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Monday, June 23, 2008

Show versus Tell, example ten

From contest entries and critiques that I’ve done, I’ve noticed that often people don’t quite understand what exactly is “showing” and what exactly is “telling.” So, I’m starting this series to give numerous examples so that you can see for yourself the various kinds of “telling” that can occur in your own manuscript, and suggestions for fixing it.

She rushed out of the elevator and bumped Sherri’s arm. “Sorry,” she mumbled.

But Sherri made an exasperated sound. “Just sorry?”

Gloria paused. She was in a hurry, but she couldn’t afford to antagonize her, because Sherri would make her life miserable.

Gloria turned with a plastic smile. “I’m so sorry. Can I help you carry those files?”


The italicized sentence is “telling” the reader about antagonizing Sherri. Granted, it’s only a sentence, and because it’s short, you could keep it in and it wouldn’t be bad.

But even a sentence can “burp” the reader out of the reading flow because it’s a sentence of “telling” narrative. There’s a more vibrant, emotional way to convey the information if you go deeper into Gloria’s point of view. For example:

She rushed out of the elevator and bumped Sherri’s arm. “Sorry,” she mumbled.

But Sherri made an exasperated sound. “Just sorry?”

Gloria paused. Was she already late? If she just blew past … No, she got a headache at the thought of Sherri’s sour face and insolent work habits if she didn’t appease her.

Gloria turned with a plastic smile. “I’m so sorry. Can I help you carry those files?”


In framing the information as Gloria’s clicking thought process, the information is more interesting to the reader.

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