Telling vs. Showing

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By Bonnie S. Calhoun

Telling vs. showing has always been one of the great debates of modern fiction writing. Telling an emotion feels detached and impersonal, and keeps the reader at arms length, by not sharing the emotion with them.

To draw your readers into the new world, to make them feel what the characters feel is the goal of every great story teller. When that technique is combined with deep POV where the character speaks to her own fears, it serves to propel stories to the top of the charts.

Fast example of telling – Carla felt afraid.
An example of passive telling – Carla was afraid.

Showing tends to relay descriptions that involve one or more of the five senses involved in the appropriate emotion. When readers are drawn into the story world they can many times smell and feel the same emotions you are writing. So slow yourself down and examine the physical actions involving your characters. What are you smelling? What is your heart doing? How does your skin feel? Feel the emotion yourself, then describe it.
Example of showing her fear – Carla’s hands began to sweat. Her breathing mimicked the rapid pound of her heart as a shiver snaked down her spine.

And combining that was a deep POV – She willed herself to look to the left. Why had she not listened to her brother and stayed in the car? Carla’s hands began to sweat. Her breathing mimicked the rapid pound of her heart as a shiver snaked down her spine. Her feet wanted to run, but she couldn’t leave him.

Don’t be discouraged if you can’t write that way when you first sit down at the keyboard. Great stories aren’t written…they are built! When you have an area where you want to get deep into the character’s emotion so the reader feels the scene, and you’re not the greatest at description, just mark the spot. Go back to it later. Stop. Immerse yourself in the emotion…and write it!

Now! There are always exceptions to every rule and one of them that I have found to be deserving of telling rather than showing is when romance is involved. LOL…I’m not bringing up any particular recent romantic discussions, but I tend to find in Christian fiction that writers need to stop at the marriage bedroom door. Even the level of interactivity on the screen needs to be tempered so as to not lead brothers or sisters to stray in their emotions. This is the best time to flip the script…and NOT make people feel the actual desire!

Bonnie headshotBonnie Calhoun is the Owner/Director of Christian Fiction Blog Alliance, owner/publisher of Christian Fiction Online Magazine, Northeast Zone Director for American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), and the ACFW 2011 Mentor of the Year. She lives in the woods of upstate New York with her husband, dog, and two cats. You can find Bonnie on Facebook, Twitter, and GoodReads.

Comments 0

  1. Still learning showing v. telling but I really enjoyed the tidbit. I was always amazed how authors like J.R.R. Tolkien could describe profound romance without describing many of the sensations. Nice article!

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