Show Vs Tell Gone Wild

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By Ane Mulligan

To draw your readers into your story, you want to create an experience for them. But that experience is filtered through your POV character. You know that already? Good.

But are you layering the senses into your fiction so the reader hears, sees, smells, tastes, and feels it? It’s actually a matter of “showing vs. telling” gone wild.

If you’re telling them what the character is experiencing, it’s like this: Joan heard a siren in the distance.

But let’s layer what she heard with what she experienced.

A siren wailed in the distance, raising the hairs on Joan’s neck.

Then you take it one step more: A siren wailed in the distance, raising the hairs on Joan’s neck. Tommy? She glanced in her rearview mirror. The blue flashing lights of an emergency vehicle drew closer. Her heartbeat accelerated as she slowed her car and pulled over to let it pass. With shaky hands, she pulled out her cell phone and hit his speed dial number.

In the second minute, you experience it with her. We’ve all heard a siren. I don’t know about you, but the first thing I do is check my rearview mirror. I don’t want to get in their way.

So avoid the word “heard” which immediately makes it telling. The same with “saw”. I could have said: Joan glanced in her rearview mirror and saw a flashing blue light.

But by showing gone wild, you experience what she saw through her eyes. That makes for a better read. And readers can relate to it better than saying she saw.

Another one that is often forgotten is the sense of smell. I love to incorporate that one into my writing. If your character is taking a walk through the woods, you want your reader to smell the pines. If it’s after a rain shower, the forest floor is damp and the scent of leaf mold rises as the character walks the path.

When Claire enters Dee’s ‘n’ Doughs in any of my Chapel Springs series books, you join her as the aroma of vanilla, yeast, and sugar waft around her. From Chapel Springs Revival, the introduction to the bakery went like this:

Claire paused on the threshold for a moment, closed her eyes, and let the heavenly aroma of yeast, vanilla and almonds entice her. That indulgence alone would probably add another inch to her waistline.

Most everyone has stepped inside a bakery and smelled what I just described. Aromas trigger memories and that makes your fiction relatable.

Leaning AneAne Mulligan writes Southern-fried fiction served with a tall, sweet iced tea. She’s a novelist, a humor columnist, and playwright. She believes chocolate and coffee are two of the four major food groups and resides in Sugar Hill, GA. You can find Ane at or Amazon author page.

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