Show Don’t Tell – Super Basics in Creative Writing

Writing Pen and JournalRecently I shared an example of “Show, Don’t Tell” with a fellow student in my writing class. This was such a hard concept for me to learn. The examples may not be stellar, but I think they get the point across.

When you want to “show, don’t tell,” describe the senses and employ the use of descriptions, not just for physical objects but actions, too.

This is telling:  “Mary was so upset because she couldn’t apply her make-up just right. She only had one hour to go before her blind date, Roger, picked her up. Her best friend from work, Sally, fixed her up. It would be Mary’s first date in a year since she broke up with Fred.”

LipstickThis is showing: “Her eyeliner was too thick, the concealer caked under her eyes, and she swiped on too much pink blush that made her look like a call girl. If only Mary’s hand would stop shaking so she could reapply her make-up before her blind date arrived.

Sally, Mary’s co-worker, brightened up when she spoke of her brother, Roger, and Mary imagined enjoying his down to earth, yet exciting personality. She needed someone like that since her break up with compulsive and pretentious Fred. Mary relaxed her clenched jaw and took a deep breath, then poured some make-up remover onto a cottonball.

Instead of telling that “The fire truck went rapidly down the street” show how “The massive red fire engine roared over potholes and left trash flying in its wake.”

singerUse original metaphors and similes to tell your story.

A metaphor or simile helps your reader to easily envision the thoughts you’re trying to convey. “He seemed as tall as the tree in my grandmother’s garden,” or “He fought like a man with no arms,” or “She sang as if chalkboard scratching was a new art form.”

What is one of your favorite “show, don’t tell” sentences, be it yours or from another author?

How to Intensify Conflict & Deepen Characters—The Wound

Valuable writing advice to ramp up just about any story or creative non-fiction work. Kristen Lamb is amazing!

Kristen Lamb's Blog

Screen Shot 2012-12-20 at 10.17.54 AM Hmmm, what’s the story behind THIS?

There are all kinds of arguments about which area of craft is the most important for creating great fiction. Plot? Character? Voice? Theme? My opinion. They’re all organs in one body. Our brains will still work if our lungs have bronchitis, but maybe not at an optimal level. Similarly, there are people with brain injuries who have a strong heart. A body can “live” without everything operating in concert, and so can any story.

It’s ideal to hone our skills in all areas, and our goal is to be skilled at all of them. Can we be equally skilled? That’s another debate for another post.

I will say that plot (skeleton/brain) is very important. Our characters (heart) are only as strong as the crucible. Ultimately, all stories are about people. We might not recall every detail of a plot, but we DO remember characters…

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What’s In a Name?

Cedar Peak--UtahRecently I stayed at a La Quinta Inn in Fort Collins, Colorado and helped myself to the free hotel directory naming all the city locations. I was amazed at the wonderful collection. For first names I found Charlotte, Austin, Lenexa, Hammond, Augusta, and Morgan. Interesting last names included Denham, Slidell, Verona, Cordova, Calhoun, LaGrange, and Plattsburgh.

Historical Names from Fremont Indian Park, UtahI also took photos of monument and museum placards for historical names. We stopped at the Fremont Indian State Park (where tragically the rare archaeological site of an entire village of the Fremont Indians was destroyed to build the I-70 freeway in Utah.) Names of settlers included Hanna Braithwaite, Bernard Barnson, and their kids Lora LuJean, Rowland, and Ormandy, among others.

Even La Quinta and Fremont make wonderful last names. Names are important in writing as they help the writer, and especially the reader, to connect to the characters. Aside from the internet, where do you suggest finding names for your characters?