Monday, September 20, 2010

Show, don't tell writing exercise

We all hear it over and over: Show, don’t tell. And yet we often fail to do so. Usually we catch this while revising, but not always. I’m as guilty as anyone.

Here’s a fun exercise. I’ve written four sentences. I would like you to pick one (or all four if you’d like) and rewrite it showing instead of telling. I will do one as an example.
Carly was mad her mom wouldn’t let her go to the movies with her friends. (I told you she was mad)
Revised: Carly put her hands on her hips and stumped out of the room after her mom said she couldn’t go to the movies with her friends. (I showed you she was mad)
Now, your turn. Feel free to use dialogue "to show" as well. Here are the sentences. Have fun.
1. Max was happy when his parents brought home a puppy for his birthday.
2. After studying so hard, Willow was angry she hadn’t done well on the test.
3. Micah told Cassie he loved her.
4. Tom was disappointed that his favorite team lost the game.
Did you find this easy or difficult?


  1. Micah wrapped his arms around Cassie, pulling her close and kissing her slow and long before whispering something in her ear.

    Tom got up from the couch, shaking his head. "Damn Yankees," he muttered.

    Willow looked at the big fat 'D' Miss Rowe had written at the top up the paper for a moment before crumpling the paper up and throwing it across the room.

    The puppy climbed out of the ribboned basket and scrambled into Tom's lap on wobbly legs, little tail wagging as fast as it could, little tongue lappping at Tom's cheeks. He looked up at his parents, face beaming. "This is the best present ever!"

  2. Great sentences, Marcy. The only thing I would suggest improving would be your last sentence. Instead of saying "face beaming" show me this. Maybe his smile was a mile wide or whatever. Actually, your dialogue conveys his happiness. You wouldn't even need to tell us that his face was beaming. But super sentences. And you did all four. (smiles)

  3. #3

    Micah slid next to Cassie on the couch so that their legs grazed one another. Her scent was intoxicating, Micah breathed it in, his eyes closing.
    "What is it?" she asked.
    He focused on her, their eyes locked. His hand found hers and squeezed. He didn't have to say it. Her dancing eyes confirmed she already knew. He leaned into her, his lips parted, and kissed her lips. Not just a kiss, a statement.

  4. no. 4

    As the final whistle went, Tom threw his cap to the floor. People all around him were yelling insults at the players they'd once put all their hope in. Tom couldn't help but follow suit.

  5. This is such a valuable tool - thanks for sharing! Showing versus telling can also be applied to all kinds of other opportunities, e.g. creating business pitches, conveying sympathy, blog posts etc. Here's an article I wrote from the perspective of a fiction editor, if you're interested: