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The Art of Showing

This week, the Writing Academy welcomed author, and return instructor, Karelia Stetz-Waters for a class on the art of showing, not telling.

When you lay a big information dump on your reader, chances are you’re telling. When you put an emphasis on showing action in order to convey the emotions you want your reader to interpret, rather than just telling them what happened, you are showing not telling.

Super easy, right?

Let’s try an exercise (or two)!

Show don’t tell refers to the ways in which you opt to describe what your characters are experiencing–look for the unique, strange, paradoxical. For instance, dig into your photos from this past year and find your favorite (or, hey, your most cringe-worthy) one. Spend a few minutes looking at it and then find one or two things which capture the essence of what you’re looking at.

As an alternate exercise, Stetz-Waters suggests taking that same photo and describing it in two distinct ways: one that’s upbeat and one that’s sad.

Stetz-Waters also suggests this little trick. Go through your WIP and highlight all the action in green, all the minor action/dialogue/internal thought in yellow, and the description/back story in red. To boil it down, in fiction, your page should almost always be predominantly green. (Yes, there are caveats dependent on genre and scene. This is just a general rule of thumb to help you out).

Utilizing intimate verbs (like “trembled,” “glistened,” “tumbled”), try to use action and dialoge to show your reader what’s happening. By showing them the emotion behind what’s going on, they’ll be drawn into your story. Rather than telling them a character is scared, show them and let the reader decide for themselves.

Telling — State information. IE: Josie was a carpenter.

Showing — Depict the character using the tools of her trade. IE: Josie tossed the mitre saw in the back of her truck and shook sawdust from her hair.

Which do you prefer?


Karelia Stetz-Waters

Karelia Stetz-Waters is a celebrated and highly accomplished Romance Author…

Karelia Stetz-Waters publishes in several genres, but romance is her favorite. She is passionate about providing happy endings and a vision of redemptive love for readers of all orientations. Her novels include For Good, Something True, The Admirer, The Purveyor, and Lambda Literary Award and Golden Crown Literary Society finalist Forgive Me If I’ve Told You This Before.

She and her wife live in Oregon and have been together for nineteen years. Karelia has a BA in comparative literature from Smith College and an MA in English literature from the University of Oregon, and she currently teaches English at Linn-Benton Community College. Karelia loves to hear from readers, and you can find her at KareliaStetzWaters.com.

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