Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Show Me! Show Me! (Part 1 of 6)

The first major piece of advice hurled at beginning writers goes, "Show, don’t tell." I prefer to say, "Whenever possible, show readers." If writers do nothing but show, their articles and books go on endlessly.

What do we mean by show? Think of this principle as presenting a picture—something readers can see if they close their eyes. Good showing also involves other senses, of course, but it’s easier to show this using the visual.

For example: I jogged through a San Francisco neighborhood. That sentence told you facts. If you can close your eyes and capture a scene, it’s because you have read something into the text that wasn’t there.

By contrast, here’s the way James Patterson wrote it: I jogged past yelping dogs running loose, lovers on a morning walk, gray-clad, bald-headed Chinese men bickering over mah-jongg. (First to Die: Little, Brown, 2001, p.104)

Patterson uses two senses and we see the dogs, the lovers, the Chinese, and we hear the dogs as well as the bickering. That is good writing, because he drew a picture for us and pulled us into the San Francisco scene. In one sentence, we jog alongside the protagonist and live vicariously.

Good writing is subtle. Sometimes one simple detail conveys more than a paragraph of descriptive words.


  1. Wonderful way to begin a writing day. Bless you, Cec!

  2. Cec, thanks for starting this blog and sharing your writing wisdom with us. Blessings to you!

  3. Subtle, yes! I've put down a book in the past because of overwhelming details - it was distracting.

  4. Excellent. Many of my clients have a problem with showing vs. telling so I'll be sure to send them to this series.


  5. Hey Cecil,

    Thanks for starting this blog Cecil!

    Look forward to checking in regularly!


  6. "I just read and enjoyed Cec Murphey's Blog"


    "I was using Facebook to avoid writing when author Gail Golden's post caught my eye. I clicked on her link and found a much better way to postpone those boring final book edits. I am now a follower of the brilliant Cec Murphey's new blog site..."

  7. Cheryle, I like your second comment much better than the first. I think you'll score big points with Cec for it, especially because you used the words Cec and brilliant in the same sentence. :-)

  8. The skill my writers group collectively is focusing on this year is show, not tell. I think every author can always improve. looking forward to reading the whole series. Thanks, Cec

  9. Thanks for the good comments. They encourage me to know I'm doing the right thing. I hated to write that because my assistant with the overbearing mother complex will chuckle. (I don't tell her I posted this.)

    This is a six-part section. If you have questions on this topic that I don't cover, please ask, and I'll respond.

    Yours for excellence in writing,

  10. Yes, Cec's overbearing mother is trying to catch her breath because she's laughing so hard. "I'm so glad he FINALLY listened to me," she said. "Some day he'll learn that I'm always right." :-)

  11. Good information well presented, Cec. I like it. Short and directly to the point. Thanks!

  12. I love the way you give specifics to emphasize your point! Thank you!


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