My Book Rating System

My book rating system is based on 5 stars. The book must be rated at least 3 stars for a review.

3 Stars: Good story, good plot, good writing.

4 Stars: I was wowed, but something about the story fell short of perfection.

5 Stars: I was either drooling, on the edge of my seat, or falling in love.

If you would like me to review your book, please contact me at

Friday, July 8, 2011

Writer's Block: Show, Don't Tell

An interesting comment was made with respect to one of my books, where the reviewer mentioned that I had done too much telling, and not enough showing. Of course, that comment made me say, "Hmmm."

Ever since I began writing seriously over a decade ago, the first rule of writing "show, don't tell" has been scarred into my brain, so the comment caught me by surprise. I decided that I needed a refresher on the "show, don't tell" rule.

Basically, the "show" rule adds imagery and dimension to your characters, setting and emotion. This can be accomplished best through the senses...sight, sound, taste, touch. If I tell you I'm scared, you'll say, "Okay, I'll take your word for it." If you *see* that my eyes are bulging, you *smell* my sweat, you *hear* the whimpers back in my throat, you're pretty much clued in to my distress.

When you're writing a scene, visualize every detail like it's a movie inside your head. Then write down everything you see, hear, feel, taste. Fear is often described as a metallic taste, so taste can play an important role in showing, and is often overlooked. Use the visual description to really connect your reader to the moment. The end goal here is to have the reader experience the movie inside your head.

Tell Example:
Petrified, I searched for a place to hide.

Show Example:
My breath, escaping in short spurts, matched my heart beats. I clutched my chest with both hands, searching for somewhere to hide.

I will admit, sometimes I use a mixture of showing and telling; mostly this involves adding the character's internalization with what the character is seeing/hearing/feeling:
I tilted my head. For the first time, I noticed she wasn't so put together. One side of her shirt had untucked from her jeans due to her plucking fingers, her hair was falling out of its ponytail, and her gaze shifted criminally.

As a matter of course, I will pay closer attention when writing to make sure I don't fall into the "tell trap" too often. A good lesson for all writers to keep in mind...even experienced ones.


Jenn said...

As an aspiring writer, I really appreciate this post.
And as a reviewer, I love that you take creative critism so well.

Kalistri said...

Show don't tell comments tend to bug me somewhat, unless the critic actually goes into further detail (heh, thus "showing" you the problem rather than "telling" you :p). There are often many different aspects of the story where you could show more, and anyway it comes down to personal taste to a large degree.

For instance, another possibility to what you're talking about here is that you skipped over some scenes that they wanted to see. For example, with a line like "a few hours later, we finally arrived at our destination", the reader might say you need to "show" more because they wanted to see that journey in more detail.

Also some readers will also interpret a heavy dose of introspection as excessive "telling", but again personal taste is involved, and other readers will like it for exactly the reason they don't.

We all have different tastes and some people may desire a higher degree of showing or telling than others, and that mixture that you speak of might be perfect for some, but really lame to someone with narrower tastes. In your example of this, I suppose maybe you could get the same effect with "... I noticed that one side of her shirt..." and by changing "criminally" at the end for "constantly" if you trust your reader to come up with the same interpretation as the narrator. But still, I think you'd have to be a fairly picky reader to be really annoyed by those extra few words, and without them you'll get people who maybe misunderstand the situation (like "Omg! They're gonna have sex!"). Though I guess you might say that trusting your audience is better, because who wants stupid people reading their books anyway? But that's up to you.

Anyway, those are just some points to consider. Write on.

Unknown said...

I agree with you whole-heartedly! I admit I do tend to do a mix of show and tell (get it? show and tell? like in kindergarten? Okay, bad joke, I'll move on)...and I tend to be of the opinion it doesn't hurt the story. But, as you said, reviews are opinions and each person has their own! Thanks for sharing your views.