Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
If you know anything about writing, you would have heard of this phrase “show and not tell”. What exactly does that mean?
Read this sentence:
James is happy today.
This is a ‘telling’ sentence. It tells us that James is happy. Can you picture James in your mind? What do you mean he is happy? How happy is he? Is he smiling, dancing, jumping up and down? We have no idea. That is the essence of telling. You simply state it and tell it. There is no description.
Showing, on the other hand, is different.
Read the following:
James could not believe his ears. His eyes lit up with joy and a wide smile broke out across his face. “Are we really going to travel in a hot air balloon, Dad? Are we?” he asked enthusiastically. Dad smiled and nodded his head. James went wild with excitement. “Hurray! I can’t wait!” he shouted and began to run around the room yelling at the top of his voice, “We’re going to travel in a hot air balloon!”
The above few sentences is an example of ‘showing’. Instead of simply ‘telling’ that James is happy, we paint a picture with our words to ‘show’ the reader how happy James is.
For children who are already weak in writing, it can be a challenge for them to write using the “show and not tell” technique.
Just like a dot-to-dot drawing or a painting-by-number kind of artwork, I have come up with a step by step guide to help weak or beginning writers develop the “Show, Not Tell” writing technique.
GET THE SHOW NOT TELL WORKBOOK TODAY!
A Step-By-Step Guide To Develop The ‘Show Not Tell’ Writing Technique
For primary school children, feelings descriptions can be broken down into 2 simple categories:
1. Direct speech
Let’s look at the above example again and identify the 2 categories in the descriptions:
James could not believe his ears. His eyes lit up with joy (action) and a wide smile broke out across his face (action). “Are we really going to travel in a hot air balloon, Dad? Are we?” he asked enthusiastically (direct speech). Dad smiled and nodded his head. James went wild with excitement (action). “Hurray! I can’t wait!” he shouted (direct speech) and began to run around the room (action) yelling at the top of his voice, “We’re going to travel in a hot air balloon!” (direct speech)
You can see the 2 elements of showing a character’s feelings in the above example.
Let’s turn this ‘telling’ sentence into ‘showing’:
Ella is sad. (This is ‘telling’.)
List down the direct speech of Ella. What could she be saying when she was sad? That depends on the context and the topic of your composition.
“I miss granny…” Ella cried.
“She’s… she’s… gone,” Ella sobbed.
List down the possible actions of someone who is sad.
- tears welled up in her eyes
- she sobbed uncontrollably
- her mouth quivered
- she tried to hold back her tears
- hot tears rolled down her cheeks
Combine these two into a passage to show Ella’s sadness.
“I miss granny…” Ella cried. Tears welled up in her eyes. “She’s… she’s… gone,” Ella tried to hold back her tears but her mouth began to quiver. Soon, hot tears rolled down her cheeks and she sobbed uncontrollably.
Isn’t this better than simply writing “Ella is sad”?
Here are the steps again:
Direct Speech + Actions = Show, Not Tell
Step 1: Brainstorm the direct speech of the character.
Step 2: Brainstorm a list of actions to show the feeling.
Step 3: Combine them into a readable passage.
Now’s your turn. Try it and see if it helps make your composition more interesting!