Show Me How You Feel

Writing teachers pace the front of the room and throw up their hands.  With great enthusiasm they proclaim, “You must SHOW your reader, not TELL them!”

Yes, that particular writing teacher is/was me.  Then I had a student ask, “But aren’t we TELLING a story?”

No, you aren’t.  Telling a story is something you do on the playground to your friends.  It goes something like this:

Yesterday I went to the mall.  I bought a pair of shoes at Nordstrom and had a Coke at the food court.  I thought about seeing a movie, but I saw Bruce with Sasha and went home.

Your friends, because they ARE your friends, listen and nod and say things like, “No way!” and “Cool!”  But your readers are not your friends.  Sometimes your reader is a teacher, who is looking for sensory details and SHOWING.  Sometimes your reader is a mom, wondering where you got the money for the new shoes.  I can’t help you with Mom, but I can help you with the SHOWING.

Start by closing your eyes and imagining yourself in the scene you are writing.  When I have the scene firmily in my mind, I ask myself what do I see? Colors, textures, and sizes are as important as people and actions.  Then what do I hear?  What do I smell?  What do I taste?  Obviously, if you aren’t eating anything you can leave out taste, or maybe you taste something abstract like fear.  Feel is a double sense.  What do I feel physically?  Temperature, hard seats, soft fabric, painful shoes, etc.  What do I feel emotionally?  This last one is the most important!  Readers will like your story if they connect to your characters.  In order to connect, they need to know what emotions your characters are feeling.

So let’s try that mall scene again, but this time let’s SHOW it instead of TELL it.

Yesterday I was so frustrated by my homework I had to escape.  I walked to the mall and escaped into the noise and confusion of the Spring Sale.  At Nordstrom, a darling pair of pink flowered sandals called to me and I couldn’t resist.  Just sliding them on my feet made me feel like a million bucks.  I paid for them and wore them out of the store, strutting past the other shoppers.  At the food court, I braved the pungent odors of fried hamburger and greasy fries to sit at a tiny table with a large icy Coke.  Crossing my legs and pointing my pink sandalled foot, I ignored the sticky ketchup spots on the table and sipped the drink through the paper straw.

I could see the marquee for the movie theaters, and a couple looked interesting.  Then I noticed him.  Bruce was at the ticket window; his broad shoulders in the jean jacket were unmistakable.  Maybe I should saunter over in my new pink sandals and see what movie Bruce was going to see.  Maybe he would look at me with those deep brown eyes and ask me to join him.  But, no!  He was with someone.  The laughing blond turned around.  Sasha?  How could he be with Sasha?  She was my best friend.  Definitely WAS.

Infuriated by the sight of my ex-friend with the guy I’d had a crush on forever, I ripped off my new sandals and shoved my feet back into my old sneakers.  Then I stomped home.

See?  You really feel it now that I’ve SHOWN you, don’t you?  You still know what happened, but now you also know a bit more about the setting and the characters.  SHOWING has the added benefit of making your stories longer and more interesting!  Go ahead, SHOW me a scene in comments.

In hardcover: Knightley Academy by Violet Haberdasher

7 responses to “Show Me How You Feel”

  1. Bittersweet Arrival

    Seph McKauly muttered under his breath and closed his newest book. Clearly, even reading about War of the Worlds wasn’t enough to sustain his boredom. He glanced around the New York City train station and frowned in discouragement. Crowds of obnoxious men and women talking on their cell phones crowded his view. He even saw a group of older, shabby looking teenagers huddled in a corner smoking cigarettes. Seph pulled his luggage a little bit closer just to be safe. There was also a couple of street vendors selling hot dogs and newspapers. He suddenly felt a pang of home sickness. Was America this crowded everywhere? He imagined his little house in Frisno Canada. His mom would probably be doing laundry, and he’d would be in the middle of school. He grinned at the thought of no school for a while. Seph tried giving the book another try.

    “Excuse me!”

    Seph closed the novel once again and sighed. From the sound of her accent, she probably wasn’t American. He looked up and was impressed with what he saw. A girl with light blonde hair, bright blue eyes, and an athletic tan was tapping her foot impatiently and staring at him.


    “Can you help me here? Do you know where I could find Dynex Avenue?”

    “Sorry. Can’t help you there. Haven’t been here for at least an hour. What do you need there?”

    “I was shipped off from my boarding school to come here for ‘special training’ for architecture. You?”

    “Same reason. Except, I’m studying to be a doctor. Wait, did you say Dynex Avenue? Which street number?”

    “4868. Why?”

    “We’ll probably be seeing each other soon, then. That’s exactly where I was headed.”

    “Cool. So, what’s your name? I’m Cydnye Knight.” She outstretched her hand.

    “Seph McKauly.” He returned the gesture.

  2. Great showing, Caitlin! I like the dialogue, too. Very nice start.

  3. I really like that I like the dialogue. I think it is going to be a good story.

  4. How do you show you are like sarcastic and mad or sad? What are some good descriptive words yo can use while “showing” not telling?

    1. Showing and not telling is very important because the reader knows how you feel without you saying it and it makes your story even better. Some words that you can use to show how you feel is maybe tell them what the characters facial expression was without saying that they are mad or sad or maybe to show that they were being sarcastic you can maybe say that they were rolling their eyes. That would not be telling that she is being sarcastic, but showing.

    2. First picture a person who is feeling what you are trying to describe. A sad person droops their shoulders, maybe has hair hanging in their face. They speak softly or not at all, maybe crying or wiping eyes. Sighing a lot…..all of these things can be workin into the dialogue or narrative. If you can see the person in your head, describe them! 🙂

  5. Shreya Sanjeevaiah Avatar
    Shreya Sanjeevaiah

    Yeah… every time I write, I try to use sensory details and show the story, not tell it. Some times it’s easy, other times it’s hard. Some times when I’m reading short stories I wrote when I was young, I start laughing because I would have written things like, “Once upon I time, I went to the library. I read some books there. Some were good and some were bad. All in all, it was a great trip to the library.” Now I realize how lame that was because I told the story and didn’t show it. That’s why it’s so important to “show” the story.

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