INKSPILL – INKWELL Session 2 – Show Don’t Tell

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SUNDAY 27th October – DAY 3

AWF circle Inkwell 2 – Show Don’t Tell – your questions answered. Research, polls and questions posted on the blog in the summer.

Welcome to the second INKWELL session.

inkspill crit.

AWF circle

The 2nd of our sessions is about that old adage SHOW DON’T TELL…

Let’s break it apart.

Showing allows the reader to follow the author into the moment, to see and feel and experience what the author has experienced. Using the proper balance of showing and telling will make your writing more interesting and effective.

You may understand, but be at a loss at HOW to do it.

These tips are from Erin at ‘Daily Writing Tips’ I have edited them slightly as she teaches college students and makes reference to this.

1. Use dialogue

Dialogue allows the reader to experience a scene as if they were there. Instead of telling the reader your mom was angry, they can hear it for themselves:

“Justin Michael,” mom bellowed, “Get in here this instant!”

Dialogue can give your reader a great deal about character, emotion and mood.

2. Use sensory language

In order for readers to fully experience what you’re writing about, they need to be able to see, hear, taste, smell and touch the world around them. Try to use language that incorporates several senses, not just sight.

3. Be descriptive

I’m sure everyone remembers learning to use adjectives and adverbs in school. When we’re told to be more descriptive, it’s easy to go back to those things that we were taught. But being descriptive is more than just inserting a string of descriptive words. It’s carefully choosing the right words and using them sparingly to convey your meaning.

The following example is from a short story I wrote.


: He sits on the couch holding his guitar.

There’s nothing wrong with that sentence. It gives the reader some basic information, but it doesn’t create an image. Compare that sentence with this:


: His eyes are closed, and he’s cradling the guitar in his arms like a lover. It’s as if he’s trying to hold on to something that wants to let go.

The second example takes that basic information and paints a picture with it. It also uses figurative language—in this case, the simile “cradling the guitar in his arms like a lover”—to help create an image.

When using description, it’s important not to overdo it. Otherwise, you can end up with what I call “police blotter” description. For example:

He was tall, with brown hair and blue eyes. He wore a red shirt and jeans, and a brown leather jacket.

4. Be specific, not vague

Don’t use vague, fuzzy language. “I had never felt anything like it before in my entire life,” take the time to try and describe what that feeling was, and then decide how best to convey that feeling to the reader. Your readers will thank you for it.

AWF circle

Many articles I have read over the past year of my writing journey warn against over-using adverbs and keeping descriptions tight. It amuses me because it is the opposite of how we teach writing to children. But too many wordy, thesaurus filled, adverb heavy paragraphs will highlight amateur writer and will be slush piled by editors.

Additional links and articles-

One response »

  1. Pingback: An Index of Ideas | awritersfountain

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