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Writers’ Workout #10: Showing Instead of Telling

The Writers' Workout

About These Exercises

Writing is a craft and, as such, requires that we practice skills to improve our technique. The Writers’ Workout is a channel in our Discord server that focuses on providing exercises and working together as a group to improve as authors of fiction. The editing and getting feedback side of the exercise is a huge part of what makes it useful for your development.

The following exercise is opening today. Sign up to our Discord and join the channel if you want to workshop your practice with us. If you’re finding this post later, you can always workshop the previous workouts in our channel even if the main group has moved on to other exercises. We recommend it–going back when you have time and doing other exercises that appeal to you or redoing exercises as many times and ways as needed to master each one. You’re also welcome to use this exercise for private practice or share it with your own writers’ group.

Workout #10

For each of the following tells, write a short paragraph that shows what the tell intends in your own way.

For example:

Tell: The house was old and scary.

Better: Fallen, shattered slates littered the overgrown yard around the old house. The walls were darkened by rising damp and the pebble dash coating had cracked away.

Much Better: Fallen, shattered slates littered the overgrown yard around the house. Its roofline sagged and the walls were darkened by rising damp. The pebble dash coating was cracked and the paint on the woodwork blistered and flaked. Upstairs, an open, window slammed out on its hinges in a slow staccato rhythm. From the doorway, wafts of mould-laden air from within the structure tainted the smells of wildflowers, as if the house were a dying old man exhaling rotten breath. Water dripped from its eaves in a steady plink plink plink.

Showing, ideally, isn’t just about visuals. The more senses you involve, the more effective it is for the reader. You can’t always fit the longer more complicated descriptions in your story but, for practice, let’s see how many senses we can effectively invoke in each show.

You choose the POV (point of view) to use in each of these paragraphs. The essential part of the exercise is the showing, not through whom you do it. You are also welcome to use pre-existing characters, as works for you, since the focus here is on the showing.

  1. The man was very angry.
  2. The child was disappointed that her toy broke.
  3. This weather sucks.
  4. My head hurts.
  5. She wasn’t a happy person.
  6. It’s a piece of junk.
  7. The writing was sloppy.
  8. The refrigerator was full of rotten food.
  9. She loved to dance.
  10. That puppy is cute.

Goals of the Exercise

“Show don’t tell” is one of the most common rules in writing. But showing is hard and telling is easy. Sometimes when we are trying to get a first draft out, using tells helps us move forward in the story so we can get out the important stuff that’s in our heads. But it’s important that we go back and edit these things to show what we need to show and add the depth to our story that helps pull the reader in. This exercise practices this–making our easy tells into shows.

Because the practice here isn’t bound by a particular story, it encourages creativity in the way we write the shows. We can practice different styles and try ideas on for size and get feedback from our peers on how well it works.

Going Further

If you want to take this exercise and go further with it, we have two suggestions:

  1. Go back and write more variations of a show on each tell. Find more ways to show the idea that use the perspective of different characters. Is your POV character a precocious child, a bored teenager, a working parent, or a dying old woman? How can you give a taste of that in how these things are portrayed?
  2. Go through some of your recent writing looking for tells. Rewrite those tells into shows and experiment with different ways you can do it.

If you’re in `#writers-workout`, we’re happy to look at these with you. Just submit as Workout 10 with a note that you’re going further with it.

And if you’re stuck finding a way out of a tell in your own work, feel free to discuss it with our group and get feedback and ideas. We love discussions like that. Bring it up in the `#writers-workout`, `#fiction-workshop`, or `#brainstorming` channels. Challenge each other to improve.

Disclaimer

The Writers’ Block provides these exercises to support and encourage writers needing to practice their skills. However, we do not encourage posting your practice to Steem, your blog, or other social media. Use a writers’ group or an editor to give you feedback to improve your skills. Share only your best work that will appeal to readers on public forums like a blog or Steem. If you someday want to get some writing published, you don’t want a potential agent, publisher, or reader looking you up and finding examples of poor quality work.

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