“Show vs. Tell,” that’s a phrase we hear a lot on the writing circuit, but as a new writer it can be hard to identify those places where we need to show more. Here are two easy steps to help you “show” your story, giving your readers a chance to step inside your pages.
Step 1: Do a search for emotion-themed words
I recently finished an excellent book called Deep Point of View by Marcy Kennedy where she recommends doing a search for “emotion-themed” words in your manuscript. At the end of this post you will find a list of words you can search for in your work in progress.
Step 2: “Show” the emotion instead of “Telling” the reader about the emotion
Now that you have identified your “emotion” words, what do you do with them? How do you turn them into something a reader can see, hear, touch, taste, or smell? I like to use the Emotional Thesaurus. Here’s an example of how to turn a “show” into a “tell.”
- Telling Sentence:
- “Jeremy’s forearms flexed as he removed the saddle from off my horse. I was so in love with him.”
- I “told” you Sarah was in love with him. Let’s see how I can “show” you she is in love with him.
- Identify the Emotion: love
- Identify What Love Looks Like (This is where the Emotional Thesaurus comes in handy. It has many examples, I just chose three for the sake of convenience.)
- Physical Signals
- hard to breathe
- Internal Sensations
- fluttering feeling in the stomach
- Mental Responses
- unaware of surroundings
- Now I can write a sentence to “show” how Sarah feels about Jeremy:
- “Jeremy’s forearms flexed as he removed the saddle from off my horse. The muscle definition on his tan arms caused my stomach to flutter, and I had a hard time drawing a breath. Stepping out of his way, I tripped over a grain bucket.”
Wasn’t that fun! Maybe he’ll reach for her hand, or even better, she’ll fall and he’ll catch her with those sexy cowboy arms.
Another great resource I would recommend is a video clip by Ellen Brock on “Showing vs. Telling.” Ellen is a freelance editor with a great series of short messages on YouTube for writers. I recommend giving them all a view, she is A-mazing! Another book by Marcy Kennedy I recommend is, Showing and Telling in Fiction.
Don’t forget to check out the list of “emotion themed” words below.
List of Words That “Tell” Emotion
adoration, afraid, agitated or agitation, alarmed, amazed or amazement, amused, angry or anger, anguish, annoyed or annoyance, anticipation, anxious or anxiety, ashamed
calm, cautious, cheerful, comfortable, compassion, concerned, confident or confidence, conflicted, confused or confusion, contempt, curious or curiosity
defeated or defeat, defensive or defensiveness, denial, depressed or depression, desire, desperate or desperation, determined or determination, disappointed or disappointment, disbelief, disgust or disgusted, disillusioned, dismayed, disoriented, distrust, doubt or doubtful, dread
eager or eagerness, elated or elation, embarrassed or embarrassment, enthusiastic, envy or envious, excited or excitement, exhausted
fear, frustrated or frustration
grateful, gratitude, grief, grumpy, guilt or guilty
happy or happiness, hateful or hatred, helpless, hesitant, hopeful or hopeless or hopefulness, horrified, hostile, humiliated or humiliation, hurt
impatient or impatience, indifferent or indifference, insecure or insecurity, insulted, interested, irritated or irritation
jealous or jealousy, joyful
lonely or loneliness, love
nervous or nervousness, nostalgic or nostalgia, numb
optimistic, outraged, overwhelmed
panic, paranoid or paranoia, peaceful or peacefulness, pity, proud or pride
rage, regret or regretful, rejected, relaxed, relief or relieved, reluctant or reluctance, remorse or remorseful, resentful or resentment, resigned or resignation, restless, revulsion
sad or sadness, satisfied or satisfaction, scorn or scornful, self-conscious, shame, shock or shocked, skeptical or skepticism, smug or smugness, somber or somberness, sorrowful, spiteful, stressed, stunned, surprise or surprised, suspicion or suspicious, sympathy or sympathetic
uncertainty, uncomfortable, unease
wary or wariness, weary, worry or worried