Writing prompt fun: showing vs. telling

“Show, don’t tell” is one of the first lessons a writer learns. Take those flat scenes that aren’t conjuring anything up to the reader’s mind and sprinkle them with some creative fairy dust.

To pull from an example I used to give in the classroom –

I just saw a house. It was an ugly house.

Imagination demands that we show instead of tell most of the time. All readers have it, and each person’s imagination is a bit different. If I tell you that a house was ugly, you may see something in your mind that is completely different from the next person’s mental image. Both of you will likely develop only vague pictures, and neither of you may see what I wanted you to see.

So, what was ugly about the house? It’s not enough to respond, “It was a bad color.” Instead, tell me what color it was. Tell me lots of things about it, using different senses.

Then, I can write that I just saw a house. It was the color of vomit. Half of the roof had caved in. At least ten stray cats wandered, meowing as if in heat, through the patchy grass. Even though I kept my car windows closed, the odor of rotten eggs and garbage seeped into my car. The foundations of the house creaked in the slightest wind. Each window was a different size – some tiny, some oddly large, and all protected with rusty bars… and so on.

That’s a bit much, but it’s lots more to work with.  🙂  In that paragraph, do I need to add that the house was ugly? Nope. You’ll get the message, loud and clear. With some editing and careful word choices, I’ll have created a house that you can see, hear, and smell as if you’ve been there yourself.

Easy as pie, right? 🙂 Want to give it a try? Here are some prompts I used to give my writing students to let them explore showing vs. telling:

It was a boring party.
The dinner was good.
He was a cute puppy.
That was a scary woman.
My outfit was perfect.

Have some fun. What can you do to show any of these things?  🙂

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3 responses to “Writing prompt fun: showing vs. telling

  1. For a class I’m taking, I just read a horror book in which one of the symptoms of monster-infection was having a bad smell. The author actually said something like this…

    it was a bad smell. There was no way to describe it except to say that it was a bad smell.

    That’s a paraphrase, but close enough. Isn’t that disappointing?

  2. Pingback: Where do you draw the line? | Irene L. Pynn's Blog

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