Write Like the Greats: ‘Show’, Not ‘Tell’

how to show not tell

Do you know exactly how to ‘show, not tell’?

After all, most writing tutors tell aspiring authors to ‘show, not tell’. 

Here are three tips on how to show, not tell. (I have used examples from Meg Gardiner’s novel The Memory Collector.) 

Tip #1 Use familiar words in a weird context

Let’s take the word ‘unfriendly’. As a practice run, write down five sentences that include the word ‘unfriendly’. Now check how you used the word. Most likely you will have used it to describe human interactions. In contrast, here’s how Meg Gardiner uses it:

The garage was cold and the bare bulb gave off unfriendly light. Vance jittered in a circle around them.
‘Are we screwed?’

That single work ‘unfriendly’ creates atmosphere. You know immediately that these are bad guys and something ugly is going to happen. Soon.

Tip #2: Put characters into a weird context

Whether you’re writing a novel or non-fiction, try putting the people you talk about in a weird context. Here’s Meg Gardiner again:

Ginrich’s girlfriend, Clare, was thin and nervous. So were the three Chihuahuas jumping around her feet like grease in a frying pan.

With those three doglets jumping around here feet, Clare’s character comes to life.

Tip #3: Use weird metaphors

If you connect two disparate ideas, the brain jangles. That’s why using ‘weird’ metaphors makes your writing memorable. Here’s Meg Gardiner again:

The man grabbed him. This guy was square with a grey buzz cut like a concrete brick.

You know immediately that this is an ugly character. Definitely not the kind of person you’d like to encounter in a park after dark…

How about we all get together and collect more examples?

You could write something and use the ‘weird context’ trick. Or maybe you can find some great examples in the stuff that you read.

Please share your treasures in the comments below, friends. Feel free to link to your own stuff 🙂

About the author

Mary Jaksch

Mary Jaksch is best known for her exceptional training for writers at WritetoDone.com and for her cutting-edge book, Youthful Aging Secrets. In her “spare” time, Mary is also the brains behind GoodlifeZEN.com, a Zen Master, a mother, and a 5th Degree Black Belt.