Creative Writing Exercises – Show, Don’t Tell
Show, don’t tell – developing a sentence: The term show, don’t tell is so heavily used in the teaching of writing fiction that it feels like I am boring the reader just by mentioning it. However, it really is a vital part of a writer’s armoury and creates engagement with the reader that otherwise would likely not exist.
With some additional adjectives and adding of the character’s emotions you can greatly develop a sentence. I started below by randomly writing a simple sentence and then by giving it a little thought I developed and expanded upon it.
- The boy walked down the street to where his grandmother lived.
- The boy, not overly excited to see his grandmother, approached her home with trepidation, for the fear of kisses and ruffled hair was increasing with each step he took.
Below is another example of a sentence that tells and doesn’t show, and then the second sentence that shows, but doesn’t tell (generally speaking!).
When developing a sentence there are also two additional factors that come into play. The first somewhat obviously is that there is more detail and the second is that the sentence evokes emotion and interest.
- The cat sat on the wall and looked over the back garden.
- Curiosity is said to have killed the cat, however, this cat had no curiosity even though the wall it sat on was next to a most curious garden.
I find doing these specific writing exercises very enjoyable, but don’t worry as I will endeavour not to fill my blog with show, don’t tell posts!
- The path led up the hill and in the distance stood the mountains.
- There was something strange about the path, for it did not seem real. As though something you would see in a dream and not whilst hiking through the country side. To add to this strange sight, a foreboding feeling was cast as it led on to an unknown location deep in the mountains.
In relation to this topic, I have found that a good way of practicing the exercise of developing a simple sentence is by using a photo as a jumping off point.
Pick any photo that you find of interest and then start with a basic sentence that tells the reader about the scene or a character within the image. Then take that sentence and develop it showing the reader about the scene or character.
For one final example of this exercise I found the image below and from this I have created two different sentences. Both about the tree, but very different in content and style.
- It was a large old tree that had been around for a long time.
- This tree has a story to tell, it has been around for a millennium and in its life time it has seen bloodshed, intrigue, mystery and love. All this provided by its human neighbours, who have lived, loved and died within a stones throw of its whereabouts.
One final point regarding show, don’t tell. Is that often many writers will just tell the reader a detail or emotion. It is not an absolute rule to always show, as opposed to telling, and balancing out how your sentences are written can be key to using both show and tell effectively.
It would be great to hear some of your own practice sentences in relation to this topic. Please post them in the comments section if wish or if you have any comments or suggestions for my practice sentences please do say.