Writing Wednesdays: How to use 'show not tell' in your novel

You've probably heard of the whole 'show not tell' thing from English class, but how can you use it in your novel?

Now this one won’t be a particularly long post – I’ll try to make it short and sweet. But it’s definitely a technique that’s worth your while.

The whole ‘show not tell’ thing is where you show how a character is feeling without saying it outright. 

You use their actions and how they say things to demonstrate to the reader how they feel. 

I’m going to use some examples here to demonstrate using this technique.

You might also like this post on using some literary techniques in your writing.

Nervousness. ‘She was nervous’ is okay if you want to be blunt, but you can also say: ‘Her hands were shaking and she couldn’t stop fidgeting. Her mind was racing, cluttered with thoughts that didn’t make any sense. Her palms started to sweat so she wiped them on her jeans, but it didn’t help.’ 

You get the impression that the character here is nervous, right? And the word ‘nervous’ or any synonyms of it weren’t used.

Excitement. ‘His heart was racing, pounding so hard he thought it was going to bounce out of his ribcage. He bounced on the balls of his feet, unable to contain himself or the huge smile that spread across his face.’

Think about what you do when you feel a certain way – or what people you know do. 

Is your character a nail-biter? Do they fidget? Do they scratch their nose when they lie, or rub the back of the neck when they’re feeling awkward, or use their hands a lot when they talk?

It also changes your writing up a little.

So instead of saying ‘she was nervous’ you just drop a few lines in throughout the scene to demonstrate HOW she’s nervous.

Using actions to show how your characters are feeling can be a lot more effective than just straight-out telling your readers how they feel. 

It might not seem like a big deal but it can make your story even more interesting – and may even help your characters seem more relatable and more realistic! Showing instead of telling can have a lot more impact – create more of an atmosphere, more tension, a more dramatic build-up. That’s why it can be so important. (It also diversifies your writing a little, so that’s good too.)

What are your thoughts on using show not tell? Share in the comments!

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