a whimper. There were tears forming in Susie Q.’s eyes. She was about to become a fountain again. I hate tears. I hate earthquakes.

    Billy Bob fisted both hands and marched to the door and kicked it, then he kicked it again.

    “Who is it? I’ve just called 911! You better get!”

    The pounding only got louder.

    "I’m really not that brave", he thought looking for a place to empty his stomach in an emergency and this was fast approaching being an emergency.

    “Billy Bob, are we going to die?” Susie Q was lying on the flood in the fetal position.

    “Oh, ye of little faith,” Billy Bob quoted from that morning’s sermon. “God will protect us; He loves the little children”.

    Susie Q. sat up and fingered the moisture from her eyes. “God will protect us? Are you sure?”

    “That’s why I’m here, Susie Q. That’s what big brothers are for, trust me.”

    Billy Bob felt like disappearing. He was no match for anything that could make that much noise pounding on the door. But I’ll get big one day. And then nothing will scare me.

    The door began to open and Billy Joe ran to the fireplace and grabbed the iron poker from the stand. It was shaking in his hand like it was a weed eater under full power. He moved in front of Susie Q. and held the iron like his little league baseball bat.


    P.S. Great cover. Sweet, sweet, sweet. I wish I knew about Shirley's class. Is it too late to join?

  4. Great job, Vince!! Thanks for coming out to play. I loved what you did. :)

    If you click that link at the beginning of my post, it takes you to Shirley's webpage where she lists her classes. This one started Nov. 1 so would be too late to get in it. She may offer it again. It's called The Brain Map.