Follow the evolution of the Writer Knapsack (and even participate and help make decisions) as I create the face and materials of a new and different take on helping writers in this crazy world of publishing. Join me from the beginning and watch the website change as I work on sketches to a final logo, offer tips and tales toward final production, and develop an array of materials for those living the writing life...all to fill the pockets of your own writer knapsack.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

What the heck does "Telling versus Showing" mean?

When I first started writing way back when, I would get rejection letters with notations like "deeper POV needed" and "Telling versus Showing" and "misplaced modifiers," and I was like...whaaaaat?

It took me a long time to find out what those terms meant and how to implement them into my own writing. That is one of the main reasons I decided to create the Writer Knapsack, to break down these terms in an easily understandable way, and with examples, so writers don't stare at their manuscript in confusion and frustration, but rather sit there with a light bulb over their heads as their fingers fly across the keyboard, revising towards a better chance at publication.

As noted in my initial blog, as I create the material for the first installments, I will share some of the information at the same time.  The guides will be a bit more fun and detailed, but here is an example of how I see this particular term:

Telling versus Showing 

is the same as 

Fly versus Deeper Point of View (POV)

Telling is simply an impartial third party watching what is going on--like a fly on the wall.  Your character, however, is the one experiencing what is going on.  And that right there is the BIG difference.  Why describe a scene from the fly's POV when the character is the one actually experiencing the moment?  Showing a scene through the character's specific perception/reaction/sensory experience is the way to draw a reader into the moment, hook them, and make them empathize with your character.

'Tis the season, so let's use a Christmas example:

Santa Claus dropped down the chimney and popped his head out from beneath the mantle.  Smoke and ash plumed around him as he stepped out toward the Christmas tree.  

The gasp of a young child could be heard, and Santa spun around.

The above would be considered Telling because it is simply described as what a fly on the wall would see.  There is no sensory detail, no perspective from Santa Claus as the main character.

So, how do you take a Telling scene and Show it to the reader?  By using specific perspective and experience.  Start by asking yourself the following questions:

What is the emotional state of the character?  
What does he see/hear/touch/taste/smell?
How does he REACT to what is happening in the scene--how would I react? 

The last one is important, because it will give you a better sense of the moment if you think of how you might react...then think of your character's characterization (shy, confident, strong, timid) and how would they react?

A possible revision of the above paragraph Shown with deeper POV may read something like this:

Santa Claus winced as his old knees buffered the brunt of his landing down the chimney.  He sighed when heat, still emanating from the extinguished fire, warmed his cold toes. After a quick peek beneath the mantel to ensure he was alone, he stepped out. The scrape of his sturdy sack against the fireplace walls sent a plume of ash into the room.  He stifled a cough and waved a hand through the smokey debris in order to see the over-sized Christmas tree.

The Martins sure outdid themselves this year. Santa grinned, admiring the long strings of popcorn and cranberry garland, bright lights, and handmade decorations.

A gasp from behind made him spin as his heart kicked up a tempo to rival a herd of reindeer.  The wide, blue gaze of the small boy in the living room doorway reminded him of his own son back home, waiting for him to return from his yearly rounds.

Santa let out a hardy chuckle at having been caught and hefted himself down on one knee.  "Merry Christmas, Tommy.  I am so glad you've been a good boy all year."

The above now Shows the same scene from the specific viewpoint of Santa Claus.  The perspective and sensory details of the big man himself adds so much more flavor, visual stimulation, and sensory data for the reader to experience the scene WITH Santa.

A simple way to remember to Show in deeper POV...Be the character, not the fly.

Give it a try.  Take a short scene or paragraph from your own manuscript and see if you can revise it to Show the same moment from the deeper POV of your character.


  1. Awesome example of the difference, Stacy. I remember learning a lot about this from you in my very early manuscripts. Thank you!

    1. OMG you have come so far since then I can barely remember that time with you LOL.

  2. Great explanation, will add to my list of references to demonstrate the concept, thank you!

  3. Let me add my thanks. Lovely illustration of the difference.

  4. Great example...thanks for showing and not just telling.

    1. Hi Nikki and Christine--and thanks. Making sure the examples are understandable here will only help me in writing the guides...what works and what doesn't LOL.