Monday, December 3, 2012

Show, Don't Tell!

Another common error young writers make is telling a story, rather than showing a story. This is probably because many of the short stories they have been exposed to are fairy tales, which have a distant point of view and summary-like narration. They start with phrases like "There once was..." and use direct characterization, like "She was the kindest girl in all the land."

When we write, we need to show our stories, using vivid verbs, specific details, and deep point of view. Here's an example of a passage that is told. The action is summarized and the reader feels as if the action is happening far away:

It was June of 1943. Eric's older brother had gone away to become a fighter pilot. Eric wanted to be a pilot too, so he got in the family's crop dusting plane and started it up. He flew it out of the barn and crashed it into the old oak tree in the yard. He hit his head. The doctor had to come. His brother came back, injured from the war. The two healed together.
That right there is the plot for an ENTIRE short story, not a paragraph of one, but it's similar to many of the stories students turn in.

Here's an example of some of the same action -- Eric immediately after the crash -- but shown instead instead of told:
Eric raised a hand to his forehead. When he brought his fingers away, blood covered them. He blinked once, twice. The smell of burning filled the air, and the control stick to the plane, just in front of him, swam in and out of his vision. 
"What...what happened?" Eric said, but no one answered. In the distance, as if it came from miles and miles away, screaming began, and he thought, Who could that be?
Some things to notice about the second example:
  • It has dialogue.
  • It has internal thought.
  • It has active verbs.
  • There are no weak or passive constructions in the scene, or narration.
We should be aiming to make our short stories more like the SECOND example. The writing is more vivid, and makes a bigger impact on the reader



  1. This is cool. It helps becuase im writing a short story too.

  2. Wow, i like how you explained it. Thanks! i cant WAIT TO ACE THE TEST!

  3. that was a little hard to understand at first but then i read over it again and it made perfect sense.

  4. This helped me understand how I should wright the beginning of my short story.Can't wait to score 100%

  5. Woooooooooow this helped me alot. Now i really know how to start a story. Thanks again and im hoping for another blog

  6. wow now i know what to watch out the story dont tell...keenon

  7. i love your story

  8. It does not make since you don`t use vary much detail in the story why have it start like eric`s older brother will never forget June of 1943 that's how it should start and it should end like eric`s brother was injured the docter shows up with his injured brother they did not mind healing to gither. so eric`s brother finds out that the docter`s brother was injured because of the war. see it was

  9. Thanks, i'll be able to write my story much better with your help!

  10. cooler than the first one

    andrew birkby

  11. This story helped me so much. Now I know how to start a story. Thank you for infinity.... But one thing bothered me, I thouht we can't start with a date.