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Lesson 5

Show, don't tell

Telling us how a character feels or thinks can get boring. You can say, “John was angry,” but that is not as powerful as showing that John is angry. Instead, we can describe the reader the following:

 

  • John clenching his fists

  • John’s face turning red

  • John shouting at a friend.

 

All these things show the reader how John is feeling without us telling them he’s angry. This makes the story more interesting because the reader is guessing and learning things about John, rather than just reading “facts.”

 

Don’t tell me the moon is shining. Show me the glint of light on broken glass. - Unknown

 

Peter lives in a post-apocalyptic world that has the technology of mid-nineteenth-century America. But that is boring to read. Instead, we use Peter’s point of view to show the reader Peter’s world.

 

Because Peter doesn’t know the word for cowboy hat or garden, we don’t use those words. Instead, we show these things to the reader. A wide-brimmed hat made from animal hide. Plants growing in a straight row. The reader will guess what these are because we’ve shown them, not because we’ve told them.

 

 

Assignment Ideas:

 

  • Retell the first chapter from the point of view of the boy working in the garden. What words might you use from his perspective that Peter didn’t use? How is the story different?

  • Watch an episode of a television series or movie. Pick an emotional scene and rewrite it without telling the reader how the person feels. Instead, show them.

  • Discuss with a teacher or friend what you know about Peter from the first chapter. What do you think his age is? What does he know? How does he feel?

  • Find three places in the first few chapters where the story feels like it’s “telling” the reader something. Rewrite those sentences so that the book is showing instead.