Lesson Seven

Lesson 7: Avoid These Telling Words in Your Creative Writing

This is the seventh lesson in the How To Show And Not Tell In Short Stories course.

 

NOTE: If you want a downloadable, printable PDF of this course, you can buy one for a small fee from our store. The workbook is an advert-free, easy-to-download version of the online course.

In the previous lesson we discussed being specific. In this lesson we’ll look at words that can help us identify ‘telling’.

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” ~Anton Chekhov

Some words make us ‘tell’. For me, it’s the word ‘was’. It’s a red flag that reminds me I’ve switched from ‘showing’ to ‘telling’. Do I remove every ‘was’? No, but I check to make sure it has been used intentionally and what I wanted to say. We’ll discuss when you should ‘tell’ in a later lesson, but let’s look at these words first.

Words like ‘is’ and ‘are’, ‘was’ and ‘were’, ‘have’ and ‘had’, are all ‘telling’ culprits. No, we’re still not going banish them all, but we are going to re-evaluate their use. Sometimes they’re unavoidable, but often we can replace them with something stronger.

Example 1

Tell: John was tired.
Show: John yawned and glanced at the clock.

Example 2

Tell: He is a tall man.
Show: He ducks, his head brushes the doorjamb.

Example 3

Tell: They had a good time.
Show: She scrolled through her photos and selected a pic for the Gram, grinning as she typed #partyoftheyear

Other words to be aware of: appeared, decided, knew, mused, realised, seemed, thought, wondered

Example 4:

Tell: Alice appeared to be upset.
Show: She sank to her knees and sobbed.

Example 5:

Tell: James thought Sarah could use a hand getting the groceries up the stairs, but it wasn’t going to be his hand.
Show: James sank down behind the steering wheel as Sarah teetered on the edge of the step, the big grocery bag making it impossible for her to see. He waited for her to grunt her way to the top.

Exercises

Rewrite these sentences in such a way as to avoid using the ‘telling’ words.

  1. He was late.
  2. She decided to tell him the truth.

I hope this will help you identify the ‘telling’ words.  

Recommended Read:  

What’s Next?

In our next lesson we will talk about dialogue.

Please click here for Lesson Eight

NOTE: If you want a downloadable, printable PDF of this course, you can buy one for a small fee from our store. The workbook is an advert-free, easy-to-download version of the online course.

Posted on: 8th April 2020
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