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Blog post by Kaja Rakuscek

If you were at any point in your life involved with the writing process in any way, shape or form, you must be familiar with one of the most common pieces of writing advice – show, don’t tell. There is no denying that this advice is extremely useful and once you master it, your writing can improve tremendously.

What is it?

This advice encourages writers to put emphasis on showing actions and employing vivid descriptions rather than just retelling what happened. It is about creating an experience for the reader and by showing, readers are invited to engage with the story in order to interpret it in a certain way. Its purpose is for readers to immerse themselves in the character’s point of view and to help them visualise the world around them more realistically. In short, this is a technique with which you describe the experience that your character went through, creating empathy and evoking investment in the readers. This technique is easier shown than told (see what I did there?).

How to use this technique?

If you supply information about your character by simply stating it, such as describing your character as short, angry, or tired, you create flat, unrealistic, and bland characters. Instead, try to paint a vivid picture for the reader – you can do this by engaging the five senses. An example – if you visualise your character as short, the reader can deduce that if you mention that they have to look up when talking to other people, or that they have to step on their toes to reach something on the top shelf. This will also add dimension to your character, make them more relatable and believable. This is how you guide your reader through the experience and help them arrive at the conclusion that you envisioned.

Describe your character’s body language to make them more animated and authentic – instead of just noting that your character was nervous, insinuate it by describing the shivers that went down their spine, how their palms gradually became sweaty, how they started to feel weakness in their knees… This is how you evoke an emotional response from your readers since they will begin to identify with your character.

If you want to evoke empathy in your readers, you have to express your character’s emotions clearly and make them believable. This is where show, don’t tell comes to your aid. Try to give life to your character’s feelings; instead of just telling your readers that your heroine is grief-stricken, try to make the sentence more emotionally engaging, such as: “A terrible sense of grief hollowed a pit in her stomach, making her head feel dizzy.”

To sum up…

What matters in the end is your own personal writing style. It is useful to play around with different styles and techniques in order to discover your true potential and writing range. If you feel stuck and unsure with your technique usage, it is always useful to seek out another author’s opinion or advice.