Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Show & Tell in a Nutshell: Demonstrated Transitions from Telling to Showing by Jessica Bell


When I first started to write fiction and send my manuscripts out for feedback, the first and most frequent thing my readers said was SHOW, DON’T TELL.

In theory, I understood what SHOW, DON’t TELL meant. But it was almost impossible for me to put it into practice after comments such as, “Why don’t you show your character sitting in a cafĂ© getting frustrated with her friend? I’d really like to see that happening, rather than just being told it’s happening. It would give us a lot more insight into their characters.”

Okay. So how do I go about that? I’m not sure I understand how you can’t see it happening when I’m telling you it’s happening. What’s the difference?

I never truly understood the difference until I’d accomplished it by accident one day. My motivation was that I needed to increase the word count in one of my manuscripts. I had a 60,000 word novel that needed 80,000–100,000 before I could submit it to agents.

I combed through my manuscript, marking scenes I thought I could expand. By the time I’d finished reworking the first scene, the concept clicked. I finally understood what all the fuss was about. My writing had become cinematic, it had movement, my characters were three dimensional and I didn’t even have to mention their personality traits because I was showing them. But above all, my writing evoked emotion. This is what successful showing does. It uses the five senses (and sixth) to evoke an emotional response from your reader without telling them how you want them to feel. Simply put, does me saying Hilary felt scared make you feel scared? Of course not.

Do you get it? Not really? That’s why I felt the need to publish this little book. To SHOW YOU, how to SHOW, INSTEAD OF TELL. It’s one resource I craved and couldn’t find during the early years. I needed real examples that clearly demonstrated the transition from telling to showing, in a small, concise, non-threatening, non-overwhelming format. Something I could dip into without getting lost in the jungle of technical jargon that I never really understood until I Googled my fingertips into flames. I learned better by example. By physically doing and reworking, making mistakes and fixing them through trial and error.

No matter how entertaining, diverse, concise, or detailed, a writing craft book is, it’s not going to work magic on you, it’s not going to suddenly make you a brilliant writer simply by reading it. You need to use what you read and learn in your own writing. Because that’s when you have those AHA moments. That's when it really sticks.

By analyzing the sixteen scenes in this book, you will clearly see how to transition telling into showing through a variety of situations, emotions, and characteristics. I suggest you read each scene four times. The first time, in its entirety, to grasp the general feel of it. The second, to identify the telling words/phrases that are shown in the reworked piece. The third, to identify how those telling words/phrases are shown. And the fourth, to brainstorm your own ways of depicting the listed attributes from the scene. You will find these attributes listed in the Contents and at the beginning of each scene for your convenience.

In the print edition of this book, I have dispersed blank pages throughout, and at the back of the book for you to jot down your notes and ideas as you read. However, if you're reading the e-version, please utilize your highlighting and note-taking tools on your e-reader to make the most of this resource. Three short writing prompts are also provided at the very end.

Please note: It’s not essential to show every single scene. Sometimes you do need some telling in order to move the necessary, but not so important moments, forward. You’ll discover the appropriate balance, and a more sophisticated way of telling, with lots of reading and writing practice.

If you have any questions about the content of this book, or about showing vs. telling in general, please send an email to

Have fun and happy showing!

~Scene 1~

amazing view


(feel) hot


(feel) tired


Sandy stood at the foot of the Egyptian Pyramids. Though she was hot, tired and sore, she was awestruck by the amazing view and felt a sense of relief. Finally, she’d made it.

Have you been told there’s a little too much telling in your novel? Want to remedy it? Then this is the book for you!

In Show & Tell in a Nutshell: Demonstrated Transitions from Telling to Showing you will find sixteen real scenes depicting a variety of situations, emotions, and characteristics which clearly demonstrate how to turn telling into showing. A few short writing prompts are also provided.

Not only is this pocket guide an excellent learning tool for aspiring writers, but it is a user-friendly and simple solution to honing your craft no matter how broad your writing experience. With the convenient hyper-linked Contents Page, you can toggle backward and forward from different scenes with ease. Use your e-reader’s highlighting and note-taking tools to keep notes as you read, and/or record your story ideas, anywhere, anytime.

The author, Jessica Bell, also welcomes questions via email, concerning the content of this book, or about showing vs. telling in general, at

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Genre – Non-Fiction / Writing Skills Reference

Rating – PG

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