Tell Not Show

Character Exercise

“Show not tell” – this is one of the rules most often given to writers. But today, we’re going to do a bit of descriptive telling. Here’s how:

1. Your character writes a journal. Describe an event that occurred in their day and how they felt. You can show, but remember, this is your character, with their own voice, writing down their thoughts, feelings, etc. It doesn’t even have to be an accurate account; it’s just from their perspective.

2. Therapy. Your character is with a therapist or counsellor, and the question “How does that make you feel?” is posed. Decide what the question is, and then have your character reply. What they feel inside and what they say aloud may not be the same thing! You might have to develop the relationship with their therapist a little.

If that doesn’t work for you, switch out the therapist for an advisor, or a friend/family member.

3. A phone call, letter, telegram, or the like. Your character is writing to a loved one, an enemy, or someone of your choosing where they descriptively tell something about their day. This isn’t the same as the journal, but it is similar. Of course, it doesn’t need to be the truth.

Taking it Further

Don’t stop at just one journal entry, counselling session, or phone call, but keep the ball rolling. Have a back-and-forth. Try three. Develop the relationships. Mix it up, link them. Maybe the therapist has the character write a journal, and then they have the session, and afterwards, later on in the week, there’s a phone call.

Even if it’s not a therapist and it’s someone else – perhaps a lover, for example – it’s going to show the differences between the internal and external. Naturally, altering the ‘therapist’ to someone else will completely change the dynamic.

For the letter, perhaps your character is writing to a penpal who they’ve not met in the flesh – or so they think. Perhaps, that “hell of a day” was caused by that very same penpal, and the two share and relate experiences from completely different viewpoints. “Yeah, there was this guy at work like you wouldn’t believe…” – turns out that ‘guy’ happens to be your protagonist!

And of course, don’t forget to show as well!

2 thoughts on “Tell Not Show

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