Show and Tell 9/27/2019

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by Suzanne D. Williams

Don’t tell me the story. Show me the story.

Too often people read this rule and focus all their attention on how to break it. That’s like climbing backwards up a waterfall – entirely the wrong methodInstead, worry about when and how to break the rule when you understand how to use it first.

No one takes lessons on how to play a sport by entering the Olympics. The Olympics is where you end up when you understand the rules and know how to use them well. Similarly, no one is hired to paint a piece of fine artwork when they’ve never held a brush.

Along this line, I’ve seen true artists comment on how long it takes them to depict one scene, sometimes days, weeks, and months. They persist at it, honing their craft, and yes, some natural talent is involved, but a great many of them could show you where they started as compared to where they are today.

Writing isn’t any different. There are rules. Start by obeying the rules. Then as you become proficient in the skill, you will natural understand times when its necessary to break them. But DON’T USE BREAKING THEM AS AN EXCUSE FOR POOR WRITING.

Examples:  If your character has a certain personality trait, instead of saying, “He was angry,” SHOW it in his actions. He might clench his fist, frown, grunt, stomp his feet. His shoulders could stiffen. Write how he reacts in his actions.

Challenge yourself to describe what the character is DOING without SAYING the emotion itself.

Don’t state it outright: “Johnny hates squirrels.” Instead, SHOW what the character does when he sees one:

Johnny narrowed his eyes into slits, his lips pressing into a line. His breaths blowing, heated, he edged closer and closer to the tree. A furry tail waved in view, the creature giving a warning cluck. Lunging forward, Johnny scrambled for it, his fingertips scraping across the rough bark. Stupid animal, he grumbled.

Notice, how you get the same idea without TELLING me.

Warning:  Sometimes when I see an author use TELLING instead of SHOWING, the trait which is meant to belong to the character comes across as the author’s opinion instead. For instance, my character may hate squirrels, whereas I love them. I need to write it so that the reader understands this is Johnny’s opinion.

Common telling words: There is a list, believe it or not, and as I said, learn first to avoid them. Here are a few common ones:  Is, are, was, were, had, have, felt, heard, knew, seemed, thought, wondered, decided, appeared, mused

Wrong:  Johnny decided to catch that stupid squirrel. 

Wrong:  Johnny knew he could catch that stupid squirrel. 

Wrong:  Johnny felt such hatred for squirrels.

Give Johnny an action instead:  Johnny lassoed the squirrel with six foot of twine.

That’s infinitely better and also amusing.

Or stick it in dialogue 

Sometimes, if you absolutely cannot avoid a telling word, then have the character comment on it to a friend:

Johnny blew a breath, one hand on his hip. “I’m telling you, ever since I was five and a squirrel attacked me, I have hated the rat-like creatures. If I could lasso one, I’d teach it a lesson or two.”

“Relax man,” Chad replied. “He’s as scared of you as you are of him. Besides, me and squirrels are copacetic.”

Poor Johnny. I think you get my point, but to reiterate. Practice SHOWING the action. Johnny could: leap, fly, climb, trip, hurl, gasp, swear, or many other action verbs. It’s much better writing, and that’s what you want to become – a better writer.

*No squirrels were harmed in the writing of this article.

On PREORDER for release October 15th


He’d raised the dead, Lazarus-style.

Josiah Crews set aside his calling when his wife died. Consumed by grief, he buried his commitment to God and any thought of the lives he might save, determined to live a mundane existence. But when the death of a man in an alley brings the power of God onto the scene, a ripple of unusual events launches him back into service.

Veronica Murray moved to a tiny apartment in the city following a troubling divorce, but her teenage daughter’s behavior combined with their low income has made her life unhappy and stressful. When her neighbor reprimands her daughter, following a particularly bad outing, a friendship forms.

Except nothing is what it seems, not why people are dying, nor his reaction to it. Nor how it affects their possible future.

About The Author:

Suzanne D. WilliamsBest-selling author, Suzanne D. Williams, is a native Floridian, wife, mother, and photographer. She is the author of both nonfiction and fiction books. She writes devotionals and instructional articles for various blogs. She also does graphic design for self-publishing authors. She is co-founder of THE EDGE.

To learn more about what she’s doing and check out her extensive catalog of stories, visit or link with her on Facebook at or on Twitter at @SDWAuthor

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