Showing versus Telling: 10 Resources to Help You Show, Not Tell

showingvstell

Show, don’t tell. How many times have you heard that? How often do we scour our work for signs of telling to eagerly correct the problem? What exactly does it mean? Well, it’s the difference between:

Delilah felt excited.

and

Delilah’s eyes widened. She bounced on her toes. Her pounding heart thudded hard against her ribs, and her pulse was deafening in her ears as a grin spread across her lips.

I’ve gathered some external resources to help you show instead of tell. Some of these are absolute favorites of mine and I use them frequently as reference. Some also have links to purchase on Amazon.

1. The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi
I love, love, love this. It’s my go-to guide when I need help conveying a character’s emotion. It includes 75 different emotions your characters might feel. The beauty of it is that humans are complex beings. We might be feeling a whole slew of different emotions at once. Each listed emotion includes what that feeling might escalate to, or what cues might show that your character is trying to suppress that feeling.

2. Emotion Amplifiers by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi
This is a freebie for Kindle. It goes along with The Emotion Thesaurus and is exactly as the title suggests. It lists certain conditions that might amplify what your character is feeling, such as pain, exhaustion, dehydration.

3. Writers Helping Writers
This is Angela and Becca’s website. They also have other helpful books for fleshing out your characters, The Positive Trait Thesaurus and The Negative Trait Thesaurus. They have a lot of great resources on their site. Definitely check them out!

4. Resources on using strong verbs (The Writer’s Resource)
Strong verbs can really help your writing when trying to show instead of tell. For example, if you find yourself writing “She felt [insert noun/adjective here telling what the feeling is]”, look for stronger ways to show us how she felt. This goes along with using too many adverbs. Instead of “He wearily climbed the stairs”, try “He trudged up three flights of steps.” Strong verbs give the reader a better idea of how your character is feeling.

5. Grammar Girl : Show, Don’t Tell
This one is a quick read and will give you a better idea of telling vs. showing.

6. Scribendi: Ten Tips to Help You Avoid Telling Writing
Another good article on avoiding telling in your writing.

7. Writing Forward on Show, Don’t Tell
Another quick read, but still informative.

8. The Beginning Writer

9. The Itch of Writing: Showing and Telling: the basics
Offers some great examples on the differences between telling and evoking emotion in the reader.

10. Lynette Noni: Show, Don’t Tell!
Great cheat sheet on some common emotions!

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Extrapolating Your Feelings: Writing Emotional Scenes

frost quoteA good story will make us feel. It may be happiness, grief, elation, anger, fear, sadness. We find ourselves so lost in the story, so connected to the main character, that we become a part of them. We feel their pain, their joys, and their sorrows.

As a writer, you’ll no doubt come across a scene in which your character stumbles into a life-altering event, making his world come crashing down on his head. Death or loss of a loved one. A failed quest. Being betrayed by a best friend. Or, on the complete flip side of the coin, it may be an event that completely alters his life in a positive way — a realized love, a successful quest, being reunited with a long lost friend.

But how do you actually write about an emotion powerful enough to make your readers feel it too? I like to think of it as “extrapolating” your feelings.

Emotionally charged scenes can be tough to write, especially if it’s something you’ve never really had to experience before. To some extent, though, we’ve all experienced wide ranges of emotions. We can take those experiences and apply them to those emotional scenes.

When writing these types of scenes, there are a few steps you can take.

  1. Before you even write that first word of the scene, stop. Take a few moments to really think about what kind of emotions your protagonist is feeling, depending on the situation and what type of personality they have. How do they react? What kind of reaction makes the most sense for that character? It’s important to have a deep understanding of what kind of person they are to determine what emotions they’re feeling in that situation. Make a list of those emotions.
  2. Think back to times you have felt those emotions, even if it was a completely different situation than your character’s. What was running through your mind? How did it physically make you feel? Was your heart racing? Head spinning? Nauseated? Now go back to your list and write down the physical sensations you associated with each emotion.
  3. Going back to your scene, look at how you can apply your list to your character’s situation.

For example, when I was writing a scene involving death and loss, I had to sit for quite some time (we’re talking days, here) and had to think long and hard about what emotions I have experienced. I’ve never watched someone die, nor have I lost immediate family or loved ones. What sort of things would I feel if I were watching someone die? I’ve experienced hopelessness and despair in depressive episodes. I’ve faced death in the past and feared for my own life. It took time, but I drew from what I know.

It’s not easy dredging up all those old emotions when writing the difficult scenes. But don’t forget to extrapolate your emotions when it comes to happier scenes. Apply the way you felt during good times to those scenes, too.