Story SHOWING…With Words

Words CAN Show Images

How Can You Show With Words?

Knowing how to teach the concept of “showing” in creative writing versus “telling” isn’t as easy as it might seem; nor should it be so difficult—IF you’ve got a bright imagination, and a admirable command of English.  Your examples must be, of a necessity, VERY simple and easy to understand—especially when teaching children.

I think the struggle most of us have had with the whole “show don’t tell” concept is we have “story telling” stuck in our heads, along with our early training of using adjectives to describe nouns and pronouns and adverbs to describe—or “modify”—actions and “be” verbs, too.   In some future posts, I’ll get into how it’s better to avoid too many adjectives—at least the really obvious ones—and adverbs [I call them “crutch” words].

The best way, I’ve found, to learn how to “show” a scene, for example, is to go ahead and tell it, then go back and take out the adjectives [the obvious ones, at least], and see if I can’t find a way to bring an image to my own mind using words like, seemed, looked like, felt, appeared, smelled like, etc.  Doing so will naturally lead into using simile and eventually metaphor, both of which we’ll get into at a future date.

Until then…don’t over-think it! Start with some simple examples to begin to get the hang of this.

Here are some examples:

1. The big cat snoozed lazily on the rocking chair.
2. The skinny girl in the old, torn, dress skipped happily along the sidewalk.
3. An angry man quickly ran toward us.
4. The tall man’s head almost touched the ceiling.

These examples are fine, but don’t do much to bring vivid images to our minds, now do they?

So…using some words that appeal to imagination and feeling(s) [we’re teaching these things to kids, after all], let’s see if we can change each sentence into something more vibrant to the mind’s eye.

1. The big cat snoozed lazily on the rocking chair.

Let’s change that into:

What looked like a scoop of ashes in the chair turned out to have ears, a tail, and purred; a cushion-sized, sleeping cat!

Notice how I compared the cat to a scoop of ashes, describing its form and color, being most likely gray?  If you took some time, you could probably think up a more likely comparison that would appeal to a kid.   Also, I compared the cat’s size to a cushion, giving the reader an idea that we’re not talking about a kitten, but a BIG cat!

Next one…

2. The skinny girl in the old, torn, dress skipped happily along the sidewalk.

We’ll change this one to read as such:

The girl looked like she must be very poor and didn’t get to eat very often, but the way she skipped made me wonder if she’d just found a hundred dollars!

Notice how the storyteller, here, observes the skinny girl in a way that allows the reader to draw on images he or she might have in his or her own mind, but infers opinions about the girl that could very well be **reasonable?

**In a future post about showing, I’ll talk about what I like to call “The Secret Story,” and bring up a valuable element of “showing” I’ve never had any instructor, professor, etc, mention, but is SO helpful—even invaluable, in my opinion—to storyshowing.

Onto example #3.

3. An angry man quickly ran toward us.

Let’s jazz it up a bit, using some creative description, to convey the impressions and emotions the reader should feel if he or she were there, with this man running at him or her!

A man with a sunburned-looking, scrunched up face and wild, bulging eyes ran toward us.

Can’t you just see that guy coming at you?   Everyone knows what a sunburned face looks like.  Every kid could show you what “scrunched up” looks like, or “wild, bulging eyes” could look like.  Every one of these bits of imagery are much more brilliant in our minds, are they not?

Finally, last one…#4.

4. The tall man’s head almost touched the ceiling.

Surely, this is a giant of a man!  But to a child, the word “giant” might be too dramatic of a word; so would “Goliath”, as you don’t want to direct their young minds too narrowly.  So let’s use a comparison a kid of today would most likely be able to relate to [again, we’re hoping to teach kids HOW to do this for them selves!]

A man as tall as an NBA basketball player walked through the room, and the hair on his head scraped the bumpy texture off the ceiling!

Not as “sophisticated” as an adult might strive for, but the idea is to get you thinking about how to get children thinking IN THESE WAYS.

Those are just four examples of changing “telling” into showing. Try practicing some of these kinds of exercises with the kids you teach, or for your own fun, if you’ve ever been perturbed by the old “show me, don’t tell me” adage.  You’ll get the hang of it in no time.

In my next post, I’ll talk about “The Secret Story”, and we’ll explore exactly WHY we naturally “tell” and why the WAY we’ve learned to do this, to make these associations, doesn’t work when it comes to transferring those ideas to paper.

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