Learning the Art of Show, Not Tell

You’ve probably heard this a thousand times before; and it is inarguably rule number one when it comes to writing and writing well:
Show, not tell.
You see, when a reader is told something instead of being shown something, it removes the element of intrigue, mystery and makes for one very lacklustre read.
For example:
Steve went through a lot of challenges in the last year and emerged stronger because of it.
Instead of saying (telling) that Steve ‘went through a lot of challenges’ and saying that he emerged ‘stronger’ because of it, show it by describing the challenges Steve undertook and show what you mean when you say ‘stronger’.


When the author uses images and action to drive the story forward, it allows the reader to immerse himself into the story and fully experience what is happening.


To show and not tell, however, is easier said than done, and a lot of students have trouble distinguishing between the two. Cognitus Academy Regular English Programmes and Writing Programmes help students master this important skill.


If your child happens to require guidance in using ‘show, not tell’, read on to find out how!


Use the Reader’s Senses
The five senses are incredibly useful when it comes to helping your child write a story. The good news is that most children would already be familiar with their senses, and so recalling what they are will not be particularly difficult for them.


  1. Sight
Tell: It was raining.
Show: The rain was constant and relentless, turning the sky, the water and the land, the colour of lead.


  1. Sound
Tell: There was thunder.
Show: Thunder rattled the windows and shook the walls.


  1. Smell
Tell: Mother’s cooking smelled nice.
Show: The familiar warm smells of garlic and spices wafted through the house.


  1. Taste
Tell: I love roast chicken.
Show: A bite of the succulent meat very nearly sent me to heaven.


  1. Touch
Tell: I was cold.
Show: I shivered as the wind blew, icy needles prickling my bare arms.


Use Strong Verbs
Never underestimate the power of verbs. They convey how a particular action is made to the audience, and can take a good story and make it a powerful one.


Tell: He walked up the stage.
Show: He strode up the stage.


Tell: She loves gifts.
Show: She treasures gifts.


Tell: He ran along the pavement.
Show: He sprinted along the pavement.


Detail Detail Detail
Sometimes, it can really be as easy as that. One good trick when it comes to this is to ask your child to conjure an image of a stick figure in his or her head.


Something like this will suffice:
The key here then, is to focus on different parts of the figure, from the face and head to its arms and legs, and imagine how each part would react in relation to a different emotion.


  1. Anger
Tell: Mr Lim is angry.
Show: Mr Lim’s face turned red, and he planted his hands on his hips.


  1. Sadness
Tell: Jean was sad.
Show: Jean’s eyes welled up with tears, and her shoulders drooped.


  1. Confusion
Tell: James was confused.
Show: James’s eyebrows furrowed, and he squinted his eyes as he stared at me.


  1. Happy
Tell: I was happy.
Show: My cheeks felt as if it would split from smiling, and I could barely keep from pumping my fist in the air.


  1. Annoyed
Tell: Sheila was annoyed.
Show: Sheila pursed her lips and started drumming her fingers impatiently against the counter.


  1. Fear
Tell: Yan Li was afraid of the dog.
Show: Yan Li’s heart started pounding when the dog bared its teeth at her.


Use Good Dialogue
Dialogue, when used well, breaks up the monotony of the story and allows the story that your child is trying to tell to emerge in a more creative way. It engages the reader because the author isn’t feeding whole chunks of information the reader’s way.


For example:
Tell: I loved the story Dad told the whole family during dinner.
Show: Throughout dinner, I barely looked away from Dad, riveted by what he was telling us. “Tell us more!” I begged.


Cognitus Academy has dedicated writing programmes to train your child to not only master the art of ‘Show, Not Tell’, but also guide your child to craft solid storylines and unique plots that will stand out from everyone else’s. Our Critical Reading and Writing strategies help your child use better words and stronger language and ultimately have the confidence to write distinction grade essays for their PSLE and their exams.


Come find out more at https://cognitus.edu.sg/ or call us at 8321 8252 today!

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