Recently, my kids have started a daily writing practice where they write a personal narrative of their choice and improvise it the following day, if needed. Generally, their first draft come out very straightforward – where they ”tell” the story, the settings and the character. Revisiting what they have written helps them “show” the character’s emotions, traits and settings wherever needed. I have noticed that this approach of show, don’t tell is fostering a style of creative writing in them which is much more immersive for the reader. For example, instead of telling “Max felt proud” they can show it by writing “Max smiled big and wide and stood there nice and tall with his chin held high.” which is more expressive.
In a cohesive story, a balance of telling and showing illustrate the point and are equally important for a pleasant reading experience. You don’t want your story to have unwanted immersive details when you can get to the point directly. For example, sometimes we need to know how the character got from A to B . Yet we don’t necessarily need to have every minute detail. That is where we need to tell the story. Whereas, if we want to describe the traits of the character, for example, if the character in the story is friendly then we can mention on how the character looked forward to meeting his friends over the weekend to play golf, instead of saying a boring sentence like “he is friendly”. This is where we need to show the story.
Let’s take an example from the book “The Big Idea Gang Worst Mascot Ever”.
Here, the writer shows how the character Lizzy is feeling nervous without labeling the emotion.
How to explain Show Don’t Tell Creative Writing
Telling is more straightforward and factual with no emotional effect on the reader. In fact, telling is necessary at the beginning of the story to set a scene or when transitioning between settings where certain details just need to be clearly stated.
“He woke up and glanced at his clock, he was running late for his office. Scurring through the busy streets, he grabbed his coffee on the way only to arrive fifteen minutes late”.
Perhaps the reader doesn’t need so much details, so this sentence can be rewritten as
“That day, he had scurried for office but arrived few minutes late.”
In the above example, the telling simplifies, moving the story along quickly to the next piece of information and creates a better narrative flow than showing.
Showing, on the other hand, is dramatizing. It conveys detailed imagery to readers which enables them to immerse in the story, visualizing and relating to the characters and their feelings. It is more visceral and can make the character more real and developed because the story is showing their experience.
” He got angry”
Perhaps, we can express the character emotion more visually so that the reader can feel how the character feels, so this sentence can be rewritten as
“He kicked and screamed. He want to smash the world to smithereens.”
Here, showing enables the reader to think and imagine the character’s action.
How to Show
- Using strong details ( Provide enough information to support your statement )
- Creating the setting ( If the story takes place in winter use statements like a cold breeze, snow covered trees …. )
- By not labeling the emotions. ( Don’t say the character was sad, happy, mad ..)
Ideas for “Showing” emotions dramatically
Have your kids jot down all kinds of emotions with different expressions and actions the author is portraying when they are reading a book. Over time they would have a list of ideas to reflect back while doing their writing. I have created some printouts of descriptive sentences to use for different emotions for my kids.
I am a mom and don’t have a degree in creative writing so I had to read a lot of articles on “show don’t tell” form of writing before introducing it to my kids. Over the time, I am seeing an improvement in their writing and that’s why I decided to share it with my readers. I have found that this activity is perfect for kids in grade 4th and above and is a good start for 3rd graders creative writing.
To get your kids started with creative writing, I have created some descriptive emotion cards, feel free to download them and plese consider following my blog or like my facebook page to stay updated.
Download the Descriptive Emotions card for reference here
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Happy Writing !
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